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Explanatory Unification and the Early Synthesis

Plutynski, A (2005) Explanatory Unification and the Early Synthesis. British Journal for Philosophy of Science, 56 (3). pp. 595-609.

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Abstract

The object of this paper is to reply to Morrison’s (2000) claim that while “structural unity” was achieved at the level of the mathematical models of population genetics in the early synthesis, there was explanatory disunity. I argue to the contrary, that the early synthesis effected by the founders of theoretical population genetics was unifying and explanatory both. Defending this requires a reconsideration of Morrison’s notion of explanation. In Morrison’s view, all and only answers to “why” questions which include the “cause or mechanism” for some phenomenon count as explanatory. In my view, mathematical demonstrations that answer “how possibly” and “why necessarily” questions may also count as explanatory. The authors of the synthesis explained how evolution was possible on a Mendelian system of inheritance, answered skepticism about the sufficiency of selection, and thus explained why and how a Darwinian research program was warranted. While today we take many of these claims as obvious, they required argument, and part of the explanatory work of the formal sciences is providing such arguments. Surely, Fisher and Wright had competing views as to the optimal means of generating adaptation. Nevertheless, they had common opponents and a common unifying and explanatory goal that their mathematical demonstrations served.


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Item Type: Published Article or Volume
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Plutynski, Aaplutyns@wustl.edu
Keywords: explanation, theory unification, natural selection, mathematical modeling
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology > Evolutionary Theory
General Issues > Explanation
General Issues > Models and Idealization
Depositing User: A Plutynski
Date Deposited: 15 Nov 2018 00:27
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2018 00:27
Item ID: 15338
Journal or Publication Title: British Journal for Philosophy of Science
DOI or Unique Handle: https://doi.org/10.1093/bjps/axi124
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology > Evolutionary Theory
General Issues > Explanation
General Issues > Models and Idealization
Date: 2005
Page Range: pp. 595-609
Volume: 56
Number: 3
URI: https://philsci-archive-dev.library.pitt.edu/id/eprint/15338

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