Article ID: CBB225246599

Are natural selection explanatory models a priori? (2015)


The epistemic status of Natural Selection (NS) has seemed intriguing to biologists and philosophers since the very beginning of the theory to our present times. One prominent contemporary example is Elliott Sober, who claims that NS, and some other theories in biology, and maybe in economics, are peculiar in including explanatory models/conditionals that are a priori in a sense in which explanatory models/conditionals in Classical Mechanics (CM) and most other standard theories are not. Sober’s argument focuses on some “would promote” sentences that according to him, play a central role in NS explanations and are both causal and a priori. Lange and Rosenberg criticize Sober arguing that, though there may be some unspecific a priori causal claims, there are not a priori causal claims that specify particular causal factors. Although we basically agree with Lange and Rosenberg’s criticism, we think it remains silent about a second important element in Sober’s dialectics, namely his claim that, contrary to what happens in mechanics, in NS explanatory conditionals are a priori, and that this is so in quite specific explanatory models. In this paper we criticize this second element of Sober’s argument by analyzing what we take to be the four possible interpretations of Sober’s claim, and argue that, terminological preferences aside, the possible senses in which explanatory models in NS can qualify, or include elements that can qualify, as a priori, also apply to CM and other standard, highly unified theories. We conclude that this second claim is unsound, or at least that more needs to be said in order to sustain that NS explanatory models are a priori in a sense in which CM models are not.

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Authors & Contributors
Maienschein, Jane A.
Creath, Richard
Waizbort, Ricardo
Martins, Lilian Al-Chueyer Pereira
Brzezinski Prestes, María Elice de
Stefano, Waldir
British Journal for the Philosophy of Science
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Biology and Philosophy
Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science
Cambridge University Press
W.H. Freeman/Spektrum
Fundo Mackenzie de Pesquisa
Duke University Press
University of Toronto
University of Alabama Press
Philosophy of biology
Natural selection
Adaptation (biology)
Darwin, Charles Robert
Levins, Richard
Mill, John Stuart
Jonas, Hans
Hamilton, William Donald
Cuvier, Georges
Time Periods
20th century
19th century
21st century
20th century, early

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