Reproductive advantage (1)

Every science is entitled to take the existence of its subject for granted. Calculus textbooks don’t need and shouldn’t have chapters on the nature of mathematicals or the possibility of mathematical motion. For the same reason, biologists don’t need to give reasons for the value of reproductive advantage: it’s enough for them to point out that, absent reproducing individuals, there’d be nothing for them to study. But it’s a fascinating question to raise – why would something reproduce at all? Why do things try to continue? Given the centrality of reproduction to the development to maturity, physical structure, and above all the intensity of desire for reproduction in the living, one might suspect that an organism is nothing but a reproductive device (Aristotle defined all life apart from consciousness as reproductive soul, that is, a being whose raison d’être is reproduction). But what rational account can be given of this?  

 

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3 Comments

  1. August 16, 2014 at 11:51 am

    Does the “centrality of reproduction” really require this kind of explanation though?

    I could imagine an objection:
    Things that (accidentally, blindly, or whatever) are so constituted as to perpetuate themselves are ceteris paribus more likely to be perpetuated. Over time, those things that perpetuate themselves will account for an ever greater proportion of things, since they are more likely to endure through any given generation.

    • August 16, 2014 at 12:05 pm

      I really like this objection, but I don’t see any way to get the probability argument to work out without fine-tuning the initial conditions to get the result. For example, the spontaneous generation of various animals, or a vast initial population of non-reproducing and long-lived animals would make the result you point to less probable.

      • August 16, 2014 at 12:27 pm

        You’re right, of course.

        I was making the typical mistake of trying to evade formal causality by smuggling form in as a material cause. Should have seen that.


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