Acta Biotheoretica

, Volume 27, Issue 3–4, pp 201–235

Darwin's evolutionary philosophy: The laws of change

  • Edward S. Reed

DOI: 10.1007/BF00115834

Cite this article as:
Reed, E.S. Acta Biotheor (1978) 27: 201. doi:10.1007/BF00115834


The philosophical or metaphysical architecture of Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection is analyzed and diflussed. It is argued that natural selection was for Darwin a paradigmatic case of a natural law of change — an exemplar of what Ghiselin (1969) has called selective retention laws. These selective retention laws lie at the basis of Darwin's revolutionary world view. In this essay special attention is paid to the consequences for Darwin's concept of species of his selective retention laws. Although Darwin himself explicity supported a variety of nominalism, implicit in the theory of natural selection is a solution to the dispute between nominalism and realism. It is argued that, although implicit, this view plays a very important role in Darwin's theory of natural selection as the means for the origin of species. It is in the context of these selective retention laws and their philosophical implications that Darwin's method is appraised in the light of recent criticisms, and the conclusion drawn that he successfully treated some philosophical problems by approaching them through natural history. Following this an outline of natural selection theory is presented in which all these philosophical issues are highlighted.


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Copyright information

© Leiden University Press/Dr. W. Junk b.v 1978

Authors and Affiliations

  • Edward S. Reed
    • 1
  1. 1.Boston UniversityDepartment of PhilosophyBostonUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of EdinburghEdinburghUK

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