William C. Wimsatt


(773) 702-8598

Professor Wimsatt works on methodological problems arising in the analysis of complex systems-especially in evolutionary biology, but also in various of the human and physical sciences. He has worked on problem solving strategies, model-building, on the structure of evolutionary genetics, functional organization and functional inference, levels of organization, chaos, the units of selection problem, and the role of development in evolution, extensively on reductionistic research strategies and their biases, and concepts of emergence. He has also written on the history of classical genetics, on the nature of scientific visualization, and the problems of scientific change. Currently, he is working especially on the role of development in evolution and on problems in the construction of adequate theories of cultural evolution.

Publications include:

  • Re-Engineering Philosophy for Limited Beings: Piecewise Approximations to Reality (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007.)
  • “Reductionistic research strategies and their biases in the units of selection controversy,” in T. Nickles, ed., Scientific Discovery-vol. II: Case Studies. Dordrecht: Reidel. 1980, pp. 213-259.
  • “Robustness: reliability and overdetermination,” in M. Brewer and B. Collins, eds., Scientific Inquiry and the Social Sciences. San Francisco: Jossey Bass. 1981, pp. 124-163.
  • “Developmental constraints: generative entrenchment, and the innate- acquired distinction,” in P. W. Bechtel, ed., Integrating Scientific Disciplines. Dordrecht: Martinus-Nijhoff. 1986, pp. 85-208.
  • “False Models as means to Truer Theories,” in M. Nitecki, and A. Hoffman, eds., Neutral Models in Biology. London: Oxford University Press. 1987, pp. 23-55.
  • Wimsatt, W. C., and J. C. Schank, “Two Constraints on the Evolution of Complex Adaptations and the Means for their Avoidance.” Paper prepared for the 10th annual Spring Systematics Symposium of the Field Museum of Natural History, in M. Nitecki, ed., The Idea of Progress in Evolution, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1988, pp. 231-273.
  • Griesemer, J. R., and W. C. Wimsatt, “Picturing Weismannism: A Case Study in Conceptual Evolution,” in M. Ruse, ed., What Philosophy of Biology Is. (Festschrift for David Hull). Martinus-Nijhoff. 1989, pp. 75-137.
  • “Taming the Dimensions-Visualizations in Science” in M. Forbes, L. Wessels, and A. Fine, eds, PSA-1990, volume 2; East Lansing: The Philosophy of Science Association. 1991, pp. 111-135.
  • “Golden Generalities and Co-opted Anomalies: Haldane vs. Muller and the Drosophila group on the Theory and Practice of Linkage Mapping,” in S. Sarkar, ed., The Founders of Evolutionary Genetics, Dordrecht: Martinus-Nijhoff. 1992, pp. 107-166.
  • “The Ontology of Complex Systems: Levels, Perspectives and Causal Thickets”, Canadian Journal of Philosophy supplementary volume #20, ed. Robert Ware and Mohan Matthen.1994, pp. 207-274.
  • “Aggregativity: Reductive Heuristics for Finding Emergence,” in L. Darden, ed., PSA-1996, v. 2 [Philosophy of Science, Supp Vol. #2, 1997]. 1997, pp. S372-S384.
  • “Genes, Memes, and Cultural Inheritance,” Biology and Philosophy. v. 14. 1999, 279-310.
  • “Generativity, Entrenchment, Evolution, and Innateness,” in V. Hardcastle, ed., Biology meets Psychology: philosophical essays MIT Press. 1999, 139-179.
  • “Generative Entrenchment and the Developmental Systems Approach to Evolutionary Processes,” in S. Oyama, R. Gray and P. Griffiths, eds, Cycles of Contingency: Developmental Systems and Evolution, Cambridge: MIT Press, in press, 2000.