Re: Don't Constrain my Laws, Danny!

Danny Yee (danny@STAFF.CS.SU.OZ.AU)
Thu, 14 Sep 1995 16:01:33 +1000

Bob Graber writes:
> D. Yee's suggestion that there is a "consensus" that biological species
> are individuals (made up of a theoretically infinite number of
> individuals of a lower-order kind, presumably?)

No, usually made up of a very finite number of more traditional
"individuals" - organisms.

> rather than classes
> sounds most peculiar; though he, Hull, and Ghiselin are "free"--as much
> as anyone is--to hold peculiar beliefs.

Well, there seems to be almost complete consensus amongst modern
philosophers of biology that this is the best way to classify them.
See the papers in _Conceptual Issues in Evolutionary Biology_ (Sober
1994) for some approaches. Ghiselin 1974(?) is the classic paper
on the subject.

> However, I object most
> strenuously to his trying to confine the scope of the lawlike
> generalization that, in the absence of inhibiting factors, population
> growth leads to proportional increase in the number of societies, to the
> "small (round,blue) barrel" to which humans remain more or less confined
> so far. No! I definitely mean this law to apply to all human beings,
> past, present, and future, on this or any other planet, in this or any
> other universe.

But the point that Hull and Ghiselin (and indeed almost all modern
philosophers of biology) are making in their classification of
biological species as "individuals" rather than classes, is that no
matter how many planets a species spreads to, its membership will
still be defined by genealogy (biological species concept), and *not*
by definition; hence they are not classes. Particular species are
spatially and temporally delimited historical entities (even if their
extent in space and time is not yet known).

If you are prepared, like Dawkins, to use purely a formal definition
of "life/evolving entities" as "objects with variation, heritability,
selection, etc.", then it is possible to make some "laws" without
reference to any particular biological species. But at this sort of
level you are effectively doing formal mathematics - as soon as you
tackle real biology (or anthropology) you are restricting yourself
to particular parts of the universe, particular kinds of matter, etc.

> Don't fence in
> my lawlike generalizations; either give an exception, expose them as
> unfalsifiable, or, failing that, accept them at least tentatively--which
> ,after all,is the only way we should accept any scientific laws anyway.

It think your proposed laws (well, the ones I've seen, anyway)
are both falsifiable and (approximations to) the truth. I'm just
concerned with your idea that laws have to be (or in fact *can* be)
spatio-temporally unbounded.

Danny Yee.