, Volume 19, Issue 1, pp 1-15

Evolutionary Theory and the Social uses of Biology

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Abstract

Stephen Jay Gould is rightly remembered for many different kinds of contributions to our intellectual life. I focus on his criticisms of uses of evolutionary ideas to defend inegalitarian doctrines and on his attempts to expand the framework of Darwinian evolutionary theory. I argue that his important successes in the former sphere are applications of the idea of local critique, grounded in careful attention to the details of the inegalitarian proposals. As he became more concerned with the second project, Gould was inclined to suggest that the abuses of evolutionary ideas rested on an insufficiently expanded Darwinism. I suggest that what is valuable in Gould's contribution to general evolutionary theory is the original claim about punctuated equilibrium (advanced, with Niles Eldredge in1972), and the careful defense of that claim through the accumulation of paleontological evidence. I try to show that the more ambitious program of a hierarchical expansion of neo-Darwinism is misguided, and that the endeavor to go beyond local critique fails.