Darwin hypothesized that some animals, when selecting sexual partners, possess a genuine “sense of beauty” that cannot be accounted for by the logic of natural selection. This hypothesis has been notoriously controversial. In this chapter I propose that the concept of agency can be useful to operationalize the “sense of beauty”, and can help identify the conditions under which one can infer that animals are acting as (aesthetic) agents. Focusing on a case study of the behavior of the Pavo cristatus, (...) I identify the types of evidence that would allow for the inference of agency through aesthetic choice. (shrink)
In the past decade, policy-makers in science have been concerned with harmonizing research integrity standards across Europe. These standards are encapsulated in the European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity. Yet, almost every European country today has its own national-level code of conduct for research integrity. In this study we document in detail how national-level codes diverge on almost all aspects concerning research integrity – except for what constitutes egregious misconduct. Besides allowing for potentially unfair responses to joint misconduct by (...) international collaborations, we argue that the divergences raise questions about the envisaged self-regulatory function of the codes of conduct. (shrink)
Some of the most significant policy responses to cases of fraudulent and questionable conduct by scientists have been to strengthen professionalism among scientists, whether by codes of conduct, integrity boards, or mandatory research integrity training programs. Yet there has been little systematic discussion about what professionalism in scientific research should mean. In this paper I draw on the sociology of the professions and on data comparing codes of conduct in science to those in the professions, in order to examine what (...) precisely the model of professionalism implies for scientific research. I argue that professionalism, more than any other single organizational logic, is appropriate for scientific research, and that codes of conduct for scientists should strengthen statements concerning scientific autonomy and competence, as well as the scientific service ideal. (shrink)
Social media has invaded our private, professional, and public lives. While corporations continue to portray social media as a celebration of self-expression and freedom, public opinion, by contrast, seems to have decidedly turned against social media. Yet we continue to use it just the same. What is social media, and how should we live with it? Is it the promise of a happier and more interconnected humanity, or a vehicle for toxic self-promotion? In this essay I examine the very structure (...) of social media communications in order to sketch how we should engage with social media. Social media communications are, I argue, a public communication of private content. This allows connections to be made with others in ways that would not otherwise be possible; however, it also submits the private to a status competition, which in turn is linked to mental health challenges. A ‘virtuous’ engagement with social media means being aware of these dynamics, and choosing to subordinate social media to other, more important goods. (shrink)
We propose that measures of information integration can be more straightforwardly interpreted as measures of agency rather than of consciousness. This may be useful to the goals of consciousness research, given how agency and consciousness are “duals” in many (although not all) respects.
Biologists explain organisms’ behavior not only as having been programmed by genes and shaped by natural selection, but also as the result of an organism’s agency: the capacity to react to environmental changes in goal-driven ways. The use of such ‘agential explanations’ reopens old questions about how justified it is to ascribe agency to entities like bacteria or plants that obviously lack rationality and even a nervous system. Is organismic agency genuinely ‘real’ or is it just a useful fiction? In (...) this paper we focus on two questions: whether agential explanations are to be interpreted ontically, and whether they can be reduced to non-agential explanations (thereby dispensing with agency). The Kantian approach we identify interprets agential explanations non-ontically, yet holds agency to be indispensable. Attributing agency to organisms is not to be taken literally in the way we attribute physical properties such as mass or acceleration, but nor is it a mere heuristic or predictive tool. Rather, it is an inevitable consequence of our own rational capacity: as long as we are rational agents ourselves, we cannot avoid seeing agency in organisms. (shrink)
The success of precision medicine depends on obtaining large amounts of information about at-risk populations. However, getting consent is often difficult. Why? In this commentary I point to the differentials in social status involved. These differentials are inevitable once personal information is surrendered, but are particularly intense when the studied populations are socioeconomically or socioculturally disadvantaged and/or ethnically stigmatized groups. I suggest how the deep distrust of the latter groups can be partially justified as a lack of confidence that their (...) core values or interests will sufficiently be taken into account. Hence, the ethical challenge here lies not in avoiding status differentials, but in dealing with them appropriately. Scientists should not assume trust from others but adopt a norm of “demonstrating trustworthiness”. (shrink)
The dominant view on the ethics of cognitive enhancement (CE) is that CE is beholden to the principle of autonomy. However, this principle does not seem to reflect commonly held ethical judgments about enhancement. Is the principle of autonomy at fault, or should common judgments be adjusted? Here I argue for the first, and show how common judgments can be justified as based on a principle of service.
