The Structure of Biological Theories

By Paul Thompson

Subjects: Philosophy And Biology
Series: SUNY series in Philosophy and Biology
Paperback : 9780887069345, 160 pages, March 1989
Hardcover : 9780887069338, 160 pages, April 1989

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Table of contents



1. Theory Structure and Foundational Issues in Evolutionary Biology


1.1 The Theory of Evolution as a Family of Interacting Models
1.2 Sociobiology and Testability
1.3 Culture and the Evolutionary Process


2. The Syntactic Conception of Theory Structure


2.1 Formal Languages and Formal Systems
2.2 Euclidean Geometry as a Formal System
2.3 Mathematical Logic and the Formal Structure of Scientific Theories
2.4 Empirical Interpretation of a Formal System
2.5 Laws, Explanation, Prediction, and Testing
2.6 Criticisms of This Conception
2.7 Summary


3. Syntactic Conceptions of Evolutionary Theory


3.1 The Population-Genetical Account of Michael Ruse
3.2 The Selection Theory Accounts of Mary Willams and Alexander Rosenberg
3.3 The Insights and Inadequacies of These Accounts


4. The Semantic Concpetion of Theory Structure


4.1 Models of Formal Systems
4.2 Theories as Specifications of a Class of Models
4.3 The Set-Theoretical Approach
4.4 The State Space Approach
4.5 Summary


5. A Semantic Conception of the Structure of Evolutionary Theory


5.1 A Semantic Conception of Population Genetics
5.2 Faithfulness to Foundational Work in Genetics
5.3 A Semantic Conception of Evolutionary Theory as a Family of Interacting Models


6. Sociobiology


6.1 Explanation and Testability
6.2 Intelligence-based Behavior


7. Culture and the Evolutionary Process: Multitheoretic and Multilevel Explanatory Causal Chains


7.1 Evolutionary Epistemology
7.2 Evolutionary Ethics






The central thesis of this book is that the semantic conception is a logical methodologically and heuristically richer and more accurate account of scientific theorizing, and in particular of theorizing in evolutionary biology, than the more widely adhered to syntactic conception. In this book, the author outlines both the conceptions indicating the significant problems with the syntactic conception; explains and criticizes two influential syntactic-conception accounts of the structure of evolutionary theorizing. Thompson also argues that the semantic conception provides a richer and more accurate understanding than the syntactic conception of sociobiological explanation, of the testability of sociobiology, and of the role of culture and cognition in evolutionary explanations of human behavior.

Paul Thompson is Professor of Philosophy and Chairman of the Division of Humanities at the University of Toronto.


"This is a first-class piece of work. The philosophy of biology generally is a subject that has leapt ahead in recent years, and Thompson is one of the best of the young practitioners. The topic with which he deals is timely and his approach is controversial and exciting. He makes his case skillfully and with much knowledge." — Michael Ruse, editor of Biology and Philosophy

"The central message of the book is that general philosophical misconceptions about the nature of theories have resulted in severe misrepresentations of evolutionary theory. This is an important and timely contribution to the literature of the philosophy of science." — John Beatty, University of Minnesota