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questions?

In Uncategorized on February 4, 2010 by ariew

Last Tuesday’s class was very lively. But, not everyone got a chance to ask questions or make comments. Does anyone have any lingering questions? I think we did a nice job identifying some conceptual and philosophical problems that we’ll need to put into focus later in the semester, including mathematical explanation, causation, and idealization.

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4 Responses to “questions?”

  1. Well, I agree with Andre that Mayr is pretty much wrong. To put it bluntly, he seems to assume that pre-Darwinian biologists were medieval morons. I also agree that Sober’s paper has pretty deep flaws, but I think it could be salvageable. Andre, please consider this positive criticism!

    1) I’m not convinced that Sober thinks that population thinking is statistical thinking (whatever that means!). I’m also not completely convinced that he doesn’t, but I would need more argumentation for this claim.

    2) The Galton/Quetlet episode is not only not talking about Darwin, it’s not clear that it’s about evolution at all. Even if Quetlet was anti-evolution (I have no idea if this is so), it doesn’t look like it would have an effect on this episode.

    However, it is arguably an example of population thinking supplanting typological thinking. I think Quetlet can be construed as following the Natural State Model. It is not natural for an individual American to have 1.2 children, but it is natural for the *average* American to have 1.2 children. (The fact that individual Americans can only have whole numbers of children could be seen as a disturbing cause.) Also, there might be a multitude of constant causes, but Quetlet could probably provide a constituent definition for a population in terms of those constant causes. Interfere with the constant causes that affect an individual (as opposed to merely adding disturbing causes), and that individual stops being a bona fide member of that population.

    3) It’s pretty clear that the “natural phenotype” discussion is talking about neo-Darwinism, not Darwinism. Darwin didn’t know about the genotype/phenotype distinction. However, I think Darwin would agree that there is no ‘natural’ genotype/bundle of inheritable traits for a species. (He wouldn’t use Sober’s argument for this, of course!) I’m open to being corrected by Darwin scholars on this point.

    4) I agree with Todd on certain key points. A scientist’s new theory can have a metaphysical effect without the scientist having a metaphysical intent. Also, Sober is only arguing that the populationist/essentialist distinction is *a* difference between evolution and pre-evolutionary biology, not *the* difference.

    5) If Darwin’s original theory could be framed in Natural State Model terms, then this would be sufficient to kill Sober’s thesis. (Not necessary, but sufficient. NSM isn’t necessarily the only form of essentialism, so evolution could be essentialist but not NSM. Or, like Andre argues, population thinking shouldn’t be contrasted with essentialism, but with some other -ism.) I can’t think of a way to do this, but that doesn’t mean someone else can.

  2. (1) In reply to Dan’s first and second point: In the 3rd paragraph on p. 369, Sober says “The transition made possible by statistical thinking from typological to population thinking was not completed by Galton”. I can’t find any other passage that Sober explicitly said that population thinking is statistical thinking, but this passage suggests that population thinking should make use of statistical thinking (or, statistical method).

    (2) I have a question about Aristotle’s Natural State Model: What is the model about, and what’s limitation of this model?

    Sober says that typological thinking builds upon the Natural State Model, looking for natural tendencies of each individual, and that population thinking looks for properties of each population (370). As Andre shows that Darwin makes use of the Natural State Model, and as Dan shows that we seem to be able to interpret Quetelet as a Natural State Model user, this model does not focus on individuals per se.

    Is it a metaphysical model? It doesn’t seem so, since it doesn’t say only the natural state exists. It seems to me somehow epistemological (I am very unsure about this), since it helps us distinguish the natural type/state from the unnatural ones. Sober seems very dissatisfied with this model. He devotes one section to disputing making distinction. But I am skeptical that distinctions are so unhelpful (the line may be unclear, but that doesn’t destroy the distinctions). If what the Natural State Model does is just making distinctions, it doesn’t seem hopeless. How do we understand this model? And if it has any problem, what is that?

    A related point: is the Natural State Model just a methodology, just as population thinking is? Does population thinking have any problem?

  3. Wenwen said:

    “In the 3rd paragraph on p. 369, Sober says “The transition made possible by statistical thinking from typological to population thinking was not completed by Galton”.”

    That could be interpreted as being local to the Galton/Quetlet case. What’s really weird is that this statement seems to imply that Quetlet was *not* a statistical thinker! It could be rephrased as “the transition in statistical thinking from typological to population thinking.”

    Does Andre show that Darwin makes use of the NSM? If so, I missed it.

    I would say that the Natural State Model is a scientific model that can be applied wherever certain conditions are fulfilled. (I saw Sheng use it to talk about Hume’s account of artistic taste!) If the conditions of the Natural State Model are not fulfilled, then the model won’t yield good predictions, if it can even be applied at all. That seems to have been what happened in the case of biology (outside of discussions of health/illness and function/dysfunction) and the Galton/Quetlet case. I’m not sure if population thinking is also a model.

  4. Thanks for your input, Dan. I do understand Sober to take Quetlet to be a natural state model believer rather than a population thinking theorist. I know that Quetlet is a statistician,but I don’t think once you are a statistician, then you are a population thinking theorist. Whether you are a population thinking theorist should depend on how you interpret the figures. I realized that I made a typo when I posted my previous comment. I meant to say that Galton, instead of Quetlet, may be interpreted as a natural state model believer.

    I remember Andre talked about how Darwin still believed in the superiority of species, which is not believed by the population thinking theorist Sober describes. That belief fits natual state model better, as it seems to me.

    You understanding of the natural state model is quite helpful. Just regard it as a tool that we can use, without committing us to any metaphysical claim. That seems about right. Sober does use the phrase “population thinking model” somewhere in his paper. Btw, what is a model?

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