Biology & Philosophy

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Gould’s laws: a second perspective

  • Max DresowEmail author


In a recent paper, Chris Haufe paints a provocative portrait of the late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould. His principal aim is to resolve a “paradox” arising from a prima facie inconsistent pair of commitments: (a) Gould believed that the biological facts could have been otherwise (the Replay Thesis), and (b) Gould believed that there are evolutionary laws. In order to resolve this paradox, Haufe makes two substantive claims: (1) Gould was aware of the challenges that the Replay Thesis posed for a law-centered science of evolution, even early in his career, and (2) Gould endeavored to meet these challenges by deploying the “species-as-particles approach.” In this paper, I put pressure on both of these claims. By examining the goals and methods of Gould’s first “nomothetic research program,” the science of form, I show that it does not fit the picture of nomothetic science that Haufe illustrates. Additionally, I show that no straightforward connection exists between Gould’s understanding of contingency and his (short-lived) adoption of the species-as-particles approach. I propose that Gould’s career can be usefully split into three periods, each of which employed a distinct strategy for establishing distinctively paleontological contributions to evolutionary theory.


Stephen Jay Gould Contingency Laws of nature Nomothetic paleobiology Science of form Punctuated equilibria 



I would like to thank Alan Love, Yoshinari Yoshida, Chris Haufe and an anonymous referee for providing detailed feedback on this paper. Thanks as well to the 2015 MBL-ASU History of Biology Seminar ("Perspectives on Stephen Jay Gould"), and in particular, to the organizers, David Sepkoski and John Beatty, for launching me on the project of exploring S.J. Gould's early research.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Minnesota Twin CitiesMinneapolisUSA

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