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European Journal for Philosophy of Science

, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp 435–454 | Cite as

The economy of nature: the structure of evolution in Linnaeus, Darwin, and the modern synthesis

  • Charles H. Pence
  • Daniel G. Swaim
Original Paper in the History of Philosophy of Science
  • 197 Downloads

Abstract

We argue that the economy of nature constitutes an invocation of structure in the biological sciences, one largely missed by philosophers of biology despite the turn in recent years toward structural explanations throughout the philosophy of science. We trace a portion of the history of this concept, beginning with the theologically and economically grounded work of Linnaeus, moving through Darwin’s adaptation of the economy of nature and its reconstitution in genetic terms during the first decades of the Modern Synthesis. What this historical case study reveals, we argue, is a window into the shifting landscape of the explanatory and ontic uses of structural concepts. In Linnaeus, the economy of nature has both ontic and explanatory import; in Darwin the ontic and explanatory aspects start to come apart (with the explanatory aspect being foregrounded); and finally, in the Modern Synthesis, the economy of nature is replaced by the conceptual toolkit of population genetics, the structural elements of which are nearly entirely explanatory. Having traced a historical trajectory of structural concepts that moves from an ontic formulation to an increasingly explanatory one, we conclude by outlining some insights for structural realism.

Keywords

Economy of nature Carl Linnaeus Charles Darwin Sewall Wright Ernst Mayr Ecology Modern synthesis Population genetics Structural realism 

Notes

Acknowledgments

Many thanks to two anonymous reviewers for this journal, whose comments were extensive, charitable, and made the paper substantially better. Thanks to Trevor Pearce, Betty Smocovitis, and Michael Weisberg for comments on a previous version of this paper. Finally, thanks to an audience at the Centre for Logic and Analytic Philosophy Seminar at KU Leuven, especially Hugh Desmond, Jan Heylen, and Grant Ramsey; an audience at the History of Science and Contemporary Scientific Realism conference, especially Anjan Chakravartty, Mark Fuller, Stuart Glennan, Ioan Muntean, and Aaron Novick; and an audience at the Louisiana State University Philosophy Salon, especially Bradley Wood, William Eberhard, and Dolores Cowie.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy and Religious StudiesLouisiana State UniversityBaton RougeUSA
  2. 2.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA

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