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  Topic: Walsh's Evolutionary Essentialism, Is Essentialism critical to biology?< Next Oldest | Next Newest >  
Doug Jones

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Joined: Aug. 2006

(Permalink) Posted: Sep. 06 2006,06:30   

Reference: "Evolutionary Essentialism" by Denis Walsh, The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science
Article Reference

I'm hoping someone with a deeper understanding of evolutionary biology than me has happened upon this article and can share their opinions...

I don't have enough training in biology to evaluate Dr. Walsh's argument with respect to his assertions about developmental biology.  I do know a bit about Aristotelian essentialism, and I'm uncomfortable incorporating it into my (admittedly limited) understanding of biology despite Dr. Walsh's argument.  In my view it seems as big a step backwards for philosophy as Intelligent Design is for biology - perhaps bigger since Aristotle predates Christian creation myths. Here is the journal abstract:

"According to Aristotelian essentialism, the nature of an organism is constituted of a particular goal-directed disposition to produce an organism typical of its kind. This paper argues--against the prevailing orthodoxy--that essentialism of this sort is indispensable to evolutionary biology. The most powerful anti-essentialist arguments purport to show that the natures of organisms play no explanatory role in modern synthesis biology. I argue that recent evolutionary developmental biology provides compelling evidence to the contrary. Developmental biology shows that one must appeal to the capacities of organisms to explain what makes adaptive evolution adaptive. Moreover, the specific capacities in question are precisely those that, according to Aristotle, constitute the nature of an organism."


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(Permalink) Posted: Sep. 06 2006,10:44   

sorry, but I think there has just been too much heard from the philosophers round about the science blogs recently.

there might not be much interest in pursuing something that looks quite superficial and ridiculous on the surface.

I'll offer my own opinions based on the paragraph you quoted, for what it's worth.

PZ Myers actually IS a developmental biologist, so you might want to visit Pharyngula.

The philosopher appears to assume that the reason evolutionary biologists have incorporated developmental biology is because of some ancient thesis that there is an "essential nature" to the organism, rather than what it really is, which is interaction between genes and environment.  His thesis is contrary to the simple observation of diversity we actually find out there.

Developmental biology shows that one must appeal to the capacities of organisms to explain what makes adaptive evolution adaptive.

This is just an appeal to teleology, AFAICT. Developmental biology simply studies the complex intereactions between gene expression and environment, to put it simplistically.  Local environments within cells, external environmental input, etc.  No "essentialism" observed or implied.  In fact, this philosopher's argument begins to resemble some things that Jonathan Wells has written is his idiotic "guide".

again, you should go check out the section on developmental biology that PZ addresses:

that might give you some further insight into the actual practice of developmental biology.

as a side note:

Things like what you posted here are the reason most scientists typically reject the ramblings of most philosophers, IMO.  The philosophers, while expounding interesting ideas (sometimes), are often completely disconnected from what actually is observed in science.

Rather than checking their thoughts with an actual developmental biologist, they proceed to detail an idea that has no real-world connection.

As a human being, I say that's fine and dandy, and can lead to creative insights, at times.  However, when a philosopher with the level of disconnect evidenced here attempts to expound upon the actual practice of science, as a scientist i see no more relevance than I would to a street-corner preacher doing the same.


"And the sea will grant each man new hope..."



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Joined: Jan. 2006

(Permalink) Posted: Sep. 06 2006,13:10   

As far as I can tell, from little knowledge of philosophy, this bloke is claiming that organisms have a drive to reproduction, and that this is some sort of essence of the organism.  (Dont ask me what an essence is)  And that therefore you have to look at what goes on with reproduction to know what is going on with adaptations of the organism.  
Which to me is close enough to evolutionary biology as to make no difference, BUT, I have filtered theparagraph quoted above through what i know of biology and therefore my interpretation is almost certainly much more different to that of the author.  
I'd love to ask him if he can hold the essence of a fish in his hand...


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(Permalink) Posted: Sep. 06 2006,14:14   

I agree with guthrie, from what I interpreted from the abstract the author simply says that the ultimate "goal" of the organism is to reproduce.  Isn't that a simple definition of life?  Aristotle, on the other hand, believed that all organisms progressed towards an ultimate "goal" of perfection, think Lamarck.  I'd be interested in what is offerred as proof in this paper but I'm afraid the author is trying to connect two highly unrelated concepts.

  3 replies since Sep. 06 2006,06:30 < Next Oldest | Next Newest >  


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