Coordination in theory extension: How Reichenbach can help us understand endogenization in evolutionary biology

Synthese (3-4):1-26 (2021)
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Reichenbach’s early solution to the scientific problem of how abstract mathematical representations can successfully express real phenomena is rooted in his view of coordination. In this paper, I claim that a Reichenbach-inspired, ‘layered’ view of coordination provides us with an effective tool to systematically analyse some epistemic and conceptual intricacies resulting from a widespread theorising strategy in evolutionary biology, recently discussed by Okasha (2018) as ‘endogenization’. First, I argue that endogenization is a form of extension of natural selection theory that comprises three stages: quasi-axiomatisation, functional extension, and semantic extension. Then, I argue that the functional extension of one core principle of natural selection theory, namely, the principle of heritability, requires the semantic extension of the concept of inheritance. This is because the semantic extension of ‘inheritance’ is necessary to establish a novel form of coordination between the principle of heritability and the extended domain of phenomena that it is supposed to represent. Finally, I suggest that – despite the current lack of consensus on the right semantic extension of ‘inheritance’ – we can fruitfully understand the reconceptualization of ‘inheritance’ provided by niche construction theorists as the result of a novel form of coordination.

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Michele Luchetti
Max-Planck Institute for The History of Science


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