Population Thinking

André Ariew

in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Biology

Published in print July 2008 | ISBN: 9780195182057
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Philosophy

 Population Thinking

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According to Ernst Mayr, population thinking is a metaphysical theory. Mayr's essentialism, amounts to the view that types, including conceptual categories, are real while individual variation is illusionary. In contrast, population thinking entails the opposite view: Types are not real in nature, only individuals exist. According to Sober, the explanatory goal for essentialists is to find an underlying order that unites and underlies the variation one sees in nature. Population thinking as a methodological doctrine states that regularities that occur in populations such as extinction, speciation, and adaptation emerge from the collective activities of individuals. Such population phenomena were unknown until new statistical measures introduced by Laplace provided the proper resolution to detect population changes. There are two types of population thinkers, statisticians, and force theorists. Malthus and Darwin were force theorists.

Keywords: metaphysical theory; methodological theory; individual; population; Malthus

Article.  10878 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Philosophy of Science

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