[lit-ideas] Re: Darwiniana

  • From: Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Fri, 24 Feb 2012 13:06:17 -0500 (EST)

In a message dated 2/24/2012 12:42:35 P.M. UTC-02,  
donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx writes:
>>There is an underlying question of  what kind of explanation  'Darwinism' 
is - 
>>what we might also  describe as the question of its logical  character, 
>>including  the extent to which Darwinism is 'scientific' (or  testable)."
>It  can, I think, be put more simply: it's a question of what 
>testable/falsifiable consequences a certain formulation of 
>'Darwinism' ['D'] may have. 
>A formulation of D as "survival of  the fittest" may 
>lack falsifiable consequences, especially if 
>the only criterion of fitness is survival. But other 
>D-type formulations may have falsifiable consequences: for example, 
>that even a species where the gender ratio is 9:1 [whichever way] will 
>over time evolve into one with a roughly 1:1 sex ratio 
>[this is because mutations or deviations away from the 9:1 ratio 
>will always be more successful in reproductive terms and so 
>spread until an equilbrium of roughly 1:1 is reached: this can be 
>be shown 'mathematically' but is also testable empirically].

Will check out other versions of "D", as McEvoy calls it, with "testable"  
For indeed, "Darwinism" is too broad a concept -- and as McEvoy notes  
below, it can encompass something as broad as what he calls a truly  
'metaphysical' research programme. We should be sticking to what Darwin  wrote, 
-- as per "Darwiniana" (rather than deal with 'the evolution of  Darwin', as 
it were?) -- e.g. Darwin's delightful turns of phrase" 
>Popper argues, it is Lamarckism that has 
>an inductive 'logical character'. Whereas D has 
---- falsificationist/non-inductive/eliminativist 'logical character' 
>[as per the 'jelly-point']. 
>This superior, correct 'logical character' is one of the 
>strong NON-EMPIRICAL grounds for preferring D 
>over Lamarckism. [This argument is developed at several places in  
Popper's work].

Thanks for that.

>Popper retracted his argument that D is not falsifiable (I believe  I 
>have posted on this before). His amended position is that 
>while CERTAIN FORMULATIONS of D are barely (if at all) testable (as 
>per his earlier arguments), certain D-type formulations ARE  testable. 
>We should, therefore, distinguish specific D-type explanations that are  
testable by observation from D 
>as a FRAMEWORK which suggests what type of explanation we should seek. 
As a framework positing what would be an acceptable 'explanation in  
principle', D may be 
>NOT itself open to falsification and is not falsified simply because  some 
specific D-type explanation is falsified. In other words, we need to  
distinguish D _qua_ metaphysical research programme from D _qua_ specific types 
of testable explanation. 

Excellent. I loved the expression, 
"metaphysical research programme".
I'm not sure I would like to use the adjective 
there, but I understand McEvoy's point. 
It is Russellianism.
Russell argued that subject-predicate logic embodied what Russell, in an  
attempt to be funny, called
"stone-age metaphysics".
Grice famously replied, "Surely stone-age PHYSICS". 

"The use made of the Russellian phrase 
'stone-age metaphysics'
may have more rhetorical appeal than argumentative force. 
'stone-age' PHYSICS, 
if by that we mean a primitive 
set of hypotheses about how the world goes
which might (conceivably) be emdedded somehow or
other in ordinary language, would not be a proper object
for first-order devotion. But this fact would not prevent
something derivable or extractable from stone-age PHYSICS, 
perhaps some very general characterisation of the nature 
of reality, from being a proper target for serious
(Grice, "Reply to Richards", p. 52).
In more or less contemporary work (Grice, 1986, "Actions and Events") Grice 
 goes on to distinguish the metaphysician from the scientist. One works by  
_hypostasis_ (the metaphysician), one by hypothesis (the scientist). But it 
 would be neat to trace the main features of the so-called (by McEvoy) D as 
a  "metaphysical" research programme.  McEvoy goes on:
"There is more to be said, particularly on reductionism. But we seem to be  
agreed on the 'jelly-point': D is NOT a REDUCTIVE explanation of  evolved 
characteristics, and in several senses, but particularly in that it does  not 
explain those characteristics being as they are in a way that is entirely  
reducible to [or predictable, or deducible, from] 'selection pressures' 
[whereas  the shape and size of the jelly may be entirely reducible 
to/predictable from  the shape and size of the mould, as the entirely 
'selection  pressure' on its shape and size]. Rather D gives a partial 
of the  endurance of certain characteristics (as against others) because 
they are more  successful at avoiding elimination by the various selection 
pressures. This is  much LESS A DETERMINANT explanation and allows for much 
greater  contingency in explaining the course of evolution [e.g. how an 
asteroid disaster  might wipe out a dominant species like the dinosaurs and set 
evolution on a  different course]. It also allows that 'selection pressures' 
are often NOT SO  SEVERE that only a very limited variety of life-forms could 
endure them. As  Popper aptly puts it, even unfit and maladapted traits may 
succeed in the course  of evolution - "at least until they fail"".
Good. As we browse some bibliography, we should distinguish:
D as the  focus.
e.g. Newtonian physics has been the EXAMPLE given by philosophers of  
science to illustrate this or that way that 'that little thing called science'  
works. Also the Copernican Revolution, say. So we should doublecheck with  
philosophers of science and their citations of this or that type of Darwinism 
as  they illustrate this or that.
The point about 'metaphysical' is not meant as pedantic. Because it could  
be argued that by using 'metaphysical' we are already suggesting that 
whatever  that research programme encompasses will go beyond, say, Popper's 
criterion of  demarcation between 'science' and 'metaphysics' (broadly 
But if we  consider Carnap (the assistance of R. B. Jones here has been 
valuable) on what  Carnap calls 'external' vs. 'internal' questions may do. A 
'research programme'  may have (so-called) metaphysical features if these are 
the features that set  what counts as 'what there is', even, or what is 
categorially possible, or worth  an explanation, about the matter of course. 
The 'metaphysical' may turn out to  be the 'axiomatic' -- or as Grice would 
prefer, 'the eschatological'. Grice  thought that there was a discipline 
missing in ontology: eschatology.  Eschatology, for Grice, deals with the 
of categories, and  category-barriers. What kind of 'category' is 'fit', or 
'survive', say. And so  on. 

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