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Elliott Sober [237]Elliott R. Sober [1]
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Elliott Sober
University of Wisconsin, Madison
  1. The Nature of Selection: Evolutionary Theory in Philosophical Focus.Elliott Sober - 1984 - University of Chicago Press.
    The Nature of Selection is a straightforward, self-contained introduction to philosophical and biological problems in evolutionary theory. It presents a powerful analysis of the evolutionary concepts of natural selection, fitness, and adaptation and clarifies controversial issues concerning altruism, group selection, and the idea that organisms are survival machines built for the good of the genes that inhabit them. "Sober's is the answering philosophical voice, the voice of a first-rate philosopher and a knowledgeable student of contemporary evolutionary theory. His book merits (...)
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  2. Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior.Elliott Sober & David Sloan Wilson - 1998 - Harvard University Press.
    The authors demonstrate that unselfish behavior is in fact an important feature of both biological and human nature. Their book provides a panoramic view of altruism throughout the animal kingdom--from self-sacrificing parasites to the human capacity for selflessness--even as it explains the evolutionary sense of such behavior.
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  3.  22
    The Design Argument.Elliott Sober - 2019 - Cambridge University Press.
    This Element analyzes the various forms that design arguments for the existence of God can take, but the main focus is on two such arguments. The first concerns the complex adaptive features that organisms have. Creationists who advance this argument contend that evolution by natural selection cannot be the right explanation. The second design argument - the argument from fine-tuning - begins with the fact that life could not exist in our universe if the constants found in the laws of (...)
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  4. Philosophy of Biology.Elliott Sober - 1993 - Westview Press.
    Perhaps because of it implications for our understanding of human nature, recent philosophy of biology has seen what might be the most dramatic work in the philosophies of the ”special” sciences. This drama has centered on evolutionary theory, and in the second edition of this textbook, Elliott Sober introduces the reader to the most important issues of these developments. With a rare combination of technical sophistication and clarity of expression, Sober engages both the higher level of theory and the direct (...)
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  5.  68
    Evidence and Evolution: The Logic Behind the Science.Elliott Sober - 2008 - Cambridge University Press.
    How should the concept of evidence be understood? And how does the concept of evidence apply to the controversy about creationism as well as to work in evolutionary biology about natural selection and common ancestry? In this rich and wide-ranging book, Elliott Sober investigates general questions about probability and evidence and shows how the answers he develops to those questions apply to the specifics of evolutionary biology. Drawing on a set of fascinating examples, he analyzes whether claims about intelligent design (...)
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  6.  17
    Ockham’s Razors: A User’s Manual.Elliott Sober - 2015 - Cambridge University Press.
    Ockham's razor, the principle of parsimony, states that simpler theories are better than theories that are more complex. It has a history dating back to Aristotle and it plays an important role in current physics, biology, and psychology. The razor also gets used outside of science - in everyday life and in philosophy. This book evaluates the principle and discusses its many applications. Fascinating examples from different domains provide a rich basis for contemplating the principle's promises and perils. It is (...)
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  7.  61
    Reply to Alexander Rosenberg's Review of The Nature of Selection.Elliott Sober - 1986 - Behaviorism 14 (1):77-88.
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  8.  13
    Reconstructing The Past: Parsimony, Evolution, and Inference.Elliott Sober - 1988 - MIT Press.
    Reconstructing the Past seeks to clarify and help resolve the vexing methodological issues that arise when biologists try to answer such questions as whether human beings are more closely related to chimps than they are to gorillas. It explores the case for considering the philosophical idea of simplicity/parsimony as a useful principle for evaluating taxonomic theories of evolutionary relationships. For the past two decades, evolutionists have been vigorously debating the appropriate methods that should be used in systematics, the field that (...)
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  9. Evolution, Population Thinking, and Essentialism.Elliott Sober - 1980 - Philosophy of Science 47 (3):350-383.
