, Volume 14, Issue 1, pp 61-75
Date: 11 Nov 2010

Natural selection as a paradigm of opportunism in biology

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Abstract

The success of extant species is largely due to their ability to adapt in the face of constantly changing environmental conditions. Natural selection is the biological mechanism that takes advantage of opportunities to promote spontaneous variations and facilitate evolutionary development. The character of this biological opportunism is considered here, placing it firmly within the context of various social and economic principles—notably individualism, industrialism, utilitarianism and consequentialism—that have characterised the philosophy of the modern era. However, this purely opportunistic approach, and its myopic emphasis on immediate problem solving, has serious shortcomings within both life and business practice. These are examined here in contrast to some of the alternative approaches found in biology and economics theory. The nature and relationship of function to utility in biology is also given particular consideration, as is the issue of incrementalism in the development of complex adaptive features. The methodological reductionism at the heart of evolutionary biology certainly does offer insightful empirical results reported in the scientific literature. Nonetheless, natural selection is observed to be a purely reflexive mechanism and not one capable of producing the kind of innovation necessary for the more revolutionary changes in an organism’s systems.