Biological levers and extended adaptationism

Biology and Philosophy 23 (1):1-25 (2008)
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Abstract

Two critiques of simple adaptationism are distinguished: anti-adaptationism and extended adaptationism. Adaptationists and anti-adaptationists share the presumption that an evolutionary explanation should identify the dominant simple cause of the evolutionary outcome to be explained. A consideration of extended-adaptationist models such as coevolution, niche construction and extended phenotypes reveals the inappropriateness of this presumption in explaining the evolution of certain important kinds of features—those that play particular roles in the regulation of organic processes, especially behavior. These biological or behavioral ‘levers’ are distinctively available for adaptation and exaptation by their possessors and for co-optation by other organisms. As a result they are likely to result from a distinctive and complex type of evolutionary process that conforms neither to simple adaptationist nor to anti-adaptationist styles of explanation. Many of the human features whose evolutionary explanation is most controversial belong to this category, including the female orgasm

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Gillian Barker
University of Western Ontario