Biological constraints as norms in evolution

History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 44 (1):1-21 (2022)
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Abstract

Biology seems to present local and transitory regularities rather than immutable laws. To account for these historically constituted regularities and to distinguish them from mathematical invariants, Montévil and Mossio have proposed to speak of constraints. In this article we analyse the causal power of these constraints in the evolution of biodiversity, i.e., their positivity, but also the modality of their action on the directions taken by evolution. We argue that to fully account for the causal power of these constraints on evolution, they must be thought of in terms of normativity. In this way, we want to highlight two characteristics of the evolutionary constraints. The first, already emphasised as reported by Gould, is that these constraints are both produced by and producing biological evolution and that this circular causation creates true novelties. The second is that this specific causality, which generates unpredictability in evolution, stems not only from the historicity of biological constraints, but also from their internalisation through the practices of living beings.

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