    Ernst Mayr has argued that Darwinian theory discredited essentialist modes of thought and replaced them with what he has called "population thinking". In this paper, I characterize essentialism as embodying a certain conception of how variation in nature is to be explained, and show how this conception was undermined by evolutionary theory. The Darwinian doctrine of evolutionary gradualism makes it impossible to say exactly where one species ends and another begins; such line-drawing problems are often taken to be the decisive (...)
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  10. How to Tell When Simpler, More Unified, or Less A D Hoc Theories Will Provide More Accurate Predictions.Malcolm R. Forster & Elliott Sober - 1994 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 45 (1):1-35.
    Traditional analyses of the curve fitting problem maintain that the data do not indicate what form the fitted curve should take. Rather, this issue is said to be settled by prior probabilities, by simplicity, or by a background theory. In this paper, we describe a result due to Akaike [1973], which shows how the data can underwrite an inference concerning the curve's form based on an estimate of how predictively accurate it will be. We argue that this approach throws light (...)
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  11.  72
    From a Biological Point of View: Essays in Evolutionary Philosophy.Elliott Sober - 1994 - Cambridge University Press.
    Elliott Sober is one of the leading philosophers of science and is a former winner of the Lakatos Prize, the major award in the field. This new collection of essays will appeal to a readership that extends well beyond the frontiers of the philosophy of science. Sober shows how ideas in evolutionary biology bear in significant ways on traditional problems in philosophy of mind and language, epistemology, and metaphysics. Amongst the topics addressed are psychological egoism, solipsism, and the interpretation of (...)
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  12. The Multiple Realizability Argument Against Reductionism.Elliott Sober - 1999 - Philosophy of Science 66 (4):542-564.
    Reductionism is often understood to include two theses: (1) every singular occurrence that the special sciences can explain also can be explained by physics; (2) every law in a higher-level science can be explained by physics. These claims are widely supposed to have been refuted by the multiple realizability argument, formulated by Putnam (1967, 1975) and Fodor (1968, 1975). The present paper criticizes the argument and identifies a reductionistic thesis that follows from one of the argument's premises.
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  13. Simplicity.Elliott Sober - 1975 - Oxford, England: Clarendon Press.
    Attempts to show that the simplicity of a hypothesis can be measured by attending to how well it answers certain kinds of questions.
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  14. Epiphenomenalism - the Do's and the Don 'Ts'.Lawrence A. Shapiro & Elliott Sober - 2007 - In G. Wolters & Peter K. Machamer (eds.), Thinking About Causes: From Greek Philosophy to Modern physics. University of Pittsburgh Press. pp. 235-264.
    When philosophers defend epiphenomenalist doctrines, they often do so by way of a priori arguments. Here we suggest an empirical approach that is modeled on August Weismann’s experimental arguments against the inheritance of acquired characters. This conception of how epiphenomenalism ought to be developed helps clarify some mistakes in two recent epiphenomenalist positions – Jaegwon Kim’s (1993) arguments against mental causation, and the arguments developed by Walsh (2000), Walsh, Lewens, and Ariew (2002), and Matthen and Ariew (2002) that natural selection (...)
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  15. Reintroducing Group Selection to the Human Behavioral Sciences.David Sloan Wilson & Elliott Sober - 1994 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 17 (4):585-608.
    In both biology and the human sciences, social groups are sometimes treated as adaptive units whose organization cannot be reduced to individual interactions. This group-level view is opposed by a more individualistic one that treats social organization as a byproduct of self-interest. According to biologists, group-level adaptations can evolve only by a process of natural selection at the group level. Most biologists rejected group selection as an important evolutionary force during the 1960s and 1970s but a positive literature began to (...)
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  16. A Critical Review of Philosophical Work on the Units of Selection Problem.Elliott Sober & David Sloan Wilson - 1994 - Philosophy of Science 61 (4):534-555.
    The evolutionary problem of the units of selection has elicited a good deal of conceptual work from philosophers. We review this work to determine where the issues now stand.
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  17.  92
    Artifact, Cause and Genic Selection.Elliott Sober & Richard C. Lewontin - 1982 - Philosophy of Science 49 (2):157-180.
