Biological Theory 4 (3):267-273 (2009)

Authors
Roberta L. Millstein
University of California, Davis
Abstract
Biologists studying ecology and evolution use the term “population” in many different ways. Yet little philosophical analysis of the concept has been done, either by biologists or philosophers, in contrast to the voluminous literature on the concept of “species.” This is in spite of the fact that “population” is arguably a far more central concept in ecological and evolutionary studies than “species” is. The fact that such a central concept has been employed in so many different ways is potentially problematic for the reason that inconsistent usages (especially when the usage has not been made explicit) might lead to false controversies in which disputants are simply talking past one another. However, the inconsistent usages are not the only, or even the most important reason to examine the concept. If any set of organisms is legitimately called a “population,” selection and drift processes become purely arbitrary, too. Moreover, key ecological variables, such as abundance and distribution, depend on a nonarbitrary way of identifying populations. I sketch the beginnings of a population concept, drawing inspiration from the Ghiselin-Hull individuality thesis, and show why some alternative approaches are nonstarters.
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DOI 10.1162/biot.2009.4.3.267
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References found in this work BETA

A Matter of Individuality.David L. Hull - 1978 - Philosophy of Science 45 (3):335-360.
Metaphysics and the Origin of Species.Michael T. Ghiselin - 1997 - State University of New York Press.
Natural Selection as a Population-Level Causal Process.Roberta L. Millstein - 2006 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 57 (4):627-653.
Are Species Really Individuals?David L. Hull - 1976 - Systematic Zoology 25:174-191.

View all 15 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

A Generalized Selected Effects Theory of Function.Justin Garson - 2017 - Philosophy of Science 84 (3):523-543.
Experimental Explication.Jonah N. Schupbach - 2017 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 94 (3):672-710.
Facts, Conventions, and the Levels of Selection.Pierrick Bourrat - 2021 - Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
The Mind, the Lab, and the Field: Three Kinds of Populations in Scientific Practice.Rasmus Grønfeldt Winther, Ryan Giordano, Michael D. Edge & Rasmus Nielsen - 2015 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 52:12-21.

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