SOPhiA 2019

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programme - Talk

Plots, Past and Puzzles of Human Evolution
(Philosophy of Science, English)

At the end of the 1970s, Richard Lewontin's (1977) and Stephen Jay Gould's (1978) pluralistic viewpoints sparked the anti-adaptationist movement within evolutionary sciences. Gould and Lewontin championed the notion that evolutionary scholars and scientists, instead of crafting plausible evolutionary explanations, often provide us with mere just-so stories. On the other hand, it was Gould himself (1989) as well as other historically-minded scholars who have argued that due to the nature of the subject-matter, i.e., historical events, evolutionary scientists must inevitably employ narratives as explanatory devices (see Beatty & Carrera 2011; Currie & Sterelny 2017).

While my intention is not to directly challenge adaptationism, I attempt to demonstrate that plausible narrative explanations can be, in principle, successfully distinguished from just-so stories on rational grounds. The monograph by Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber The Enigma of Reason (2017), particularly the adaptive explanation they submit, serves me as a case study for evaluating evolutionary and/or adaptive explanations of the origin of individual phenotypes.

The main goal of this paper is to defend more pluralistic and methodologically robust historical analyses of human evolution. Consequently, to oppose the view that narratives qua explanations imply epistemological nihilism and/or an "anything goes" principle in the endeavour to grasp human (evolutionary) history (cf. forthcoming in 2019).

I conclude by contrasting plausible narrative explanations with just-so stories: I diagnose that (a) just-so stories are a subset of a set of implausible narrative explanations 1 ; (b) just-so storytelling stems from a variety of adaptationist biases; (c) Gould's and Lewontin's critique of adaptationism is a useful tool for evaluating evolutionary and/or adaptive accounts for all scientists and scholars implementing evolutionary nomenclature into their own disciplines; (d) the term "just-so story" ought to be reserved for implausible narrative explanations of evolutionary phenomena in order to contrast them with plausible functional, adaptive or non-adaptive evolutionary accounts.

Chair: Alexander Belak
Time: 18:20-18:50, 18 September 2019 (Wednesday)
Location: SR 1.005
Remark: CHANGE. The talk is cancelled!

Michal Hubálek 
(University of Hradec Kr__lov__, Czech Republic)

I am a Ph.D. candidate at UHK in the Czech Republic. I work at the intersection of philosophy of science, philosophy of biology and philosophy of history, with a focus on how the epistemological and methodological problems of (S)cience affect the traditional philosophical problems. Currently, I participate in two projects: 1) Internal UHK grant concerning a narrative form of explanation within evolutionary sciences, 2) Adolf Portmann: a pioneer of the eidetic and semiotic approach in the philosophy of the life sciences (Czech Science Foundation)

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