    Several evolutionary biologists have used a parsimony argument to argue that the single gene is the unit of selection. Since all evolution by natural selection can be represented in terms of selection coefficients attaching to single genes, it is, they say, "more parsimonious" to think that all selection is selection for or against single genes. We examine the limitations of this genic point of view, and then relate our criticisms to a broader view of the role of causal concepts and (...)
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  18. Equilibrium Explanation.Elliott Sober - 1983 - Philosophical Studies 43 (2):201 - 210.
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  19. Prediction Versus Accommodation and the Risk of Overfitting.Christopher Hitchcock & Elliott Sober - 2004 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 55 (1):1-34.
    an observation to formulate a theory, it is no surprise that the resulting theory accurately captures that observation. However, when the theory makes a novel prediction—when it predicts an observation that was not used in its formulation—this seems to provide more substantial confirmation of the theory. This paper presents a new approach to the vexed problem of understanding the epistemic difference between prediction and accommodation. In fact, there are several problems that need to be disentangled; in all of them, the (...)
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  20. The Two Faces of Fitness.Elliott Sober - manuscript
    The concept of fitness began its career in biology long before evolutionary theory was mathematized. Fitness was used to describe an organism’s vigor, or the degree to which organisms “fit” into their environments. An organism’s success in avoiding predators and in building a nest obviously contribute to its fitness and to the fitness of its offspring, but the peacock’s gaudy tail seemed to be in an entirely different line of work. Fitness, as a term in ordinary language (as in “physical (...)
     
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  21. Absence of Evidence and Evidence of Absence: Evidential Transitivity in Connection with Fossils, Fishing, Fine-Tuning, and Firing Squads.Elliott Sober - 2009 - Philosophical Studies 143 (1):63-90.
    “Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence” is a slogan that is popular among scientists and nonscientists alike. This article assesses its truth by using a probabilistic tool, the Law of Likelihood. Qualitative questions (“Is E evidence about H ?”) and quantitative questions (“How much evidence does E provide about H ?”) are both considered. The article discusses the example of fossil intermediates. If finding a fossil that is phenotypically intermediate between two extant species provides evidence that those species have (...)
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  22.  82
    Probabilistic Causality and the Question of Transitivity.Ellery Eells & Elliott Sober - 1983 - Philosophy of Science 50 (1):35-57.
    After clarifying the probabilistic conception of causality suggested by Good (1961-2), Suppes (1970), Cartwright (1979), and Skyrms (1980), we prove a sufficient condition for transitivity of causal chains. The bearing of these considerations on the units of selection problem in evolutionary theory and on the Newcomb paradox in decision theory is then discussed.
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  23. Evolutionary Theory and the Reality of Macro Probabilities.Elliott Sober - 2010 - In Ellery Eells & James H. Fetzer (eds.), The Place of Probability in Science. Springer. pp. 133--60.
    Evolutionary theory is awash with probabilities. For example, natural selection is said to occur when there is variation in fitness, and fitness is standardly decomposed into two components, viability and fertility, each of which is understood probabilistically. With respect to viability, a fertilized egg is said to have a certain chance of surviving to reproductive age; with respect to fertility, an adult is said to have an expected number of offspring.1 There is more to evolutionary theory than the theory of (...)
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  24. The Evolution of Rationality.Elliott Sober - 1981 - Synthese 46 (January):95-120.
    How could the fundamental mental operations which facilitate scientific theorizing be the product of natural selection, since it appears that such theoretical methods were neither used nor useful "in the cave"-i.e., in the sequence of environments in which selection took place? And if these wired-in information processing techniques were not selected for, how can we view rationality as an adaptation? It will be the purpose of this paper to address such questions as these, and in the process to sketch some (...)
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  25. Mathematics and Indispensability.Elliott Sober - 1993 - Philosophical Review 102 (1):35-57.
    Realists persuaded by indispensability arguments af- firm the existence of numbers, genes, and quarks. Van Fraassen's empiricism remains agnostic with respect to all three. The point of agreement is that the posits of mathematics and the posits of biology and physics stand orfall together. The mathematical Platonist can take heart from this consensus; even if the existence of num- bers is still problematic, it seems no more problematic than the existence of genes or quarks. If the two positions just described (...)
