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Evolution, Wisconsin Style: Selection and the Explanation of Individual Traits

Mohan Matthen
The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science
Vol. 50, No. 1 (Mar., 1999), pp. 143-150
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40072212
Page Count: 8
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Evolution, Wisconsin Style: Selection and the Explanation of Individual Traits
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Abstract

Elliott Sober maintains ([1984], [1995]) that explanation by natural selection may show why all (most, some) humans have an opposable thumb, but cannot show why any particular human has one. Karen Neander ([1995a], [1995b]) argues that this is false because natural selection is 'cumulative'. It is argued here, on grounds independent of its cumulativity, that selection can explain the characteristics of individual organisms subsequent to the event. The difference of opinion between Sober and his critics turns on an ontological dispute about how organisms are identified and individuated. The assumption that Sober needs to make his point is extraneous to population genetics, and, for this reason, gratuitous.

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