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Robustness in evolutionary explanations: a positive account

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • Cedric Paternotte
  • Jonathan Grose
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-96
Number of pages24
JournalBiology and Philosophy
Issue number1
Early online date22 Sep 2016
DateAccepted/In press - 11 Sep 2016
DateE-pub ahead of print - 22 Sep 2016
DatePublished (current) - Jan 2017


Robustness analysis is widespread in science, but philosophers have struggled to justify its confirmatory power. We provide a positive account of robustness by analysing some explicit and implicit uses of within and across-model robustness in evolutionary theory. We argue that appeals to robustness are usually difficult to justify because they aim to increase the likeliness that a phenomenon obtains. However, we show that robust results are necessary (under certain conditions) for explanations of phenomena with specific properties. Across-model robustness is necessary for how-possibly explanations of multiply instantiated phenomena, while within-model robustness is necessary for explanations of phenomena with multiple evolutionary starting points. In such cases, the appeal of robustness is explanatory rather than confirmatory.

    Research areas

  • Robustness analysis Basins of attraction Stability Explanation Models, Evolutionary game theory


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