Dispositional Properties in Evo-Devo

  • Christopher J. Austin
  • Laura Nuño de la RosaEmail author
Living reference work entry


In identifying intrinsic molecular chance and extrinsic adaptive pressures as the only causally relevant factors in the process of evolution, the theoretical perspective of the Modern Synthesis had a major impact on the perceived tenability of an ontology of dispositional properties. However, since the late 1970s, an increasing number of evolutionary biologists have challenged the descriptive and explanatory adequacy of this chance alone, extrinsic only understanding of evolutionary change. Because morphological studies of homology, convergence, and teratology have revealed a space of possible forms and phylogenetic trajectories that is considerably more restricted than expected, evo-devo has focused on the causal contribution of intrinsic developmental processes to the course of evolution. Evo-devo’s investigation into the developmental structure of the modality of morphology – including both the possibility and impossibility of organismal form – has led to the utilization of a number of dispositional concepts that emphasize the tendency of the evolutionary process to change along certain routes. In this sense, and in contrast to the perspective of the Modern Synthesis, evo-devo can be described as a science of dispositions. This chapter discusses the recent philosophical literature on dispositional properties in evo-devo, exploring debates about both the metaphysical and epistemological aspects of the central dispositional concepts utilized in contemporary evo-devo (e.g., variability, modularity, robustness, plasticity, and evolvability) and addressing the epistemological question of how dispositional properties challenge existing explanatory models in evolutionary biology.


Developmental constraints Dispositions Evo-devo Evolvability Modularity Robustness Teleology Variational structuralism 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christopher J. Austin
    • 1
  • Laura Nuño de la Rosa
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.Faculty of Philosophy, Radcliffe HumanitiesUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK
  2. 2.IAS-Research Group, IAS-Research Center for Life, Mind, and SocietyUPV/EHU University of the Basque CountrySan SebastianSpain

Section editors and affiliations

  • Alan C. Love
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Philosophy, Minnesota Center for Philosophy of ScienceUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA

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