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  26. Psychologism.Elliott Sober - 1978 - Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 8 (July):165-91.
    The end of the nineteenth century is remembered as a time when psychology freed itself from philosophy and carved out an autonomous subject matter for itself. In fact, this time of emancipation was also a time of exile: while the psychologists were leaving, philosophers were slamming the door behind them. Frege is celebrated for having demonstrated the irrelevance of psychological considerations to philosophy. Some of Frege’s reasons for distinguishing psychological questions from philosophical ones were sound, but one of Frege’s most (...)
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  27. Testability.Elliott Sober - 1999 - Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 73 (2):47-76.
    That some propositions are testable, while others are not, was a fundamental idea in the philosophical program known as logical empiricism. That program is now widely thought to be defunct. Quine’s (1953) “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” and Hempel’s (1950) “Problems and Changes in the Empiricist Criterion of Meaning” are among its most notable epitaphs. Yet, as we know from Mark Twain’s comment on an obituary that he once had the pleasure of reading about himself, the report of a death can (...)
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  28. The Design Argument.Elliott Sober - 2004 - In William Mann (ed.), The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Religion. Blackwell.
  29. Against Proportionality.Lawrence A. Shapiro & Elliott Sober - 2012 - Analysis 72 (1):89-93.
    A statement of the form ‘C caused E’ obeys the requirement of proportionality precisely when C says no more than what is necessary to bring about E. The thesis that causal statements must obey this requirement might be given a semantic or a pragmatic justification. We use the idea that causal claims are contrastive to criticize both.
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  30. Two Outbreaks of Lawlessness in Recent Philosophy of Biology.Elliott Sober - 1997 - Philosophy of Science 64 (4):467.
    John Beatty (1995) and Alexander Rosenberg (1994) have argued against the claim that there are laws in biology. Beatty's main reason is that evolution is a process full of contingency, but he also takes the existence of relative significance controversies in biology and the popularity of pluralistic approaches to a variety of evolutionary questions to be evidence for biology's lawlessness. Rosenberg's main argument appeals to the idea that biological properties supervene on large numbers of physical properties, but he also develops (...)
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  31.  57
    The Poverty of Pluralism: A Reply to Sterelny and Kitcher.Elliott Sober - 1990 - Journal of Philosophy 87 (3):151-158.
    In a recent article, Kim Sterelny and Philip Kitcher5 defend a version of genic selectionism and attempt to refute the criticisms I made of that doctrine. Their defense has two components. First, they find fault with the account I gave of the units-of-selection controversy-an account which uses the idea of probabilistic causality as a tool of explication. Second, they provide a positive account of their own of what that controversy concerns, one which they think allows genic selectionism to emerge as (...)
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  32.  91
    Apportioning Causal Responsibility.Elliott Sober - 1988 - Journal of Philosophy 85 (6):303.
    (Journal of Philosophy, 1988, 85:303-318).
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  33. The Evolution of Altruism: Correlation, Cost, and Benefit. [REVIEW]Elliott Sober - 1992 - Biology and Philosophy 7 (2):177-187.
    A simple and general criterion is derived for the evolution of altruism when individuals interact in pairs. It is argued that the treatment of this problem in kin selection theory and in game theory are special cases of this general criterion.
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  34. A Priori Causal Models of Natural Selection.Elliott Sober - 2011 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 89 (4):571 - 589.
    To evaluate Hume's thesis that causal claims are always empirical, I consider three kinds of causal statement: ?e1 caused e2 ?, ?e1 promoted e2 ?, and ?e1 would promote e2 ?. Restricting my attention to cases in which ?e1 occurred? and ?e2 occurred? are both empirical, I argue that Hume was right about the first two, but wrong about the third. Standard causal models of natural selection that have this third form are a priori mathematical truths. Some are obvious, others (...)
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  35.  2
    Adaptationism and Optimality.Steven Hecht Orzack & Elliott Sober (eds.) - 2001 - Cambridge University Press.
