Advertisement

Journal of the History of Biology

, Volume 46, Issue 4, pp 599–630 | Cite as

Edward O. Wilson and the Organicist Tradition

  • Abraham H. GibsonEmail author
Article

Abstract

Edward O. Wilson’s recent decision to abandon kin selection theory has sent shockwaves throughout the biological sciences. Over the past two years, more than a hundred biologists have signed letters protesting his reversal. Making sense of Wilson’s decision and the controversy it has spawned requires familiarity with the historical record. This entails not only examining the conditions under which kin selection theory first emerged, but also the organicist tradition against which it rebelled. In similar fashion, one must not only examine Wilson’s long career, but also those thinkers who influenced him most, especially his intellectual grandfather, William Morton Wheeler (1865–1937). Wilson belongs to a long line of organicists, biologists whose research highlighted integration and coordination, many of whom struggled over the exact same biological riddles that have long defined Wilson’s career. Drawing inspiration (and sometimes ideas) from these intellectual forebears, Wilson is confident that he has finally identified the origin of the social impulse.

Keywords

E. O. Wilson Kin selection Multilevel selection Group selection  Superorganism Altruism Eusociality Entomology Myrmecology 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References

  1. Abbot, Patrick, Abe, Jun, Alcock, John, Alizon, Samuel, Alpedrinha, Joao A.C., Andersson, Malte, Andre, Jean-Baptiste, van Baalen, Minus, Balloux, Francois, Balshine, Sigal, Barton, Nick, Beukeboom, Leo W., Biernaskie, Jay M., Bilde, Trine, Borgia, Gerald, Breed, Michael, Brown, Sam, Bshary, Redouan, Buckling, Angus, Burley, Nancy T., Burton-Chellew, Max N., Cant, Michael A., Chapuisat, Michel, Charnov, Eric L., Clutton-Brock, Tim, Cockburn, Andrew, Cole, Blaine J., Colegrave, Nick, Cosmides, Leda, Couzin, Iain D., Coyne, Jerry A., Creel, Scott, Crespi, Bernard, Curry, Robert L., Dall, Sasha R.X., Day, Troy, Dickinson, Janis L., Dugatkin, Lee Alan, El Mouden, Claire, Emlen, Stephen T., Evans, Jay, Ferriere, Regis, Field, Jeremy, Foitzik, Susanne, Foster, Kevin, Foster, William A., Fox, Charles W., Gadau, Juergen, Gandon, Sylvain, Gardner, Andy, Gardner, Michael G., Getty, Thomas, Goodisman, Michael A.D., Grafen, Alan, Grosberg, Rick, Grozinger, Christina M., Gouyon, Pierre-Henri, Gwynne, Darryl, Harvey, Paul H., Hatchwell, Ben J., Heinze, Jürgen, Helantera, Heikki, Helms, Ken R., Hill, Kim, Jiricny, Natalie, Johnstone, Rufus A., Kacelnik, Alex, Kiers, E. Toby, Kokko, Hanna, Komdeur, Jan, Korb, Judith, Kronauer, Daniel, Kümmerli, Rolf, Lehmann, Laurent, Linksvayer, Timothy A., Lion, Sébastien, Lyon, Bruce, Marshall, James A.R., McElreath, Richard, Michalakis, Yannis, Michod, Richard E., Mock, Douglas, Monnin, Thibaud, Montgomerie, Robert, Moore, Allen J., Mueller, Ulrich G., Noë, Ronald, Okasha, Samir, Pamilo, Pekka, Parker, Geoff A., Pedersen, Jes S., Pen, Ido, Pfennig, David, Queller, David C., Rankin, Daniel J., Reece, Sarah E., Reeve, Hudson K., Reuter, Max, Roberts, Gilbert, Robson, Simon K.A., Roze, Denis, Rousset, Francois, Rueppell, Olav, Sachs, Joel L., Santorelli, Lorenzo, Schmid-Hempel, Paul, Schwarz, Michael P., Scott-Phillips, Tom, Shellmann-Sherman, Janet, Sherman, Paul W., Shuker, David M., Smith, Jeff, Spagna, Joseph C., Strassmann, Beverly, Suarez, Andrew V., Sundström, Liselotte, Taborsky, Michael, Taylor, Peter, Thompson, Graham, Tooby, John, Tsutsui, Neil D., Tsuji, Kazuki, Turillazzi, Stefano, Úbeda, Francisco, Vargo, Edward L., Voelkl, Bernard, Wenseleers, Tom, West, Stuart A., West-Eberhard, Mary Jane, Westneat, David F., Wiernasz, Diane C., Wild, Geoff, Wrangham, Richard, Young, Andrew J., Zeh, David W., Zeh, Jeanne A., and Zink, Andrew. 2011. “Inclusive Fitness Theory and Eusociality.” Nature 471 (7339): E1–E4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alexander, Samuel. 1920. Space, Time and Deity. London: MacMillan and Company.Google Scholar
  3. Allen, Elizabeth, Beckwith, Barbara, Beckwith, Jon, Chorover, Steven, Culver, David, Duncan, Margaret, Gould, Steven, Hubbard, Ruth, Inouye, Hiroshi, Leeds, Anthony, Lewontin, Richard, Madansky, Chuck, Miller, Larry, Pyeritz, Reed, Rosenthal, Miriam, and Schreier, Herb. 1975. “Against ‘Socibiology’.” New York Review of Books 22 (18): 43–44.Google Scholar
  4. Borrello, Mark. 2005. “The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of Group Selection.” Endeavour 29 (1): 43–47.Google Scholar
  5. Borrello, Mark. 2010. Evolutionary Restraints: The Contentious History of Group Selection. Chicago: Chicago University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Broad, C.D. 1925. The Mind and Its Place in Nature. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company.Google Scholar
  7. Broomsma, Jacobus J., Beekman, Madeleine, Cornwallis, Charlie K., Griffin, Ashleigh S., Holman, Luke, Hughes, William O.H., Keller, Laurent, Oldroyd, Benjamin P., and Ratnieks, Francis L.W. 2011. “Only Full-Sibling Families Evolved Eusociality.” Nature 471 (7339): e4–e5.Google Scholar
