Two kinds of historical explanation in Evolutionary Biology

Biology and Philosophy 37 (3):1-21 (2022)
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Historical explanations in evolutionary biology are commonly characterized as narrative explanations. Examples include explanations of the evolution of particular traits and explanations of macroevolutionary transitions. In this paper I present two case studies of explanations in accounts of pathogen evolution and host-pathogen coevolution, respectively, and argue that one of them is captured well by established accounts of time-sequenced narrative explanation. The other one differs from narrative explanations in important respects, even though it shares some characteristics with them as it is also a population-level historical explanation. I thus argue that the second case represents a different kind of explanation that I call historical explanation of type phenomena. The main difference between the two kinds of explanation is the conceptualization of the explanandum phenomena as particulars or type phenomena, respectively. Narrative explanations explain particulars but also deal with generalization, regularities and type phenomena. Historical explanations of type phenomena, on the other hand, explain multiply realizable phenomena but also deal with particulars. The two kinds of explanation complement each other because they explain different aspects of evolution.

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Nina Kranke
University of M√ľnster


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