Chapter

Dobzhansky's Dictum and the Nature of Biological Explanation

in Darwinian Reductionism

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print September 2006 | ISBN: 9780226727295
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226727318 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226727318.003.0005
Dobzhansky's Dictum and the Nature of Biological Explanation

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This chapter argues that biology is history, but unlike human history, it is history for which the “iron laws” of historical change have been found, and codified in Darwin's theory of natural selection. And because everything else in biology is history—the description and explanation of local accidents—there are no laws in biology other than Darwin's. But owing to the literal truth of Dobzhansky's dictum, these are the only laws biology needs. This conclusion raises a challenge for antireductionism: to show that the principle of natural selection is in fact innocent of the charge of tautology owing to the biologist's definition of fitness. If the antireductionist declines this challenge, two other alternative challenges must be faced: either identify another law or laws that will carry biology's explanatory burden, or show how biology can explain without laws at all.

Keywords: biology; reductionism; Darwin; natural selection; Dobzhansky; antireductionism; fitness

Chapter.  10529 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Science

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