Codes of ethics currently offer no guidance to scientists acting in capacity of expert. Yet communicating their expertise is one of the most important activities of scientists. Here I argue that expert communication has a specifically ethical dimension, and that experts must face a fundamental trade-off between "actionability" and "transparency" when communicating. Some recommendations for expert communication are suggested.
Environmental heterogeneity is invoked as a key explanatory factor in the adaptive evolution of a surprisingly wide range of phenomena. This article aims to analyze this explanatory scheme of categorizing traits or properties as adaptations to environmental heterogeneity. First it is suggested that this scheme can be understood as a reaction to how heterogeneity adaptations were discounted or ignored in the modern synthesis. Then a positive account is proposed, distinguishing between two broad categories of adaptation to environmental heterogeneity: properties selected (...) for by well-defined patterns of environmental heterogeneity, and properties that help organisms exploit novel patterns of environmental heterogeneity. (shrink)
Philosophers of science and metascientists alike typically model scientists’ behavior as driven by credit maximization. In this article I argue that this modeling assumption cannot account for how scientists have a default level of trust in each other’s assertions. The normative implication of this is that science policy should not focus solely on incentive reform.
Implicit contextual factors mean that the boundary between causal and noncausal explanation is not as neat as one might hope: as the phenomenon to be explained is given descriptions with varying degrees of granularity, the nature of the favored explanation alternates between causal and non-causal. While it is not surprising that different descriptions of the same phenomenon should favor different explanations, it is puzzling why re-describing the phenomenon should make any difference for the causal nature of the favored explanation. I (...) argue that this is a problem for the ontic framework of causal and noncausal explanation, and instead propose a pragmatic-modal account of causal and non-causal explanation. This account has the added advantage of dissolving several important disagreements concerning the status of non-causal explanation. (shrink)
The dominant view today on evolutionary progress is that it has been thoroughly debunked. Even value-neutral progress concepts are seen to lack important theoretical underpinnings: natural selection provides no rationale for progress, and natural selection need not even be invoked to explain large-scale evolutionary trends. In this paper I challenge this view by analysing how natural selection acts in heterogeneous environments. This not only undermines key debunking arguments, but also provides a selectionist rationale for a pattern of “evolutionary unfolding”, where (...) life radiates across an increased range of exploitation of environmental heterogeneity. (shrink)
Ever since its inception, the theory of evolution has been reified into an “-ism”: Darwinism. While biologists today tend to shy away from the term in their research, the term is still actively used in the broader academic and societal contexts. What exactly is Darwinism, and how precisely are its various uses and abuses related to the scientific theory of evolution? Some call for limiting the meaning of the term “Darwinism” to its scientific context; others call for its abolition; yet (...) others claim the term refers to a myth-like story. In this paper we propose a conceptually grounded overview of the term. We show how the scientific dimension of Darwinism feeds into, and is influenced by, guises of Darwinism as a methodology and as an ethically and politically charged “worldview”. The full meaning of Darwinism, as well as how this meaning has changed over time, can only be understood through the complex interaction between these three dimensions. (shrink)
Niche construction is a concept that captures a wide array of biological phenomena, from the environmental effects of metabolism to the creation of complex structures such as termite mounds and beaver dams. A central point in niche construction theory is that organisms do not just passively undergo developmental, ecological, or evolutionary processes, but are also active participants in them Evolution: From molecules to men, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1983; Laland KN, Odling-Smee J, Feldman MW, In: KN Laland and T Uller (...) Evolutionary causation: Biological and philosophical reflections, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2019). In this paper, we distinguish between two fundamentally different ways in which organisms are active participants: as agents and as contributors. Roughly, organisms act as agents when niche constructing effects are a result of a goal-directed behavior over which the organisms have some degree of control. Organisms act as contributors when the niche constructing effects do not arise from a goal to perform the constructive activity. As illustrative examples we discuss plants altering leaf-morphology to optimize light exposure as reported by Sultan and bacteria creating novel niches through excreting energy-rich metabolites. The difference between agential and contributional niche construction is important for understanding the different ways organisms can actively participate in development, ecology, and evolution. Additionally, this distinction can increase our understanding of how the capacity of agency is distributed across the tree of life and how agency influences developmental and evolutionary processes. (shrink)
