Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 22, Issue 5, pp 709–725

Typology now: homology and developmental constraints explain evolvability



By linking the concepts of homology and morphological organization to evolvability, this paper attempts to (1) bridge the gap between developmental and phylogenetic approaches to homology and to (2) show that developmental constraints and natural selection are compatible and in fact complementary. I conceive of a homologue as a unit of morphological evolvability, i.e., as a part of an organism that can exhibit heritable phenotypic variation independently of the organism’s other homologues. An account of homology therefore consists in explaining how an organism’s developmental constitution results in different homologues/characters as units that can evolve independently of each other. The explanans of an account of homology is developmental, yet the very explanandum is an evolutionary phenomenon: evolvability in a character-by-character fashion, which manifests itself in phylogenetic patterns as recognized by phylogenetic approaches to homology. While developmental constraints and selection have often been viewed as antagonistic forces, I argue that both are complementary as they concern different parts of the evolutionary process. Developmental constraints, conceived of as the presence of the same set of homologues across phenotypic change, pertain to how heritable variation can be generated in the first place (evolvability), while natural selection operates subsequently on the produced variation.


Developmental constraints Evolutionary developmental biology Evolvability Explanation Homology Organization Theoretical integration 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy University of Alberta EdmontonCanada

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