PSA2016: The 25th Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association

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Symposium: Major Evolutionary Transitions: Concepts, Methods, and Future Directions

Saturday, 5 November 2016
09:00 - 11:45

Chastain E (6th Floor)

Chair: Alex Levine, University of South Florida

2016 marks the twentieth anniversary of John Maynard Smith and Eörs Szathmáry’s influential theory of major transitions in evolution (‘MTE’). It also marks the first substantial reconfiguration of the theory after nearly two decades of vigorous discussion, criticism, and empirical study. The goal of MTE theory, broadly conceived, is to identify key shifts in the form and organization of life on Earth, and to connect these events with a common theoretical thread. The original formulation of the theory has been met with various criticisms, pointing (e.g.) to its lack of theoretical unity, its tendency to encourage unduly progressivist interpretations of macroevolution, its reliance on poorly defined and weakly operationalized concepts, and its problematic exclusion of crucial turning points in the history of life. How forceful are these objections, and does Szathmáry’s recent overhaul of MTE succeed in overcoming them? What are the explanatory issues at stake in MTE? This timely symposium will bring together evolutionary theorists and philosophers of macroevolution to examine the conceptual and methodological foundations of MTE theory as it was historically conceived, as it has recently been revamped, and as it is likely to develop in the future.

Models of Major Evolutionary Transitions
Russell Powell, Boston University,
On Major Transitions in Evolution 2.0
Maureen O'Malley, University of Bordeaux,
Novelty, Innovations and the Major Evolutionary Transitions
Douglas Erwin, National Museum of Natural History,
A Darwinian approach to major transitions in evolution: Evolution of individuality in the volvocine green algae.
Richard Michod, University of Arizona,
An Engineering Approach to the Major Transitions in Individuality
Daniel McShea, Duke University,
The Final Transition: Reconciling Margulis and Lewontin
W. Ford Doolittle, Dalhousie University,
Non-Selectionist Explanations of Major Transitions
Robert Brandon, Duke University,


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