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Biology | Paleobiology | Paleontology | Philosophy | Philosophy of Science


In his Rock, Bone, and Ruin: An Optimist’s Guide to the Historical Sciences, Adrian Currie argues that historical scientists should be optimistic about success in reconstructing the past on the basis of future research. This optimism follows in part from examples of success in paleontology. I argue that paleontologists’ success in these cases is underwritten by the hierarchical nature of biological information: extinct organisms have extant analogues at various levels of taxonomic, ecological, and physiological hierarchies, and paleontologists are adept at exploiting analogies within one informational hierarchy to infer information in another. On this account, fossils serve the role of building necessary epistemic connections between different hierarchies; consequently, Currie’s optimism about future research outcomes should be limited by optimism—or a potential lack thereof—about future fossil discoveries.

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Published Version


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Original Citation

Leonard Finkelman
Betting & hierarchy in paleontology.
Philosophy, Theory, and Practice in Biology, 2019, volume 11, issue 9



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