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Indeterminism and Natural Selection

R. A. Fisher
Philosophy of Science
Vol. 1, No. 1 (Jan., 1934), pp. 99-117
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/184485
Page Count: 19
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Indeterminism and Natural Selection
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Abstract

The historical origin and the experimental basis of the concept of physical determinism indicate that this basis was removed with the acceptance of the kinetic theory of matter, while its difficulties are increased by the admission that human nature, in its entirety, is a product of natural causation. An indeterministic view of causation has the advantages (a) of unifying the concept of natural law in different spheres of human experience and (b) of a greater generality, which precludes the acceptance of the special case of completely deterministic causation, so long as this is an unproved assumption. It is not inconsistent with the orderliness of the world, or with the fruitful pursuit of natural knowledge. It enriches rather than weakens the concept of of causation. It possesses definite advantages with respect to the one-sidedness of human memory, and to the phenomena of aiming and striving observable in man and other animals. Among biological theories it appears to be most completely in harmony with the theory of natural selection, which in its statistical nature resembles the second law of thermo-dynamics. In an indeterministic world natural causation has a creative element, and science is interested in locating the original causes of effects of special interest, and not merely in pushing a chain of causation backwards ad infinitum. These contrasting tendencies are illustrated by a critique of the mutation theory, and by an attempt more closely to define the sense in which indeterministic causation should be thought of as creative.

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