As the principle of natural selection is generalized to explain (adaptive) patterns of human behavior, it becomes less clear what the selective environment empirically refers to. While the environment and individual are relatively separable in the non-human biological context, they are highly entangled in the context of moral, social, and institutional evolution. This chapter brings attention to the problem of generalizing the selective environment, and argues that it is ontologically disunified and definable only through its explanatory function. What unifies the (...) selective environment is that it explains adaptation in a non-agential way, by screening off various forms of agency, whether divine, organismic, or human. This explanatory function of the selective environment helps avoid some sources of confusion when the theory of natural selection is applied to humanities and social sciences. (shrink)
In enhancement ethics, evolutionary theory has been largely perceived as supporting liberal views on enhancement, where decisions to enhance are predominantly regulated by the principle of individual autonomy. In this paper I critique this perception in light of recent scientific developments. Cultural evolutionary theory suggests a picture where individual interests are entangled with community interests, and this undermines the applicability of the principle of autonomy. This is particularly relevant for enhancement ethics, given how – I argue – decisions to enhance (...) are often influenced by desires to increase social status. The “service view on enhancement”, based on principles of service and trust, is proposed as offering better guidance for the challenges of social living. (shrink)
Even if the “value-free ideal of science” (VFI) were an unattainable goal, one could ask: can it be a useful fiction, one that is beneficial for the research community and society? This question is particularly crucial for scholars and institutions concerned with research integrity (RI), as one cannot offer normative guidance to researchers without making some assumptions about what ideal scientific research looks like. Despite the insofar little interaction between scholars studying RI and those working on values in science, the (...) overlap of topics and interests make collaboration between the two fields promising for understanding research and its ethics. Here, we identify—for the use of RI scholars—the non-epistemic reasons (societal, political, professional) for and against the VFI considered in the literature. All of these are concerned with the beneficial or detrimental consequences that endorsing the VFI would have on society, policy-making, or the scientific community, with some authors appealing to the same principles to argue for opposite positions. Though most of the reviewed articles do not endorse the VFI, it is generally agreed that some constraints have to be put on the use of non-epistemic values. Disagreement on the utility of the VFI lies both on the different epistemic-descriptive positions taken by different authors, and on the scarcity of relevant empirical studies. Engaging critically with the reasons here identified and more in general with the values in science debate will help the RI community decide whether the VFI should be included in future codes of conduct. (shrink)
Background Professional communities such as the medical community are acutely concerned with negligence: the category of misconduct where a professional does not live up to the standards expected of a professional of similar qualifications. Since science is currently strengthening its structures of self-regulation in parallel to the professions, this raises the question to what extent the scientific community is concerned with negligence, and if not, whether it should be. By means of comparative analysis of medical and scientific codes of conduct, (...) we aim to highlight the role of negligence provisions in codes of conduct for scientists, and to discuss the normative consequences for future codes of conduct. -/- Methods We collected scientific and medical codes of conduct in a selection of OECD countries, and submitted each code of conduct to comparative textual analysis. -/- Results Negligence is invariably listed as an infraction of the norms of integrity in medical codes of conduct, but only rarely so in the scientific codes. When the latter list negligence, they typically do not provide any detail on the meaning of ‘negligence’. -/- Discussion Unlike codes of conduct for professionals, current codes of conduct for scientists are largely silent on the issue of negligence, or explicitly exclude negligence as a type of misconduct. In the few cases where negligence is stipulated to constitute misconduct, no responsibilities are identified that would help prevent negligence. While we caution against unreasonable negligence provisions as well as disproportionate sanctioning systems, we do argue that negligence provisions are crucial for justified trust in the scientific community, and hence that there is a very strong rationale for including negligence provisions in codes of conduct. (shrink)
Organismic agency is often understood as the capacity to produce goal-directed behavior. This paper proposes a new way of modelling agency, namely as a naturalized deliberation. Deliberative action is not directed towards a particular goal, but involves a process of weighing multiple goals and a choice for a particular combination of these. The underlying causal model is symmetry breaking, where the organism breaks symmetries present in the selective environment. Deliberation is illustrated though the phenomena of mate choice and bacterial chemotaxis.
