Proceedings of the XXII World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 43, 2008

Philosophy of Natural Sciences

Shunkichi Matsumoto
Pages 121-127

The Nature of Adaptationism

In this paper, I will take advantage of the controversy on the legitimacy of adaptationism in evolutionary biology to further investigate the nature of adaptationistic thinking, or biological explanations in general. To this end, first I will look at the famous and provocative criticism made by Gould and Lewontin (1979) against then-prevalent adaptationism --- a research strategy for accounting for the origin of traits of organisms seemingly adapted to the environment by appealing primarily to natural selection. Then I will consider its counterarguments put forward by Dennett (1995), one of the proponents of adaptationism, in order to scrutinize the intrinsically hypothetical character of adaptationistic thinking. By amplifying Dennett’s points, I will finally reach the conclusion that there are two senses --- objective and subjective --- in which adaptationistic thinking is said to be hypothetical, which nonetheless do not prevent it from qualifying as scientific practice. In the process, I will also gain an insight into the sense in which the theory of natural selection is said to be mechanistic, as a spin-off.