What can natural selection explain?

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Abstract

One approach to assess the explanatory power of natural selection is to ask what type of facts it can explain. The standard list of explananda includes facts like trait frequencies or the survival of particular organisms. Here, I argue that this list is incomplete: natural selection can also explain a specific kind of individual-level fact that involves traits. The ability of selection to explain this sort of fact (‘trait facts’) vindicates the explanatory commitments of empirical studies on microevolution. Trait facts must be distinguished from a closely related kind of fact, that is, the fact that a particular individual x has one trait rather than another. Whether or not selection can explain the latter type of fact is highly controversial. According to the so-called ‘Negative View’ it cannot be explained by selection. I defend the Negative View against Nanay’s (2005) objection.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)61-66
Number of pages6
JournalStudies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Volume41
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2010

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Natural Selection
Empirical Study
Microevolution
Explanandum
Incomplete
Organism
Explanatory Power

Keywords

  • explananda of natural selection
  • adaptation
  • Sober–Neander controversy
  • the negative view

Cite this

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