Topic description / abstract:
Evolutionary biology is famously undergoing philosophical discussions over the alleged need to extend, or even reconsider, some of its theoretical bases. Within this debate, evo-devo has raised as one salient field from which the classical understanding of evolution can be challenged, its main contribution being that the developmental bases of phenotypes have a profound impact on the course of evolution that was overlooked in the classical framework. While the philosophy of evo-devo is a growing area, many of the conceptual challenges that this interdisciplinary field poses for evolutionary thinking remain understudied. In this talk, I address one significant aspect of evo-devo that has yet not been sufficiently considered in philosophical analyses: its potential integration in probabilistic models of evolution. In particular, by taking a propensity understanding of some developmentally-based variational tendencies (such as modularity or evolvability), I intend to build a bridge between the classical, probabilistic means of modeling evolutionary change, and the evo-devo view of seeing development as a cause of evolution. In doing so, I propose a way in which developmental propensities can be seen as ultimate causes in the sense introduced by Mayr.