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Proximate Versus Ultimate Causation and Evo-Devo

Brown, Rachael L. (2020) Proximate Versus Ultimate Causation and Evo-Devo. Nuno de la Rosa L., Müller G. (eds) Evolutionary Developmental Biology.

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Made famous by Ernst Mayr (1961), the distinction between proximate and ultimate causation in biological explanation is widely seen as a key tenet of evolutionary theory and a central organizing principle for evolutionary research. The study of immediate, individual-level mechanistic causes of development or physiology (“proximate causation”) is distinguished from the study of historical, population-level statistical causes in evolutionary biology (“ultimate causation”). Since evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo) is a field that explicitly uses so-called “proximate” sciences such as developmental biology, morphology, and embryology in the study of evolution, it challenges the standard construal of the proximate- ultimate distinction and its associated account of causation. The exact nature of the challenge and its ramifications for the viability of the distinction more broadly are contested, but these conceptual questions are central to the status and significance of evo-devo in contemporary evolutionary biology.

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Item Type: Published Article or Volume
Brown, Rachael
Keywords: Proximate causation, Ultimate causation, Mayr, Evo-devo, reciprocal causation
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology
Depositing User: Dr Rachael L. Brown
Date Deposited: 02 Feb 2022 02:26
Last Modified: 02 Feb 2022 02:26
Item ID: 20189
Journal or Publication Title: Nuno de la Rosa L., Müller G. (eds) Evolutionary Developmental Biology
Publisher: Springer
DOI or Unique Handle:
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology
Date: 2020

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