2014 – What is the Status of the Hardy-Weinberg Law within Population Genetics?

  • “What is the Status of the Hardy-Weinberg Law within Population Genetics?”, en Galavotti, M.C., Nemeth, E. y F. Stadler (eds.), European Philosophy of Science – Philosophy of Science in Europe and the Viennese Heritage, Vienna Circle Institute Yearbook 17, Dordrecht: Springer, 2014, pp. 159-172. ISBN 978-3-319-01898-0.

The aim of this paper is to further develop van Fraassen’s diagnosis, expanding a previous analysis of the fundamental law of classical genetics and the status of the so-called ‘Mendel’s laws’. According to this diagnosis the Hardy-Weinberg law: 1) cannot be considered as axiom (or fundamental law) for classical population genetics, since it is a law that describes an equilibrium that 2) holds only under certain special conditions, and 3) only determines a subclass of models, 4) whose generalized form (and fundamental law) being shading off into logical vacuity, and 5) more complex variants of the fundamental law (and of the Hardy-Weinberg law) can be “deduced” for more realistic assumptions.

In order to achieve this, I will use notions of the structuralist view of theories, a version of the semantic view of theories that is related to but different from that of van Fraassen’s. These are the notions of fundamental law (or guiding-principle), specialization, and special law.

Having as a background a structuralist reconstruction of classical population genetics, I will show why the Hardy-Weinberg law should not be in fact considered the fundamental law of such a theory, but a special law (and not even a “terminal” specialization, i.e. a “non-terminal” specialization).

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