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Tempered Realism about the Force of Selection

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 April 2022

C. Kenneth Waters*
Department of Philosophy University of Minnesota
Send reprint requests to the author, Department of Philosophy, 355 Ford Hall, 224 Church St. SE, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN 55455.


Darwinians are realists about the force of selection, but there has been surprisingly little discussion about what form this realism should take. Arguments about the units of selection in general and genic selectionism in particular reveal two realist assumptions: (1) for any selection process, there is a uniquely correct identification of the operative selective forces and the level at which each impinges; and (2) selective forces must satisfy the Pareto-style requirement of probabilistic causation. I argue that both assumptions are false; we must temper realism about the force of selection and revise the way we think about probabilistic causation.

Research Article
Copyright © 1991 The Philosophy of Science Association

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I owe special thanks to Craig Nelson and Ron Giere who discussed drafts of the dissertation chapter on which this is based and to Philip Kitcher, Alex Rosenberg and Elliott Sober for comments on the finished chapter and on the distilled version that I delivered to the APA. Michael Bradie, Jim Griesemer, David Queller, Harold Kincaid, Richard Lewontin and an anonymous referee provided valuable comments on later versions. I am also grateful to audiences around the country and especially to Robert Audi and Philip Hugly for encouraging me to clarify the implications of my ideas on genic selection. I would like to thank my colleague Dick Grandy for special help.


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