In one vision of human success, future human evolution lies in enhancing our bodies and especially our minds in order to achieve new levels of cooperation, morality, and well-being. In unadulterated form, this vision combines a pessimism in the human evolutionary heritage with an optimism in what technological enhancement can offer. This chapter points to a crucial blind spot: the role the social and cultural environment has played and continues to play in human evolution. In particular, the chapter emphasizes how (...) enhancement technologies are co-opted in the competition for social status. When this is taken into consideration, the vision of techno-libertarian success seems both less appealing and less plausible. Two desiderata for the concept of human success in the future are identified. (shrink)
Algorithm engineering is sometimes portrayed as a new 21st century return of manipulative social engineering. Yet algorithms are necessary tools for individuals to navigate online platforms. Algorithms are like a sensory apparatus through which we perceive online platforms: this is also why individuals can be subtly but pervasively manipulated by biased algorithms. How can we better understand the nature of algorithm engineering and its proper function? In this chapter I argue that algorithm engineering can be best conceptualized as a type (...) of environmental engineering aimed at making the online environment more hospitable to human use, in particular by safeguarding the conditions that allow for trust. (shrink)
Many have argued that there is no reason why natural selection should cause directional increases in measures such as body size or complexity across evolutionary history as a whole. In this paper I argue that this conclusion does not hold for selection for adaptations to environmental variability, and that, given the inevitability of environmental variability, trends in adaptations to variability are an expected feature of evolution by natural selection. As a concrete instance of this causal structure, I outline how this (...) may be applied to a trend in phenotypic plasticity. (shrink)
Claims that our species is an “evolutionary success” typically do not feature prominently in academic articles. However, they do seem to be a recurring trope in science popularization. Why do we seem to be attracted to viewing human evolution through the lense of “success”? In this chapter we discuss how evolutionary success has both causal-descriptive and ethical-normative components, and how its ethical status is ambiguous, with possible hints of anthropocentrism. We also place the concept of “success” in a wider context (...) of biological thought, contrasting it with two other value-laden concepts: evolutionary progress and human uniqueness. Claiming the human species to be an evolutionary success is ostensibly grounded in metrics such as the dominance or the size of the human population, but often goes beyond this, suggesting that humans are a unique species or the pinnacle of evolutionary progress. (shrink)
Distrust in scientific experts can be surprisingly stubborn, persisting despite evidence supporting the experts’ views, demonstrations of their competence, or displays of good will. This stubborn distrust is often viewed as a manifestation of irrationality. By contrast, this article proposes a logic of “status distrust”: low-status individuals are objectively vulnerable to collective decision-making, and can justifiably distrust high-status scientific experts if they are not confident that the experts do not have their best interests at heart. In phenomena of status distrust, (...) social status is thus an indicator of distrust, and this has wider implications for the literatures on trust in science and on expert communication. (shrink)
The principle of clinical equipoise has been variously characterized by ethicists and clinicians as fundamentally flawed, a myth, and even a moral balm. Yet, the principle continues to be treated as the de facto gold standard for conducting randomized control trials in an ethical manner. Why do we hold on to clinical equipoise, despite its shortcomings being widely known and well-advertised? This paper reviews the most important arguments criticizing clinical equipoise as well as what the most prominent proposed alternatives are. (...) In the process, it evaluates the justification for continuing to use clinical equipoise as the gold standard for randomized control trials. (shrink)
