Scientists often make surprising claims about things that no one can observe. In physics, chemistry, and molecular biology, scientists can at least experiment on those unobservable entities, but what about researchers in fields such as paleobiology and geology who study prehistory, where no such experimentation is possible? Do scientists discover facts about the distant past or do they, in some sense, make prehistory? In this book Derek Turner argues that this problem has surprising and important consequences for the scientific realism (...) debate. His discussion covers some of the main positions in philosophy of science - realism, social constructivism, empiricism, and the natural ontological attitude - and shows how they relate to issues in paleobiology and geology. His original and thought-provoking book will be of wide interest to philosophers and scientists alike. (shrink)
In earlier work, I predicted that we would probably not be able to determine the colors of the dinosaurs. I lost this epistemic bet against science in dramatic fashion when scientists discovered that it is possible to draw inferences about dinosaur coloration based on the microstructure of fossil feathers (Vinther et al., 2008). This paper is an exercise in philosophical error analysis. I examine this episode with two questions in mind. First, does this case lend any support to epistemic optimism (...) about historical science? Second, under what conditions is it rational to make predictions about what questions scientists will or will not be able answer? In reply to the first question, I argue that the recent work on the colors of the dinosaurs matters less to the debate about the epistemology of historical science than it might seem. In reply to the second question, I argue that it is difficult to specify a policy that would rule out the failed bet without also being too conservative. (shrink)
The practice of paleontology has an aesthetic as well as an epistemic dimension. Paleontology has distinctively aesthetic aims, such as cultivating sense of place and developing a better aesthetic appreciation of fossils. Scientific cognitivists in environmental aesthetics argue that scientific knowledge deepens and enhances our appreciation of nature. Drawing on that tradition, this Element argues that knowledge of something's history makes a difference to how we engage with it aesthetically. This means that investigation of the deep past can contribute to (...) aesthetic aims. Aesthetic engagement with fossils and landscapes is also crucial to explaining paleontology's epistemic successes. (shrink)
This paper develops a critical response to John Beatty’s recent (2006) engagement with Stephen Jay Gould’s claim that evolutionary history is contingent. Beatty identifies two senses of contingency in Gould’s work: an unpredictability sense and a causal dependence sense. He denies that Gould associates contingency with stochastic phenomena, such as drift. In reply to Beatty, this paper develops two main claims. The first is an interpretive claim: Gould really thinks of contingency has having to do with stochastic effects at the (...) level of macroevolution, and in particular with unbiased species sorting. This notion of contingency as macro-level stochasticity incorporates both the causal dependence and the unpredictability senses of contingency. The second claim is more substantive: Recent attempts by other scientists to put Gould’s claim to the test fail to engage with the hypothesis that species sorting sometimes resembles a lottery. Gould’s claim that random sorting is a significant macroevolutionary phenomenon remains an intriguing and largely untested live hypothesis about evolution. (shrink)
Lately there has been a wave of criticism of the concept of living fossils. First, recent research has challenged the status of paradigmatic living fossil taxa, such as coelacanths, cycads, and tuataras. Critics have also complained that the living fossil concept is vague and/or ambiguous, and that it is responsible for misconceptions about evolution. This paper defends a particular phylogenetic conception of living fossils, or taxa that exhibit deep prehistoric morphological stability; contain few extant species; and make a high contribution (...) to phylogenetic diversity. The paper shows how this conception of living fossils can make sense of recent research on contested cases. The phylogenetic living fossil concept has both theoretical and practical importance: theoretical, because it picks out an important explanatory target for evolutionary theory; and practical, because it picks out taxa that we might wish to prioritize for conservation. The best way to defend the concept of living fossils is to get clearer about the reasons for defending living fossil taxa. (shrink)
This paper offers a paleobiological perspective on the debate concerning the possible use of biotechnology to bring back extinct species. One lesson from paleobiology is that extinction selectivity matters in addition to extinction rates and extinction magnitude. Combining some of Darwin’s insights about artificial selection with the theory of species selection that paleobiologists developed in the 1970s and 1980s provides a useful context for thinking about de-extinction. Using recent work on the prioritization of candidate species for de-extinction as a test (...) case, the paper argues that de-extinction would be a form of artificial species selection in which humans influence which species persist vs. go extinct. This points to a serious gap in our ethical theory: Much work has been done to clarify the value of biological diversity, but we also need theoretical guidance for decisions that amount to species sorting, and that will shape the macroevolutionary future. (shrink)
One of the first questions that paleontologists ask when they identify a large-scale trend in the fossil record (e.g., size increase, complexity increase) is whether it is passive or driven. In this article, I explore two questions about driven trends: (1) what is the underlying cause or source of the directional bias? and (2) has the strength of the directional bias changed over time? I identify two underdetermination problems that prevent scientists from giving complete answers to these two questions.
Entrenched biases in favour of large, charismatic mammals, towards predators, towards terrestrial animals and towards species that have cultural importance can influence the selection of candidate species for de-extinction research. Often, the species with the highest existence value will also be the ones that raise the most serious animal welfare concerns.
