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Chiu Lynn | Fellow Visitor
2017-10-02 - 2017-10-16 | Research area: Philosophy of Biology
The Theoretical Roles of Fitness and Natural Selection in the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis

What is the epistemic nature of the transition from the Modern Synthesis (MS) to an Extended Evolutionary Synthesis (EES)? Is the transition similar or different in kind from the previous transition from Darwinian evolution to the MS? Andre Ariew and colleagues suggest that the latter two are incompatible: evolutionary theory during Darwin’s time is a theory of Newtonian forces while the MS is akin to a theory of statistical thermodynamics. The key difference, they argue, lies in the distinct and incompatible theoretical roles of “fitness“and “natural selection“ in the respective research programs (Matthen and Ariew 2002, 2009; Ariew and Lewontin 2004).

The goal of this visit is to initiate the development of a research grant proposal in collaboration with Univ.-Prof. Dr. Gerd Müller and Univ.-Prof. Dr. Martin Kusch (philosopher and historian of science at Univ. Vienna). I seek to identify key historical and present case studies of both EES and MS that will enable me to answer the following questions: What are the theoretical roles of fitness and natural selection as implicated in the historical precedents and current areas of EES (e.g. Sultan 2015, Walsh 2015)? Are these roles unified? Are they compatible with the concepts of fitness and natural selection in MS, as explicated by Ariew and others? Under what conditions would incompatibilities between conceptions of fitness and natural selection, if they exist, indicate a fundamental shift in explanatory frameworks from MS to EES?