Grant Ramsey (Institute of Philosophy at KU Leuven): The conceptual foundations of evolutionary theory

Grant Ramsey is visiting the Science Studies Colloquium Series. Ramsey is a currently a BOFZAP Research Professor at the Institute of Philosophy at KU Leuven. Ramseys work concentrates around the philosophy of biology and disciplinary philosophy of science.  

The seminar is open for everyone!

The conceptual foundations of evolutionary theory

In his “No general structure” article, Ken Waters offers “the no general structure thesis", which states that the world lacks a general, overall structure that spans scales” (2016, p. 0). Waters argues that philosophers of biology ask questions like “what is a gene?” or “what is fitness?” and assume that there is a single unified fundamental answer that can be given. They seek definitions of the form “a gene is…” that are counterexample free, applying universally independent of academic department, research question, or methodology. Waters argues that such quests are a fool’s errand, since any analysis of ‘gene’ will fall short of generality. Waters argues that we should instead have a practice-centered metaphysics: we should ask of particular practices what they imply about the meaning of ‘gene’ or ‘species’ or ‘fitness’ or ‘population’ or ‘function’. Different groups will have different concepts based on their interests and objectives, this is to be expected and is not a problem.

In this talk, I will engage with Water’s thesis. I will distinguish biological outcomes from biological causes. While Waters is correct about the nature of the former, he is not correct about the latter: I agree with Waters that we should not seek general concepts of evolutionary products like ‘gene’ or ‘species’, but I hold that we should seek general concepts of evolutionary causes, such as ‘fitness’, ‘drift’, and ‘selection’. I will argue that the core of evolutionary theory is a theory about causes and, as such, it is not subject to Water’s critique. I will offer a sketch of what such a theory would look like. 

Published Sep. 11, 2017 4:36 PM - Last modified Jan. 28, 2018 10:37 PM