Path-dependence offers a promising way of understanding the role historicity plays in explanation, namely, how the past states of a process can matter in the explanation of a given outcome. The two main existing accounts of path-dependence have sought to present it either in terms of dynamic landscapes or branching trees. However, the notions of landscape and tree both have serious limitations and have been criticized. The framework of causal networks is both more fundamental and more general that that of (...) landscapes and trees. Within this framework, I propose that historicity in networks should be understood as symmetry breaking. History matters when an asymmetric bias towards an outcome emerges in a causal network. This permits a quantitative measure for how path-dependence can occur in degrees, and offers suggestive insights into how historicity is intertwined both with causal structure and complexity. (shrink)
Thinking in terms of purposes is inevitable in daily life. We make to-do lists and we go to the store “in order to” stock up on necessities. We enroll in education and training courses, buy or rent property, and commit to a romantic partner. Our religions, albeit controversially, identify “ultimate purposes.” Purpose thinking seems deeply engrained in our cognition. Even so, purpose thinking has never sat easily with post-Cartesian modern science. When the world is modeled as a structure of efficient (...) causes, then the apparent existence of final causes becomes an explanandum. (shrink)
De indruk overheerst dat het vertrouwen in instellingen tanende is. Toch wordt deze indruk niet altijd ondersteund door bevragingen en statistieken. Als die indruk een mythe is, dan is de echte vraag: waarom worden we dan tot deze mythe aangetrokken? In dit essay wil ik ons verlangen naar vertrouwen plaatsen in een cultuur en in een denkkader waarin vrijheid en zelfbeschikking blijven primeren, en kijken naar hoe er vandaag theoretisch wordt nagedacht over vertrouwen en publiek beleid. Het valt te betwijfelen (...) of we het vertrouwen dat we zoeken op die manier zullen vinden. (shrink)
It is an ongoing controversy whether natural selection is a cause of population change, or a mere statistical description of how individual births and deaths accumulate. In this paper I restate the problem in terms of the reference class problem, and propose how the structure of stable equilibrium can provide a solution in continuity with biological practice. Insofar natural selection can be understood as a tendency towards equilibrium, key statisticalist criticisms are avoided. Further, in a modification of the Newtonian-force analogy, (...) it can be suggested that a better metaphor for natural selection is that of an emergent force, similar in nature to entropic forces: with magnitude and direction, but lacking a spatiotemporal origin or point of application. (shrink)
The ideas Darwin published in On the Origin of Species and The Descent of Man in the nineteenth century continue to have a major impact on our current understanding of the world in which we live and the place that humans occupy in it. Darwin’s theories constitute the core of the contemporary life sciences, and elicit enduring fascination as a potentially unifying basis for various branches of biology and the biomedical sciences. They can be used to understand the biological ground (...) of human cognition, common behavioral patterns and disorders, and psychopathology more generally in psychology, psychiatry, and neuroscience. Perhaps the best known expression of this fact is Dobzhansky’s famous dictum that “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” (Dobzhansky T. Am Zool 4:443–452, 1964: 449; Am Biol Teach 35:125–129, 1973: 125), and given that all human behavior supervenes on some biological basis, evolutionary thinking has a vast scope even just in this regard. (shrink)
Dankzij nieuwe reproductieve technologieën worden de keuzemogelijkheden van wensouders steeds vergroot. Echter, bij deze toegenomen maakbaarheid stuiten we ook op een onvermogen om onze ervaringen aan te passen aan het veranderende culturele en morele landschap, vooral met betrekking tot de waarde van de genetische connectie. In deze bijdrage wil ik stilstaan bij zulke ‘weerbarstige ervaringen’ en de implicaties ervan voor het beleid en de ethiek van ouderschap.
