Darwin-L Message Log 2:76 (October 1993)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

Note: Additional publications on evolution and the historical sciences by the Darwin-L list owner are available on SSRN.

<2:76>From PGRIFFITHS@gandalf.otago.ac.nz  Tue Oct 12 17:01:26 1993

To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
From: PGriffiths@gandalf.otago.ac.nz
Organization: University of Otago
Date: 13 Oct 1993 10:26:48GMT+1200

Morgan's argument for the aquatic ape hypothesis is typical of a class of
adaptationist arguments which try to increase the plausibility of an
hypothesised adaptive phase by listing a large number of traits which it can
simultaneously explain.  It does this quite impressively.

Bob O'Hara (1988) has drawn attention to the dangers of giving adaptive
explanations of character states without paying attention to the cladistic
relationships of those states.

In this particular case, the argument falls down unless the proposed
'adaptive character suite' emerges in the same general area of the tree for
primate lineages.  If, instead, it is a collage of traits from different
portions of the tree then it cannot be a response to a single adaptive

Morgan's hypothesis is thus eminently testable by cladistic methods, as
discussed in my (forthcoming).  But the data set would have to be much
larger than that available from Morgan or from other versions such as
MacNaughton (1989), since these versions tend to commit another classic
adaptationist methodological sin, that of looking at a cladistically
meaningless group of species for a comparative study.


O'Hara, R.J  (1988) Homage to Clio, or towards a historical philosophy for
evolutionary biology.  Systematic Zoology 37. 142-155

MacNaughton, N (1989) Biology and Emotion.  CUP.

Griffiths, P.E. (forthcoming)  Cladistic Classification and Functional
Explanations.  Philosophy of Science, in press.

Paul E Griffiths
Department of Philosophy
University of Otago
P.O Box 56, Dunedin,
New Zealand

Tel: (03) 479-8727
Fax: (03) 479-2305

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