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Elliott Sober

Eliott Sober is Hans Reichenbach Professor and William F. Vilas Research Professor of Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the author of The Nature of Selection (MIT Press, 1984), Reconstructing the Past (MIT Press, 1988), Philosophy of Biology, and, with David S. Wilson, Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior.

Titles by This Author

Parsimony, Evolution, and Inference

Reconstructing the Past seeks to clarify and help resolve the vexing methodological issues that arise when biologists try to answer such questions as whether human beings are more closely related to chimps than they are to gorillas. It explores the case for considering the philosophical idea of simplicity/parsimony as a useful principle for evaluating taxonomic theories of evolutionary relationships.

For the past two decades, evolutionists have been vigorously debating the appropriate methods that should be used in systematics, the field that aims at reconstructing phylogenetic relationships among species. This debate over phylogenetic inference, Elliott Sober observes, raises broader questions of hypothesis testing and theory evaluation that run head on into long standing issues concerning simplicity/parsimony in the philosophy of science.

Sober treats the problem of phylogenetic inference as a detailed case study in which the philosophical idea of simplicity/parsimony can be tested as a principle of theory evaluation. Bringing together philosophy and biology, as well as statistics, Sober builds a general framework for understanding the circumstances in which parsimony makes sense as a tool of phylogenetic inference. Along the way he provides a detailed critique of parsimony in the biological literature, exploring the strengths and limitations of both statistical and nonstatistical cladistic arguments.

Titles by This Editor

Edited by Elliott Sober

These essays by leading scientists and philosophers address conceptual issues that arise in the theory and practice of evolutionary biology. The third edition of this widely used anthology has been substantially revised and updated. Four new sections have been added: on women in the evolutionary process, evolutionary psychology, laws in evolutionary theory, and race as social construction or biological reality. Other sections treat fitness, units of selection, adaptationism, reductionism, essentialism, species, phylogenetic inference, cultural evolution, and evolutionary ethics.

Each of the twelve sections contains two or three essays that develop different views of the subject at hand. For example, the section on evolutionary psychology offers one essay by two founders of the field and another that questions its main tenets. One sign that a discipline is growing is that there are open questions, with multiple answers still in competition; the essays in this volume demonstrate that evolutionary biology and the philosophy of evolutionary biology are living, growing disciplines.

Contributors:
Robin O. Andreasen, Kwame Anthony Appiah, David A. Baum, John H. Beatty, David J. Buller, Leda Cosmides, James Donoghue, Steven J. Farris, Joseph Felsenstein, Susan K. Finsen, Joseph Fracchia, Stephen Jay Gould, Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, David L. Hull, Philip Kitcher, R. C. Lewontin, Elisabeth Lloyd, Ernst Mayr, Michael Ruse, John Maynard Smith, Elliott Sober, John Tooby, C. Kenneth Waters, George C. Williams, David Sloan Wilson, E. O. Wilson