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Evolution and Constraints on Variation: Variant Specification and Range of Assessment

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2022


There is still a great deal of debate over what counts as a constraint and about how to assess experimentally the relative importance of constraints and selection in evolutionary history. I will argue that the notion of a constraint on variation, and thus the selection-constraint distinction, depends on two specifications: (1) what counts as a variant—constraints limit or bias the production of what? and (2) range of assessment—over what range of times or conditions is the variation assessed? Specifications 1 and 2 help us to understand empirical work on the relative importance of constraint and selection in evolution.

Research Article
Copyright © The Philosophy of Science Association

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I thank David Jablonski, William Wimsatt, Leigh Van Valen, Robert Richards, Chris Diteresi, Beckett Sterner, Bill Sterner, and participants in the University of Chicago Philosophy of Biology discussion group for reading and commenting on earlier drafts of this article. I also received helpful feedback from audiences at ISHPSSB 2009 and PSA 2010.


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