Teleological Explanation: Surveying the Landscape

Dissertation, University of Cambridge (2009)
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This MPhil dissertation presents a novel account of teleological explanations in biology. I outline the “shorthand approach” to such explanations, on which they are taken to convey implicit evolutionary explanations. “Selected effects” accounts of teleological explanation dominate recent literature, but they struggle to accommodate teleological explanations of complex traits built through cumulative selection. I articulate the general notion of a landscape explanation, which, applied to biology, explains the evolution of complex features in a population by citing salient features of the population’s fitness landscape. I show that such explanations lend themselves to a teleological shorthand. I close with remarks concerning when a teleological explanation of a trait is legitimate, and why teleological language strikes us as appropriate when we give evolutionary explanations.
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