Traits of Contention: Character Identification and Comparative Thinking in Evolutionary, Developmental, and Behavioural Biology

May 26, 2023 - May 27, 2023
Centre for Logic and Philosophy of Science, Institute of Philosophy, KU Leuven

Raadzaal, Institute of Philosophy


The Francis Crick Institute
KU Leuven

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CfA Workshop: “Traits of Contention: Character Identification and Comparative Thinking in Evolutionary, Developmental, and Behavioural Biology”. KU Leuven, May 26-27th 2023


Organizers: Andra Meneganzin, James DiFrisco, Grant Ramsey

When: May 26-27th 2023

Where: Institute of Philosophy, KU Leuven

Invited Speakers:

Laura Nuño de la Rosa (Universidad Complutense de Madrid, ES)

Alan Love (University of Minnesota, US)

Philipp Mitteröcker (University of Vienna, AT)

Giuseppe Fusco (University of Padova, IT)

Daniel McShea (Duke University, US), online


Decomposing integrated and dynamic systems like organisms into ‘traits’ is no neutral endeavor. There are deep, often unquestioned theoretical stances on what should count as a well-individualized trait. These stances bear important consequences for the kind of questions that we are able to ask, and the answers we look for depend on how traits are individuated, both in theory and in practice.

The goal of this workshop is to put into focus this relatively underexplored theoretical issue and to analyze the variety of practices of trait demarcation across a variety of fields.

Questions we will ask include:

  • What criteria should be used to distinguish genuine traits from arbitrary constructs or “pseudo-traits”?
  • How does trait identification impact concepts like homology and novelty?
  • What is the relationship between adaptationism and trait individuation?
  • How does how we individuate traits influence the measurement of evolutionary trends, such as an increase in complexity?
  • How do trait identification criteria relate to underlying inheritance systems?

A fruitful terrain for developing this reflection is provided by examining (i) contentious cases of trait demarcation, description, and interpretation and (ii) the different consequences for their role as common denominators/units of generalization in comparative research.

The workshop aims to provide a venue for philosophers and practicing scientists to think about character identification and its implications from a variety of perspectives and disciplinary fields. We welcome contributions from theoretical and empirical researchers interested in engaging in a productive discussion on the notion of “trait”, especially in contested contexts, and on its underpinnings in comparative thinking in evolutionary, developmental, and behavioral biology.


Call for Abstracts

We invite submissions of abstracts of around 500 words, excluding references and footnotes.

Accepted authors will give a 30-minute talk followed by a 15-minute Q&A. Abstracts must be blinded, but include personal information (affiliation, contact info) in your submission email. Please send to Andra Meneganzin ([email protected]).

Deadline: February, 28th 2023

Notification: March 31st 2023

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