Nov 2, 2015

Our Next Visiting Speaker November 6 - Dr. Charles Pence

Dr. Charles Pence will be visiting from the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Louisiana State University. She will be presenting a talk titled “What is Evolutionary Fitness for?” on Friday, November 6 from 1:30-3:30 in McCain Hall, Room 185. Dr. Pence's abstract is as follows:

For the past thirty-five years or so, philosophers of biology have taken fitness to be one of the core concepts of evolutionary theory. While its proper interpretation has been a matter of extensive debate, one distinction has been taken as common knowledge: there are two primary uses for fitness in evolutionary theory. One, predictive fitness, is a quantity used to estimate what will happen to an individual, gene, or trait in a population over time. The other, causal fitness, is the notion of fitness we invoke when we describe the causal structure of evolutionary theory, making qualitative claims like “over time, fitter organisms will probably drive out the less fit.” How we approach this distinction is taken to have significant consequences. Some authors argue that predictive fitness is philosophically unimportant, some that causal fitness is unintelligible, and others that the two are tightly connected.

In this talk, I’ll argue that this conventional distinction lies somewhere between misleading and false, and the landscape of evolutionary fitness is much more confusing than this dichotomy would suggest. While some advances have been made in understanding the causal role of fitness, resolving counterexamples to it leads us to a property that behaves in unexpected ways, and may well be metaphysically problematic. And on the other side, thanks to its own set of difficulties, it’s not clear just what predictive fitness was ever supposed to predict in the first place. Until both these issues are clarified, it is hard to see how causal and predictive fitness are related – and impossible to fully understand one of the central notions in evolution.

We hope to see you there!

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