KLI Colloquia are informal, public talks that are followed by extensive dissussions. Speakers are KLI fellows or visiting researchers who are interested in presenting their work to an interdisciplinary audience and discussing it in a wider research context. We offer three types of talks:

1. Current Research Talks. KLI fellows or visiting researchers present and discuss their most recent research with the KLI fellows and the Vienna scientific community.

2. Future Research Talks. Visiting researchers present and discuss future projects and ideas togehter with the KLI fellows and the Vienna scientific community.

3. Professional Developmental Talks. Experts about research grants and applications at the Austrian and European levels present career opportunities and strategies to late-PhD and post-doctoral researchers.

  • The presentation language is English.
  • If you are interested in presenting your current or future work at the KLI, please contact the Scientific Director or the Executive Manager.

Event Details

Denis Walsh
KLI Colloquia
Evolutionary Foundationalism and the Myth of the Chemical Given
Denis WALSH (University of Toronto)
2019-04-30 17:00 - 2019-04-30 18:30
Organized by KLI

Topic description / abstract:

The Modern Synthesis theory of evolution is a foundationalist theory. It explains its target phenomena—the fit and diversity of biological form—by appeal to the aggregated activities of fundamental entities, ‘givens’. The ‘givens’ are genes, chemicals that encode phenotypes. Analogously, analytic philosophy also deploys foundationalist theories: of mind, language, perception, knowledge. These philosophical foundationalisms suffer from a systemic weakness; the resources of the theory radically underdetermine the phenomena they are intended to explain. I argue that Modern Synthesis foundationalism has the same shortcomings, for the same reasons. In each case, the phenomena of interest are ‘agential’ phenomena, and foundationalist theories are incapable of encompassing them. This should occasion a re-interpretation of the Modern Synthesis. We should not think of it as limning the causes of evolutionary change. Rather, we should see it as a useful, if highly idealised, abstract model of evolutionary phenomena.


Biographical note:

Denis Walsh is Professor in the Department of Philosophy, the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, and the Department Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Toronto. He did his PhD in biology at McGill University and his PhD in Philosophy at Kings College, University of London. He held the Canada Research chair in Philosophy of Biology from 2005-2015. He has taught at LSE, University of Edinburgh, Dartmouth College, MIT, and the University of Toronto. This year he is résident at IEA, Paris.