    The debate over the relative importance of natural selection as compared to other forces affecting the evolution of organisms is a long-standing and central controversy in evolutionary biology. The theory of adaptationism argues that natural selection contains sufficient explanatory power in itself to account for all evolution. However, there are differing views about the efficiency of the adaptation model of explanation. If the adaptationism theory is applied, are energy and resources being used to their optimum? This book presents an up-to-date (...)
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  36.  58
    Trait Fitness is Not a Propensity, but Fitness Variation Is.Elliott Sober - 2013 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (3):336-341.
    The propensity interpretation of fitness draws on the propensity interpretation of probability, but advocates of the former have not attended sufficiently to problems with the latter. The causal power of C to bring about E is not well-represented by the conditional probability Pr. Since the viability fitness of trait T is the conditional probability Pr, the viability fitness of the trait does not represent the degree to which having the trait causally promotes surviving. The same point holds for fertility fitness. (...)
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  37.  70
    Venetian Sea Levels, British Bread Prices, and the Principle of the Common Cause.Elliott Sober - 2001 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 52 (2):331-346.
    When two causally independent processes each have a quantity that increases monotonically (either deterministically or in probabilistic expectation), the two quantities will be correlated, thus providing a counterexample to Reichenbach's principle of the common cause. Several philosophers have denied this, but I argue that their efforts to save the principle are unsuccessful. Still, one salvage attempt does suggest a weaker principle that avoids the initial counterexample. However, even this weakened principle is mistaken, as can be seen by exploring the concepts (...)
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  38.  30
    Unto Others.David Sloan Wilson & Elliott Sober - 2002 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 65 (3):681-684.
    It is a challenge to explain how evolutionary altruism can evolve by the process of natural selection, since altruists in a group will be less fit than the selfish individuals in the same group who receive benefits but do not make donations of their own. Darwin proposed a theory of group selection to solve this puzzle. Very simply, even though altruists are less fit than selfish individuals within any single group, groups of altruists are more fit than groups of selfish (...)
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  39.  1
    Philosophy of Biology.Elliott Sober & Pénel Jean-Dominique - 1995 - Revue Philosophique de la France Et de l'Etranger 185 (3):382-383.
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  40. Natural Selection and Distributive Explanation: A Reply to Neander.Elliott Sober - 1995 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 46 (3):384-397.
    The thesis that natural selection explains the frequencies of traits in populations, but not why individual organisms have the traits tehy do, is here defended and elaborated. A general concept of ‘distributive explanation’ is discussed.
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  41. Realism, Conventionalism, and Causal Decomposition in Units of Selection: Reflections on Samir Okasha’s Evolution and the Levels of Selection.Elliott Sober - 2011 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 82 (1):221-231.
    I discuss two subjects in Samir Okasha’s excellent book, Evolution and the Levels of Selection. In consonance with Okasha’s critique of the conventionalist view of the units of selection problem, I argue that conventionalists have not attended to what realists mean by group, individual, and genic selection. In connection with Okasha’s discussion of the Price equation and contextual analysis, I discuss whether the existence of these two quantitative frameworks is a challenge to realism.
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  42. Cartwright on Explanation and Idealization.Mehmet Elgin & Elliott Sober - 2002 - Erkenntnis 57 (3):441 - 450.
    Nancy Cartwright (1983, 1999) argues that (1) the fundamental laws of physics are true when and only when appropriate ceteris paribus modifiers are attached and that (2) ceteris paribus modifiers describe conditions that are almost never satisfied. She concludes that when the fundamental laws of physics are true, they don't apply in the real world, but only in highly idealized counterfactual situations. In this paper, we argue that (1) and (2) together with an assumption about contraposition entail the opposite conclusion (...)
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  43.  4
    Did Darwin Write the Origin Backwards? Philosophical Essays on Darwin’s Theory.Elliott Sober - 2010 - Prometheus Books.
    Is it accurate to label Darwin's theory "the theory of evolution by natural selection," given that the concept of common ancestry is at least as central to Darwin's theory? Did Darwin reject the idea that group selection causes characteristics to evolve that are good for the group though bad for the individual? How does Darwin's discussion of God in The Origin of Species square with the common view that he is the champion of methodological naturalism? These are just some of (...)
