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Why the (gene) counting argument fails in the massive modularity debate: The need for understanding gene concepts and genotype-phenotype relationships

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Abstract:

A number of debates in philosophy of biology and psychology, as well as in their respective sciences, hinge on particular views about the relationship between genotypes and phenotypes. One such view is that the genotype-phenotype relationship is relatively straightforward, in the sense that a genome contains the “genes for” the various traits that an organism exhibits. This leads to the assumption that if a particular set of traits is posited to be present in an organism, there must be a corresponding number of genes in that organism's genome to account for those traits. This assumption underlies what can be called the “counting argument,” in which empirical estimates of the number of genes in a genome are used to support or refute particular hypotheses in philosophical debates about biology and psychology. In this paper, we assess the counting argument as it is used in discussions of the alleged massive modularity of the brain, and conclude that this argument cannot be upheld in light of recent philosophical work on gene concepts and empirical work on genome complexity. In doing so, we illustrate that there are those on both sides of the debate about massive modularity who rely on an incorrect view of gene concepts and the nature of the genotype-phenotype relationship.

Keywords: Counting Argument; Evolutionary Psychology; Gene Concept; Genome Complexity; Genotype-Phenotype Relationship; Massive Modularity

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/09515089.2011.616268

Publication date: 2012-12-01

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