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A Science of Human Nature?

Philosophical Disputes at the Interface of Natural and Social Science

Studying at Cambridge

Backwards in Retrospect

last modified Feb 21, 2015 05:40 PM

soberoriginTim Lewens reviews Elliot Sober's Did Darwin Write the Origin Backwards? for Philosophical Studies.


In the title chapter of Did Darwin Write the Origin Backwards?, Sober argues for an asymmetry between facts about genealogy and facts about natural selection, which has the result that evidentially (but not causally) Darwin's book is the wrong way round. Here I make three points about Sober's argument in that chapter. First, it is not clear that Darwin employs what Sober calls 'tree thinking' as frequently as Sober himself suggests. Second, I argue that Darwin's reason for structuring the Origin as he did can be understood if we think of the Origin's argument as an inference to the best explanation. Third, I show circumstances where, even if selection is the only important evolutionary force, we would still be able to infer common ancestry.


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