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  44.  47
    Evolutionary Altruism, Psychological Egoism, and Morality: Disentangling the Phenotypes.Elliott Sober - 1993 - In Matthew Nitecki & Doris Nitecki (eds.), Evolutionary Ethics. Suny Press. pp. 199--216.
    I want to explain some of the gaps I see between the concepts of morality and altruism. Indeed, there are three concepts here that need to be disentangled, not just two. Evolutionists use the terms “altruism” and “selfishness” in a way that differs from the usage found in ordinary parlance. So my goal is to separate evolutionary altruism, psychological altruism, and morality. Morality includes a variety of characteristics. There is more to morality than altruism. If we can avoid the mistake (...)
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  45.  23
    Quine.Elliott Sober & Peter Hylton - 2000 - Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 74:237-299.
    In 'Two Dogmas of Empiricism', Quine attacks the analytic/synthetic distinction and defends a doctrine that I call epistemological holism. Now, almost fifty years after the article's appearance, what are we to make of these ideas? I suggest that the philosophical naturalism that Quine did so much to promote should lead us to reject Quine's brief against the analytic/synthetic distinction; I also argue that Quine misunderstood Carnap's views on analyticity. As for epistemological holism, I claim that this thesis does not follow (...)
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  46. Parsimony Arguments in Science and Philosophy—A Test Case for Naturalism P.Elliott Sober - 2009 - Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 83 (2):117 - 155.
    Parsimony arguments are advanced in both science and philosophy. How are they related? This question is a test case for Naturalismp, which is the thesis that philosophical theories and scientific theories should be evaluated by the same criteria. In this paper, I describe the justifications that attach to two types of parsimony argument in science. In the first, parsimony is a surrogate for likelihood. In the second, parsimony is relevant to estimating how accurately a model will predict new data when (...)
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  47. What is Wrong with Intelligent Design?Elliott Sober - 2007 - Quarterly Review of Biology 82 (1):3-8.
    This article reviews two standard criticisms of creationism/intelligent design (ID): it is unfalsifiable, and it is refuted by the many imperfect adaptations found in nature. Problems with both criticisms are discussed. A conception of testability is described that avoids the defects in Karl Popper’s falsifiability criterion. Although ID comes in multiple forms, which call for different criticisms, it emerges that ID fails to constitute a serious alternative to evolutionary theory.
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  48. Intelligent Design and Probability Reasoning.Elliott Sober - 2002 - International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 52 (2):65-80.
    This paper defends two theses about probabilistic reasoning. First, although modus ponens has a probabilistic analog, modus tollens does not – the fact that a hypothesis says that an observation is very improbable does not entail that the hypothesis is improbable. Second, the evidence relation is essentially comparative; with respect to hypotheses that confer probabilities on observation statements but do not entail them, an observation O may favor one hypothesis H1 over another hypothesis H2 , but O cannot be said (...)
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  49.  15
    Unto Others.David Sloan Wilson & Elliott Sober - 2002 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 65 (3):692-696.
    Altruism has both an evolutionary and a psychological meaning. As the term is used in evolutionary theory, a trait is deemed altruistic if it reduces the fitness of the actor and enhances the fitness of someone else. In its psychological sense, the thesis that we have altruistic ultimate motives asserts that we care about the welfare of others, not just as a means of enhancing our own well-being, but as an end in itself. In Unto Others (hereafter UO), we consider (...)
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  50.  50
    Contrastive Empiricism.Elliott Sober - 1990 - In C. Wade Savage (ed.), Scientific Theories. University of Minnesota Press. pp. 392--410.
    Realism and empiricism have always been contradictory tendencies in the philosophy of science. The view I will sketch is a synthesis, which I call Contrastive Empiricism. Realism and empiricism are incompatible, so a synthesis that merely conjoined them would be a contradiction. Rather, I propose to isolate important elements in each and show that they combine harmoniously. I will leave behind what I regard as confusions and excesses. The result, I hope, will be neither contradiction nor mishmash.
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