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    Walsh on causes and evolution

    Northcott, Robert (2010) Walsh on causes and evolution. Philosophy of Science 77 (3), pp. 457-467. ISSN 0031-8248.

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    Denis Walsh has written a striking new defense in this journal of the statisticalist position regarding the forces of evolution (Walsh 2007). He rejects the view of those such as Sober (1984), Stephens (2004), and Millstein (2006) that these forces should be seen as causal and thus that they are even aptly labeled ‘forces’ at all. Instead, following Matthen and Ariew (2002), Walsh, Lewens, and Ariew (2002), and others, he supports viewing selection and drift as mere statistical summaries of evolutionary outcomes.1 I offer a response to his arguments and defend the causalist view (a.k.a. the ‘dynamical’ or ‘traditional’ view in Walsh’s phrasing) against his new criticisms. Walsh distinguishes between individual‐level causalists and population‐level ones (‘macrocausalists’). He argues convincingly against the former. Accordingly, from hereon I consider only the macrocausalist alternative to statisticalism. Regarding that comparison, Walsh comments: “The only apparent difference [between the two positions] is that the dynamical interpretation applies the term ‘cause’ to the statistical parameters , and n, whereas the statistical interpretation withholds that particular honorific” (2007, 292). I fully agree with this summary of the debate. I would emphasize one implication of it—that the crux of dispute therefore concerns not so much issues in biology but rather issues in the theory of causation and explanation. It is the latter that will be my own focus here.


    Item Type: Article
    School: Birkbeck Faculties and Schools > Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Historical Studies
    Depositing User: Sarah Hall
    Date Deposited: 20 Nov 2014 14:48
    Last Modified: 02 Aug 2023 17:13


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