Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Jonathan Kaplan

Committee Members

Kathy Bohstedt, John Nolt, Daniel Simberloff


Science is about conceptualizing the natural world in a way that can be understood by human beings while at the same time reflecting as much as possible what we can empirically infer about how the world actually is. Among the crucial tools that allow scientists to formulate hypotheses and to contribute to a progressive understanding of nature are the use of imagery and metaphors on the one hand, and the ability to assume certain starting points on which to build new avenues of inquiry on the other hand. The premise of this work is that, in the words of philosopher of science Daniel Dennett, “There is no such thing as philosophy-free science; there is only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on board without examination.” The purpose here is precisely to examine some of this philosophical baggage, and to see where such analysis may lead us. Obviously, it is not possible for a single project to take on science as a whole, or even an entire discipline such as physics, or ecology. Therefore, the core of this work is constituted by a series of eight case studies drawn from the field of evolutionary biology, with which I am particularly familiar as a practicing biologist. The hope is that combining expertise in both philosophy and science in one person, the resulting insights might be useful for the practicing scientist as well as because of their value as philosophical inquires. The dissertation is a combination of conceptual analysis and science criticism applied to specific questions in organismal biology, largely of an evolutionary nature, with the eight case studies grouped into three broad categories: I-Unexamined Baggage, II-Bad Habits, and III-Good and bad metaphors.

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