International Society for History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology

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MONDAY, JULY 6  /  11:00 - 12:30  /  DS-M280
Individual papers
Ecology, Evolution and Philosophy

The relationship between ecology and evolutionary biology: A transpositional thesis

Stephen Friesen (Indiana University Bloomington, United States)

Understanding the relationship between evolutionary biology and ecology is an intriguing problem. Ecology and evolutionary biology share a deep interest in biological populations. Why and how have these two sciences produced such different conceptual tools? What kinds of concepts and assumptions in ecology have led to images of biological nature in which notions of stability, balance, and sustainability are foregrounded? Meanwhile concepts and assumptions in evolutionary biology have led to a very different picture of biological reality; a Heraclitean image of incessant flux, ever directed by natural selection. Practicing biologists in both disciplines have also struggled to articulate the relation and the relative interpenetration of evolutionary biology and ecology - but often aphoristically. Dobzhansky’s sub specie evolutionis is chief among these generalizations, though other prominent biologists have attempted to improve upon this formulation. While an intriguing problem, an understanding of this relationship has resisted analytical transparency. Collectively, the historical and philosophical accounts of evolutionary biology and ecology, along with the reflective musings of biologists themselves has led to a problem of understanding the two sciences conjointly. I offer an account of these two sciences in terms of a transpositional thesis. The relationship between ecology and evolution rests on the relationship between concepts of biological stability and change. I support this thesis through a comparative analysis of the core mathematical models in population genetics and population ecology; the Hardy-Weinberg model and the logistic model respectively. Ecology and evolutionary biology are related in terms of transpositional explanatory targets, methodological strategies, and representational values. The Hardy-Weinberg model derives changes in gene frequencies from conditions of genetical equilibrium, while the logistic model derives stable population size from the dynamics of geometrical growth. The critical difference rests on the transpositional functions concepts of stability and change possess in these respective models.

Hull and Ruse on positivism, historicism, and Darwin’s debt to philosophy

Phillip Honenberger (Consortium for History of Science, Technology, and Medicine, United States)

This paper reconstructs the divergent paths taken by David Hull and Michael Ruse, in the late 1960s and 1970s, on three questions that (surprisingly) turn out to be closely related: (1) Darwin’s intellectual relationship to the philosophy of science of his day (in particular, the views of Herschel and Whewell); (2) the promise of logical positivist philosophies of science, as applied to biology; and (3) the terms of what might be called “epistemic authority” between histories of science, on the one hand, and philosophies of science, on the other. I argue that these three divergences can be systematically related to one another in the following way: By the early 70s, Hull was beginning to view the Western philosophical heritage as generally retrograde and in need of radical reconstruction along lines consistent with Darwin’s anti-essentialism and anti-teleological historicism – a position that put him in qualified agreement with the new Kuhn-inspired, “historical” philosophy of science, and pitted him against the positivist legacy. Ruse, on the other hand, adopted both the Kuhnian and positivist legacies as providing insights that demanded qualification but not rejection, and that were not necessarily incompatible, and viewed Darwin as a member and contributor to an empiricist philosophical and scientific tradition, shared by the British philosophers of science of Darwin’s day (though Herschel more than Whewell, obviously) and the logical empiricists several generations later, and thus not incompatible or orthogonal to Darwinian projects. I close with discussion of a few possible historiographical objections to this portrayal of Hull and Ruse’s divergences, and reflections on the strengths and weaknesses of the reconstructed positions from a contemporary standpoint.

Constructing causal models in biology: What are the rules?

Brian McLoone (University of Wisconsin-Madison, United States)

Recently, there has been much effort to “causalify” evolutionary biology – to take processes and equations from evolutionary biology and render them in explicitly causal language. Generally, the causal language that is used is that which comes from the interventionist/manipulationist approach to causation, as articulated by, for instance, Judea Pearl. I welcome these efforts enthusiastically; however, as I argue in this paper, too little attention has been paid to what counts as a legitimate causal model. In particular, I claim that the variables in a causal model, as well as the relationships between these variables, should satisfy certain desiderata. These desiderata should largely derive from the interventionist/manipulations framework itself. The three desiderata I defend in my presentation are these. INT: It should be possible in principle to intervene on each of the variables in a causal model; DIS: The variables in a causal model should be logically distinct; and MARK: The model should satisfy the causal Markov condition. I show why these desiderata are justified and discuss some recent causal models of evolutionary processes that do not satisfy them.