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

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MONDAY, JULY 6  /  11:00 - 12:30  /  DS-M320
Individual papers
Understanding Fitness Philosophically

Honest propensities: Is there a crack in the new foundation?

Peter Takacs** (Florida State University, United States)

While answering early concerns about purported explanatory circularity, the propensity interpretation of fitness as originally stated by Brandon (1978) and Mills and Beatty (1979) foundered upon issues pertaining to the measurement of fitness as a scalar value in the face of demographic and environmental stochasticity (Gillespie 1977, Beatty and Finsen 1989, Brandon 1990, Sober 2001). Staunch critics of the propensity interpretation (Ariew, Matthen, Walsh, Lewens, Lewontin) and self-conscious proponents of propensities (Abrams 2007, 2009) alike have taken the inability of the propensity interpretation to overcome such measurement problems as a decisive reason for concluding that the concept of fitness cannot be both explanatorily relevant and a probabilistic dispositional property of individuals. By reconfiguring the mathematical foundations of the propensity interpretation, Pence and Ramsey (2013) have effectively countered the aforementioned measurement worries. In importing the methods of calculus, however, the new foundation they have laid for the propensity interpretation runs the risk of losing sight of the basic reference class or population for which explanation of adaptation and ultimately speciation is sought. I will examine a biologically realistic case involving non-monogamous species of bean weevil and argue that the mathematical formalization which best describes the behavior of this model system is potentially problematic even for the revamped interpretation of fitness as a propensity.

Rejecting replicators

Karen Kovaka (University of Pennsylvania, United States)

According to the dominant view of biological inheritance, powerful inheritance processes require replicators. On this view, cumulative selection cannot occur without high-fidelity copying mechanisms. I argue that this is an insufficient justification for accepting a replicator analysis of inheritance. There are other essential elements of biological inheritance that the replicator view cannot capture. I focus on two examples. First, the replicator view sidelines the role of developmental plasticity in evolution. Second, the replicator view cannot accommodate ecological contributions to the evolvability of populations. On the basis of these examples, I suggest some features that a satisfactory account of biological inheritance must have.

Hypothetical biological spaces and genetic accessibility

Jason Zinser (University of Wisconsin-Marathon County, United States)

Hypothetical biological spaces, such as “phenotypic space”, “design space”, or “morphospace” are employed for a variety of explanatory reasons. However, it is unclear exactly what these spaces refer to and how they function within specific theories. In this paper, I will provide a critical assessment of these spaces and specifically address whether these spaces reflect what is actually genetically accessible.