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Parsimony, Phylogeny, and Genomics$
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Victor A. Albert

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780199297306

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199297306.001.0001

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What is the rationale for ‘Ockham's razor’ (a.k.a. parsimony) in phylogenetic inference?

What is the rationale for ‘Ockham's razor’ (a.k.a. parsimony) in phylogenetic inference?

(p.14) (p.15) Chapter 2 What is the rationale for ‘Ockham's razor’ (a.k.a. parsimony) in phylogenetic inference?
Parsimony, Phylogeny, and Genomics

Arnold G. Kluge

Oxford University Press

Philosophers continue to debate the meaning and rationale behind ‘Ockham's razor’. Two formally distinct justifications for parsimony can be distinguished: one that recommends positing as few theoretical components as possible, and a second recommending against positing the superfluous. Furthermore, parsimony as applied to phylogenetic inference can be separated into conceptual versus operational aspects. It is argued that phylogenetic inference is ideographic, springing from the idea that the relative recency of common ancestry can be represented directly as a concrete, spatio-temporally restricted, explainable thing — the cladogram — just as it can be accompanying transformations of inherited traits. Any phylogenetic method that assumes an evolutionary model can be criticized since it may assume counter-factual conditionals. Since models are usually statistical, relating them to the necessarily unique hypotheses of phylogeny is illogical. A further argument is that employing a model assumes more than background knowledge: that which is minimally sufficient to provide a causal explanation of historical individuality. Given the ideographic argument presented, in quantitative terms, parsimony should choose the hypothesis of cladistic relationships that minimizes the overall patristic difference, because that hypothesis has the greatest power to explain the independently heritable transformation events as propositions of homology.

Keywords:   ideographic, nomothetic, antisuperfluity, background knowledge, anti-free parameters, evolutionary models, testability, homology, transformation series, descent with modification

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