Biology & Philosophy

, 34:26 | Cite as

Contingency’s causality and structural diversity

  • Alison K. McConwellEmail author
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Paleobiology and Philosophy


What is the relationship between evolutionary contingency and diversity? The evolutionary contingency thesis emphasizes dependency relations and chance as the hallmarks of evolution. While contingency can be destructive of, for example, the fragile and complex dynamics in an ecosystem, I will mainly focus on the productive or causal aspect of contingency for a particular sort of diversity. There are many sorts of diversities: Gould is most famous for his diversity-to-decimation model, which includes disparate body plans distinguishing different phyla. However, structural diversity construed more broadly spans scales, such as organization in and among cells, structural arrangements and biomechanics on various scales, and even the profile of ancestor-descendent relationships or community structure of interactions within ecosystems. By focusing on stochastic processes in contingent evolution, I argue that contingency causes structural diversity. Specifically, I focus on the plurality of structural types of cells, genetic codes, and phyla diversity as case studies.


Contingency Diversity Stochasticity Chance Structure Function Typology Classification Pluralism 



Special thanks to Derek Turner and Joyce Havstad for providing challenges to contingency’s causality. They helped to shape a significant portion of this paper. Thanks to Will Bausman for the use of his wonderful sink metaphor, to Celso Neto for comments on previous versions, to the two reviewers whose comments significantly improved the manuscript, and to Marc Ereshefsky and Adrian Currie for their continued guidance on this project overall. Finally, I’m indebted to Ken Waters and everyone in Calgary’s research group From Biological Practice to Scientific Metaphysics for conversations about causation, as well as to Alan Love for his feedback on the very early stages of this work, and everyone at the Philosophy of Paleobiology workshop where these ideas were discussed. And of course, the funding from the John Templeton Foundation was much appreciated during my time at the University of Calgary where a significant portion of this paper was developed, as well as the funding through the Patrick Suppes Center for The History and Philosophy of Science at Stanford University where the paper was finalized.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Patrick Suppes Center for The History and Philosophy of ScienceStanford UniversityStanfordUSA

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