Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 31, Issue 5, pp 705–725 | Cite as

Explanatory unification and natural selection explanations

  • Stefan Petkov
  • Wei Wang
  • Yi Lei


The debate between the dynamical and the statistical interpretations of natural selection is centred on the question of whether all explanations that employ the concepts of natural selection and drift are reducible to causal explanations. The proponents of the statistical interpretation answer negatively, but insist on the fact that selection/drift arguments are explanatory. However, they remain unclear on where the explanatory power comes from. The proponents of the dynamical interpretation answer positively and try to reduce selection/drift arguments to some of the most prominent accounts of causal explanation. In turn, they face the criticism raised by statisticalists that current accounts of causation have to be violated in some of their core conditions or otherwise used in a very loose manner in order to account for selection/drift explanations. We propose a reconciliation of both interpretations by conveying evolutionary explanations within the unificationist model of scientific explanation. Therefore, we argue that the explanatory power in natural selection arguments is a result of successful unification of individual- and population-level facts. A short case study based on research on sympatric speciation will be presented as an example of how population- and individual-level facts are unified to explain the morphological mosaic of bill shape in island scrub jays (Aphelocoma insularis).


Natural selection Drift Fitness Explanatory unification 



This paper is supported by National Foundation of Social Science of China; Program name: Studies on the Key Problems of Philosophy of Biology; Program number: 14ZDB171.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Science, Technology and SocietyTsinghua UniversityBeijingChina
  2. 2.Institute of Science, Technology and SocietyTsinghua UniversityBeijingChina
  3. 3.Institute of Science, Technology and SocietyTsinghua UniversityBeijingChina

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