Biological narrativism. Historical narrativism and the science of biology

In this philosophical thesis I defend the idea that the science of contemporary evolution biology utilizes narrative structures when they explain biological phenomenon by means of the principle of natural selection. While other authors already recognized the narrative nature of evolutionary explanations, they failed to draw the conclusions that narrative philosophers of history drew with respect to such explanations. These conclusions are that narratives as a whole cannot be about truthfulness, but are rather a matter of giving the right perspective of things, i.e. they are about giving an interpretation of a certain part of the past. If the principle of natural selection can only explain in a narrative form, biological explanations that use this principle are also about giving perspectives and interpretations. The thesis has three parts. In the first part I show what problems there are between the traditional received view of science and current biological evolutionary explanations. This I do by showing how the notion of a law of nature is incompatible with evolutionary explanations. The corollary of this is that the principle of natural selection seems to be a principle with a tautological nature. In the second part I show how the philosophy of narrativism has its pedigree in the nineteenth century German movement of Historism, and how it emerged in the analytical philosophy of history in reaction to the logical positivist ideas on science. Historians, thus the narrativists, do not explain by subsumption under a law or regularity, but by telling a story. And telling a story means seeing a whole collection of facts in one cognitive act, which the philosopher of history Louis Mink calls a configurational comprehension. In the last part I show why explanations that use the principle of natural selection are narrative explanations. I first show that the way biologists use species leads them to using narrative sentences. These sentences, as they are described by the ph