Philosophy and Biology by Mohan Matthen, Bernard Linsky (editors)

By Mohan Matthen, Bernard Linsky (editors)

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Or it may die young for other reasons, or the fitter organism may die young because it caught a bad cold in a rain-storm. All of these outcomes are perfectly compatible with the assignment of the higher fitness value to the organism with the enzyme, and compatible also with the laws of population genetics that use the fitness values. The use of probability in genetics is a result of this degree of abstraction, Sober says. But if genetics did not abstract away from happenings such as those just alluded to, it would not be able to capture the same spread of phenomena.

Napoleon executed such-and-such a maneuver, we say, because it was the best available to him. In so saying we are not embarrassed by the fact that some duffer of a tactician, in exactly the same position, would have settled for something less brilliant. In just the same way, Aristotle does not typically indulge in cross-specific comparisons of functional efficacy, because he does not think that it is relevant to an organ's being explained in terms of some function that the same function is performed better by a morphologically quite different organ in a different animal.

Many things can happen to these organisms. The less fit one may die young because it ingested something that the enzyme could have dealt with. Or it may die young for other reasons, or the fitter organism may die young because it caught a bad cold in a rain-storm. All of these outcomes are perfectly compatible with the assignment of the higher fitness value to the organism with the enzyme, and compatible also with the laws of population genetics that use the fitness values. The use of probability in genetics is a result of this degree of abstraction, Sober says.

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