Journal Article

Explanatory Unification and the Early Synthesis

Anya Plutynski

in The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science

Published on behalf of British Society for the Philosophy of Science

Volume 56, issue 3, pages 595-609
Published in print September 2005 | ISSN: 0007-0882
Published online July 2005 | e-ISSN: 1464-3537 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/bjps/axi124
Explanatory Unification and the Early Synthesis

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The object of this paper is to reply to Morrison's ([2000]) claim that while ‘structural unity’ was achieved at the level of the mathematical models of population genetics in the early synthesis, there was explanatory disunity. I argue to the contrary, that the early synthesis effected by the founders of theoretical population genetics was unifying and explanatory both. Defending this requires a reconsideration of Morrison's notion of explanation. In Morrison's view, all and only answers to ‘why’ questions which include the ‘cause or mechanism’ for some phenomenon count as explanatory. In my view, mathematical demonstrations that answer ‘how possibly’ and ‘why necessarily’ questions may also count as explanatory. The authors of the synthesis explained how evolution was possible on a Mendelian system of inheritance, answered skepticism about the sufficiency of selection, and thus explained why and how a Darwinian research program was warranted. While today we take many of these claims as obvious, they required argument, and part of the explanatory work of the formal sciences is providing such arguments. Surely, Fisher and Wright had competing views as to the optimal means of generating adaptation. Nevertheless, they had common opponents and a common unifying and explanatory goal that their mathematical demonstrations served.

Introduction: Morrison's challenge

Fisher v. Wright revisited

The early synthesis

Conclusion: unification and explanation reconciled

Journal Article.  5941 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Science ; Science and Mathematics

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