The distinction between idiographic science, which aims to reconstruct sequences of particular events, and nomothetic science, which aims to discover laws and regularities, is crucial for understanding the paleobiological revolution of the 1970s and 1980s. Stephen Jay Gould at times seemed conflicted about whether to say (a) that idiographic science is fine as it is or (b) that paleontology would have more credibility if it were more nomothetic. Ironically, one of the lasting results of the paleobiological revolution was a new (...) way of doing historical science that defies categorization as idiographic or nomothetic. Yet the tension between (a) and (b) persists in some recent work in the philosophy of science, with Carol Cleland defending a version of (a) and Dan McShea and Robert Brandon defending a version of (b). In placing Cleland's work into conversation with that of McShea and Brandon, this paper defends a third (c) synthetic approach that emphasizes the blending of idiographic and nomothetic work. (shrink)
Scientific realism is fundamentally a view about unobservable things, events, processes, and so on, but things can be unobservable either because they are tiny or because they are past. The familiar abductive arguments for scientific realism lend more justification to scientific realism about the tiny than to realism about the past. This paper examines both the “basic” abductive arguments for realism advanced by philosophers such as Ian Hacking and Michael Devitt, as well as Richard Boyd’s version of the inference to (...) the best explanation of the success of science, and shows that these arguments provide less support to historical than to experimental realism. This is because unobservably tiny things can function both as unifiers of the phenomena and as tools for the production of new phenomena, whereas things in the past can only serve as unifiers of the phenomena. The upshot is that realists must not suppose that by presenting arguments for experimental realism they have thereby defended realism in general.Author Keywords: Author Keywords: Realism; Abduction; Historical science; Hacking; Devitt; Boyd. (shrink)
Explanations in the natural historical sciences often take the form of stories. This paper examines two accounts of the sources of narrative’s explanatory power: Beatty’s suggestion that narrative explanation is closely connected to historical contingency, and that narratives explain by contrasting what happened with what might have happened; and Ereshefsky and Turner’s view that narratives explain by organizing events around a central subject with a distinctive direction of historical development. In both accounts, it turns out that non-epistemic values typically play (...) a role in the construction of narrative, and hence contribute to narrative’s explanatory force. Two case studies from historical science – the plate tectonic story of the Avalonian terrane, and the story of the evolution of trichromatic vision in (some) mammals – help to motivate and illustrate this argument. (shrink)
Horseshoe crabs (Limulus polyphemus) have been in decline in Long Island Sound, and recently there has been discussion of whether the state of Connecticut should stop issuing licenses for commercial harvesting. This paper argues that in spite of concerns about the living fossil concept, the fact that the horseshoe crabs are living fossils should count in favor of more stringent protection. The paper distinguishes four different views about the status of the living fossil concept: 1) eliminativism; 2) redefinition; 3) reframing; (...) and 4) conceptual pluralism. Approaches 2–4 all treat the criteria associated with living fossils as picking out distinctive features of evolutionary history. Those distinctive features of evolutionary history link up with conservation values in several ways. More generally, drawing upon relevant work in environmental philosophy, it is argued that evolutionary history is relevant to aesthetic and environmental value. Moreover, eliminativists have trouble rendering intelligible a striking pattern in the recent scientific literature. Researchers undertaking conservation-relevant work frequently highlight the living fossil status of the taxa under study. (shrink)
This chapter draws upon the archaeological and philosophical literature to offer an analysis and diagnosis of the popular ‘ancient aliens’ theory. First, we argue that ancient aliens theory is a form of conspiracy theory. Second, we argue that it differs from other familiar conspiracy theories because it does distinctive ideological work. Third, we argue that ancient aliens theory is a form of non-contextualized inquiry that sacrifices the very thing that makes archaeological research successful, and does so for the sake of (...) popular accessibility. Rather than merely dismissing ancient aliens as ‘pseudoarchaeology’ on demarcationist grounds, we offer a more complicated account of how the theory works, and what ideological work it does. (shrink)
Derek Turner, Professor of Philosophy, has written an introductory logic textbook that students at Connecticut College, or anywhere, can access for free. The book differs from other standard logic textbooks in its reliance on fun, low-stakes examples involving dinosaurs, a dog and his friends, etc. This work is published in 2020 under a Creative Commons AttributionNonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. You may share this text in any format or medium. You may not use it for commercial purposes. If you share it, (...) you must give appropriate credit. If you remix, transform, add to, or modify the text in any way, you may not then redistribute the modified text. (shrink)
By focusing too narrowly on consequentialist arguments for ecosabotage, environmental philosophers such as Michael Martin (1990) and Thomas Young (2001) have tended to overlook two important facts about monkeywrenching. First, advocates of monkeywrenching see sabotage above all as a technique for counteracting perverse economic incentives. Second, their main argument for monkeywrenching – which I will call the ecodefence argument – is not consequentialist at all. After calling attention to these two under-appreciated aspects of monkeywrenching, I go on to offer a (...) critique of the ecodefence argument. Finally, I show that there is also a tension between the use of cost/benefit analysis to justify particular acts of ecosabotage and the clandestine nature of those acts. (shrink)
A number of people, from William James to Dave Foreman and Vandana Shiva, have suggested that humans are at war with nature. Moreover, the analogy with warfare figures in at least one important argument for strategic monkeywrenching. In general, an analogy can be used for purposes of (1) justification; (2) persuasion; or (3) as a tool for generating novel hypotheses and recommendations. This paper argues that the analogy with warfare should not be used for justificatory or rhetorical purposes, but that (...) it may nevertheless have a legitimate heuristic role to play in environmental philosophy. (shrink)