The rise and fall of societies has traditionally been subject matter for history and sociology, but with The Human Swarm, the author establishes the human society as a legitimate object of study for evolutionary biologists. Societies are different from groups of cooperating individuals in that they have a social identity that sets the terms for group membership. In ant colonies, identity is manifested by a unique scent; in whale pods, by unique sounds; and in human groups, by a wide range (...) of signals, including visual markers, accents, and subtle behavioral cues. Identity is what allows the size of societies to increase without all members having to know each other. Strangers can expect to cooperate relatively easily each other, as long as they share a social identity. (shrink)
If evolutionary history were to be replayed from the beginning, what would be the same, and what would be likely different? Would there be a human-like species, multicellularity, or even DNA? There is a great variety in the answers biologists give to this question, despite having the same access to empirical data and biological theory. For instance, Stephen J. Gould has claimed that evolutionary history is radically contingent, while Conway Morris holds that it converges onto specific biological structures that are (...) favored by natural selection. Others such have proposed that evolutionary history is characterized by an inexorable increase in complexity, while others see it as an evolutionary arms race. In this dissertation I investigate the fundaments underlying claims biologists make about contingency and directionality in evolutionary history as a whole. The topics of convergence and contingency have received attention from philosophers of biology in recent years, but the foundations of interpretations of evolutionary history as a whole remains a relatively neglected field. Hence the primary objective of this dissertation was not to defend this or that account, but rather to show a method by which these fundamental issues can be identified and analyzed constructively. The dissertation is organized into two parts, each dedicated to a single problem. The first part concerns the problem of ‘description dependence’: claims about the contingency of evolutionary outcomes depend on how these outcomes and the evolutionary process itself are described. I set out to map the different ways in which the contingency of outcomes changes as the phenomena are described in more and in less detail, and as broader or narrower subsets of evolutionary history are taken into account. That such an analysis is useful to pursue, I attempt to show by applying it to two of the most prominent interpretations of evolutionary history, those of Gould and Conway Morris. According to how their claims about evolutionary history are analyzed, one can arrive at opposing conclusions about the contingency of evolutionary outcomes. The second part concerns the problem of ‘causal complexity’: evolutionary history is a complex mess of unrelated causal processes, and for every generalization there is an exception. This raises the question whether non-speculative generalizations over evolutionary history as a whole are even possible. Limiting the scope of the investigation to the mechanism of natural selection alone, I consider first whether and how natural selection may be expected to give rise to trends at all. Some philosophers reject that natural selection is a cause at all, and that all evolution is simply an accumulation of births and deaths. If any trend occurs at all, it is due to a confluence of unrelated causal processes that could easily not have occurred. I argue against this by showing that these philosophers overlook the issue of time-scale: causal processes may make a difference for reproductive outcome at a time-scale of a single generation without them making a difference at the time-scale of multiple generations. With this distinction in mind, one can argue that natural selection causes a population to tend towards equilibrium. If a yet longer time-scale is taken – not that of multiple generations in a single environment, but that of many species and genuses across many environments – the challenge of causal complexity becomes much more difficult to overcome. Drawing on the phenomenon of phenotypic plasticity and niche construction, I argue that selection for plasticity ‘feeds’ on this complexity and variability in the environment. The trend in plasticity is unique in this regard, since trends in other types of adaptation are interrupted by the variability of complex environments. (shrink)
What does it mean for our species—or for any species—to be successful? Human Success: Evolutionary Origins and Ethical Implications examines the concept of human success from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, with contributions from leading paleobiologists, anthropologists, geologists, philosophers of science, and ethicists. It tells the tale of how the human species grew in success-linked metrics, such as population size and geographical range, and how it came to dominate ecological systems across the globe. It explores how culture, technology, and creativity (...) have contributed to human success. However, there is a darker side of human success, as has become apparent in a world affected by climate change and the destruction of biodiversity. This leads us to ask whether the human species can really be called successful, and what our future success will look like in terms of our bodies, minds, morals, and our place in the universe. The essays in this book probe us to reflect on what has led to our apparent evolutionary success—and, most important, what this success implies for the future of our species. (shrink)
This volume aims to clarify the epistemic potential of applying evolutionary thinking outside biology, and provides a survey of the current state of the art in research on relevant topics in the life sciences, the philosophy of science, and the various areas of evolutionary research outside the life sciences. By bringing together chapters by evolutionary biologists, systematic biologists, philosophers of biology, philosophers of social science, complex systems modelers, psychologists, anthropologists, economists, linguists, historians, and educators, the volume examines evolutionary thinking within (...) and outside the life sciences from a multidisciplinary perspective. While the chapters written by biologists and philosophers of science address theoretical aspects of the guiding questions and aims of the volume, the chapters written by researchers from the other areas approach them from the perspective of applying evolutionary thinking to non-biological phenomena. Taken together, the chapters in this volume do not only show how evolutionary thinking can be fruitfully applied in various areas of investigation, but also highlight numerous open problems, unanswered questions, and issues on which more clarity is needed. As such, the volume can serve as a starting point for future research on the application of evolutionary thinking across disciplines. (shrink)