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Four Conflated ‘Chance’-Like Concepts in Evolutionary Theory

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Discussions of ‘chance’ and other related concepts (such as ‘stochasticity’, ‘randomness’, ‘indeterminism’, etc.) are found throughout philosophical work on evolutionary theory. By focusing on three commonly recognized distinctions, I identify four distinct ‘chance’-like concepts: randomness, subjective unpredictability, causal indeterminism, and probabilistic causal processes. These are not, however, merely semantic distinctions: it is demonstrated that conflation of these clearly separate notions undermines one widely-cited argument in the philosophy of biology – in the debate over the interpretation of fitness, natural selection, and genetic drift.

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Four Conflated ‘Chance’-Like Concepts in Evolutionary Theory

  1. 1. University of Notre DameProgram in History and Philosophy of ScienceDepartment of PhilosophyFour Conflated ‘Chance’-Like Conceptsin Evolutionary TheoryIndiana Philosophical Association, 4/21/2012Charles H. Pencecharles@charlespence.net
  2. 2. An Argument in Two Parts• Main Thesis: We ought to be more careful with our use of‘chance’ in evolution
  3. 3. An Argument in Two Parts• Main Thesis: We ought to be more careful with our use of‘chance’ in evolution• Two goals:
  4. 4. An Argument in Two Parts• Main Thesis: We ought to be more careful with our use of‘chance’ in evolution• Two goals:1. Distinguish four concepts in the vicinity of ‘chance’ that areclearly distinct despite differences in interpretations ofchance or probability
  5. 5. An Argument in Two Parts• Main Thesis: We ought to be more careful with our use of‘chance’ in evolution• Two goals:1. Distinguish four concepts in the vicinity of ‘chance’ that areclearly distinct despite differences in interpretations ofchance or probability2. Show that conflation of these causes real problems inarguments
  6. 6. Four ‘Chance’-Like Concepts“process” chance randomness
  7. 7. Four ‘Chance’-Like Concepts“process” chance randomnesssubjective chance objective chanceunpredictability
  8. 8. Four ‘Chance’-Like Concepts“process” chance randomnesssubjective chance objective chancecausal indeterminism probabilistic causal processesunpredictability
  9. 9. Four ‘Chance’-Like Concepts• randomness• unpredictability• causal indeterminism• probabilistic causal processes
  10. 10. Four ‘Chance’-Like Concepts• randomness• unpredictability• causal indeterminism• probabilistic causal processes• Not the only four!
  11. 11. Brandon & Carson• “The Indeterministic Character of Evolutionary Theory”(1996)
  12. 12. Brandon & Carson• “The Indeterministic Character of Evolutionary Theory”(1996)• “drift clearly is a stochastic or probabilistic or indeterministicphenomenon” (324)
  13. 13. Brandon & Carson• “The Indeterministic Character of Evolutionary Theory”(1996)• “drift clearly is a stochastic or probabilistic or indeterministicphenomenon” (324)• “if one is a realist...then one should conclude that[evolutionary theory] is fundamentally indeterministic” (336)
  14. 14. But then...• “the inferences we can make” about drift (322)• what drift “can predict” or “cannot predict” (323)
  15. 15. But then...• “the inferences we can make” about drift (322)• what drift “can predict” or “cannot predict” (323)• The “hidden variables” argument
  16. 16. But then...• “the inferences we can make” about drift (322)• what drift “can predict” or “cannot predict” (323)• The “hidden variables” argument• Response: Graves, Horan, & Rosenberg (1999)
  17. 17. A Reinterpretation• What about probabilistic causation?
  18. 18. A Reinterpretation• What about probabilistic causation?• Brandon’s causal reading of drift
  19. 19. A Reinterpretation• What about probabilistic causation?• Brandon’s causal reading of drift• Back to hidden variables
  20. 20. Conclusions• Conflations of ‘chance’:• B&C conflate at least three ‘chance’-like concepts(unpredictability, causal indeterminism, probabilistic causalprocesses)• Only on one of these does their argument go through• GHR conflate at least two ‘chance’-like concepts (causalindeterminism, probabilistic causal processes)
  21. 21. Conclusions• Conflations of ‘chance’:• B&C conflate at least three ‘chance’-like concepts(unpredictability, causal indeterminism, probabilistic causalprocesses)• Only on one of these does their argument go through• GHR conflate at least two ‘chance’-like concepts (causalindeterminism, probabilistic causal processes)• Arguments fail to engage
  22. 22. Conclusions• Conflations of ‘chance’:• B&C conflate at least three ‘chance’-like concepts(unpredictability, causal indeterminism, probabilistic causalprocesses)• Only on one of these does their argument go through• GHR conflate at least two ‘chance’-like concepts (causalindeterminism, probabilistic causal processes)• Arguments fail to engage• But the distinctions are well-known!
  23. 23. ..Questions?charles@charlespence.net

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