Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 22, Issue 3, pp 415-428

First online:

Weismann Rules! OK? Epigenetics and the Lamarckian temptation

  • David HaigAffiliated withDepartment of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University Email author 

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August Weismann rejected the inheritance of acquired characters on the grounds that changes to the soma cannot produce the kind of changes to the germ-plasm that would result in the altered character being transmitted to subsequent generations. His intended distinction, between germ-plasm and soma, was closer to the modern distinction between genotype and phenotype than to the modern distinction between germ cells and somatic cells. Recently, systems of epigenetic inheritance have been claimed to make possible the inheritance of acquired characters. I argue that the sense in which these claims are true does not challenge fundamental tenets of neo-Darwinism. Epigenetic inheritance expands the range of options available to genes but evolutionary adaptation remains the product of natural selection of ‘random’ variation.


Acquired characters Epigenetics Lamarckism Neo-Darwinism Peloric Weismann