Current perspectives on sexual selection : what's left after by Thierry Hoquet

By Thierry Hoquet

This root-and-branch reevaluation of Darwin's notion of sexual choice tackles the topic from historic, epistemological and theoretical views. Contributions from a wealth of disciplines were marshaled for this quantity, with key figures in behavioural ecology, philosophy, and the background of technology including to its wide-ranging relevance. Updating the reader at the debate at present dwell in behavioural Read more...

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I draw extensively on the final report of the conference in the following (Roughgarden et al. 2013). The main Pandora’s box is probably contained in wording like “competition for mates”, which spawned several issues: is sexual selection about access to mates , or about access to fertilizable gametes ? Maybe the whole question of “access to mates” or numbers of matings is secondary to number of actual fertilizations. What does “competition for mates” encompass? Not only the Darwinian mechanisms of male-male competition and female choice of males, but also competition to attract better mates.

Organic features will be those that help their possessors to survive and reproduce. These features, “adaptations,” will have the design-like nature that previous thinkers had taken to be evidence of the good intentions of an extra-natural intelligence, better known as God. Although there is some controversy about this, it seems clear that a major factor behind all of Darwin’s thinking at this point was the analogy he was drawing between what happens in the world of animal and plant breeders and what happens thanks to blind law in the world of nature.

This important issue (which hypotheses should define the “null”) is also a Pandora’s box about which it seems equally difficult to achieve a definite consensus. As a philosopher of science, I was very much interested, both on the epistemological and historical levels, in seeing various biologists debate on these issues. I invited a large panel of biologists, historians and philosophers to gather in Paris to try to understand how each of them was variously reassessing the strengths and weaknesses of sexual selection.

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