'Population thinking' is a troubled notion. Philosophers have made numerous attempts at elucidating the meaning of this term, which was coined – but hardly explicated – by Ernst Mayr as the opposite of 'typological thinking'. But instead of having converged on a common understanding, the various philosophical treatments have led to a situation in which no two philosophers appear to agree on the meaning of the term. I will offer a diagnosis of the causes of this status quo, which hinges on the observation that distinct understandings of the term have been mixed together at an early stage. This confusion persists in the recent literature, in which different notions of 'population thinking' often get conflated. My strategy for resolving this state of affairs loosely resembles that of Godfrey-Smith, who a decade ago distinguished between several kinds of 'adaptationism' and elucidated their relations to each other. I will argue that a similar approach can clarify what is at stake in the debates over 'population thinking'. But more than that, I will argue that this approach can contribute to a project historians of biology have become interested in: understanding the history of 'type' concepts in biology.
Joeri Witteveen obtained his liberal arts undergraduate degree from University College Maastricht, the Netherlands, in 2006. He took courses towards his degree at the University of California, Berkeley. In September 2007 he finished his work on theories of cultural evolution for the MSc in Philosophy of the Social Sciences at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He is currently pursuing a PhD in History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Cambridge.