  8. Brosius, Elizabeth. 1994. “In Pursuit of Prodryas persephone: Frank Carpenter and Fossil Insects.” Pysche 101: 119–126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Buhs, Joshua Blu. 2004. The Fire Ant Wars: Nature, Science, and Public Policy in Twentieth-Century America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cannon, Walter Bradford. 1932. The Wisdom of the Body. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.Google Scholar
  11. Corning, Peter A. 2005. Holistic Darwinism: Synergy, Cybernetics, and the Bioeconomics of Evolution. Chicago: Chicago University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Darwin, Charles. 1872. The Origin of Species, 6th edn. London: John Murray.Google Scholar
  13. Dawkins, R. 1976. The Selfish Gene. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Dawkins, Richard. 1979. “12 Misunderstandings of Kin Selection.” Zeitschrift für Tierpsychologie 51: 184–200.Google Scholar
  15. Dugatkin, Lee Alan. 1997. Cooperation Among Animals: An Evolutionary Perspective. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Dugatkin, Lee Alan. 2006. The Altruism Equation: Seven Scientists Search for the Origin of Goodness. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Eldakar, Omar Tonsi, and Wilson, David Sloan. 2011. “Eight Criticisms Not to Make About Group Selection.” Evolution 65 (6): 1523–1526.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Emerson, Alfred E. 1939. “Social Coordination and the Superorganism.” American Midland Naturalist 21 (1): 182–209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Emerson, Alfred E. 1971. “A Biologist and His Times.” Science 172 (3984): 679.Google Scholar
  20. Evans, Mary Alice, and Evans, Howard Ensign. 1970. William Morton Wheeler, Biologist. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Ferriere, Regis, and Michod, Richard E. 2011. “Inclusive Fitness in Evolution.” Nature 471 (7339): e6–e8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. French, Howard W. 2011. “E. O. Wilson’s Theory of Everything.” The Atlantic (November).Google Scholar
  23. Gardner, Andy. 2011. “Kin Selection Under Blending Inheritance.” Journal of Theoretical Biology 284: 125–129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Gardner, Andy, and Grafen, Alan. 2009. “Capturing the Superorganism: A Formal Theory of Group Adaptation.” Journal of Evolutionary Biology 22: 659–671.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Gardner, A., West, S. A., and Wild, G. 2011. “The Genetical Theory of Kin Selection.” Journal of Evolutionary Biology 24: 1020–1043. Google Scholar
  26. Hamilton, W.D. 1964a. “The Genetical Evolution of Social Behavior I.” Journal of Theoretical Biology 7 (1): 1–16.Google Scholar
  27. Hamilton, W.D. 1964b. “The Genetical Evolution of Social Behavior II.” Journal of Theoretical Biology 7 (1): 17–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Hamilton, W.D. 1975. “Innate Social Aptitudes of Man: An Approach from Evolutionary Genetics.” R. Fox (ed.), Biosocial Anthropology. London: Malaby Press, pp. 133–153.Google Scholar
  29. Harman, Oren Solomon. 2010. The Price of Altruism: George Price and the Tragic Search for the Origins of Kindness. New York: W. W. Norton and Company.Google Scholar
  30. Henderson, Lawrence J. 1917. The Order of Nature. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Herre, Edward Allen and Wcislo, William T. 2011. “In Defence of Inclusive Fitness Theory.” Nature 48: e8.Google Scholar
  32. Hofstadter, Richard. 1944. Social Darwinism in American Thought. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.Google Scholar
  33. Hölldobler, Bert, and Wilson, Edward O. 1990. The Ants. Cambridge: Belknap Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Hölldobler, Bert, and Wilson, Edward O. 1994. Journey to the Ants: A Story of Scientific Exploration. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Hölldobler, Bert, and Wilson, Edward O. 2008. The Superorganism: the Beauty, Elegance, and Strangeness of Insect Societies. New York: W. W. Norton and Company.Google Scholar
  36. Jumonville, Neil. 2002. “The Cultural Politics of the Sociobiology Debate.” Journal of the History of Biology 35 (2): 569–593.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Lewontin, Richard C. 1976. “Sociobiology: A Caricature of Darwinism.” Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association 2 (1976): 22–23, 30.Google Scholar
  38. Marshall, James A.R. 2011. “Group Selection and Kin Selection: Formally Equivalent Approaches.” Trends in Ecology and Evolution 26 (1): 325–332.Google Scholar
  39. Maynard Smith, John. 1964. “Group Selection and Kin Selection.” Nature 201 (4924): 1145–1147.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Merchant, Carolyn. 1980. Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution. New York: Harper Collins.Google Scholar
  41. Mitchell, Sandra. 1995. Sabine Maasen, Everett Mendelsohn, and Peter Weingart (eds.), The Superorganism Metaphor: Then and Now. Biology as Society, Society as Biology: Metaphors. Norwell, MA: Kluwer Academic Publishers, pp. 231–247.Google Scholar
  42. Mitman, Greg. 1992. The State of Nature: Ecology, Community, and American Social Thought. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  43. Morgan, C. Lloyd. 1923. Emergent Evolution. London: Williams and Norgate, Ltd.Google Scholar
  44. Moritz, Robin F.A., and Southwick, Edward E. 1992. Bees as Superorganisms: An Evolutionary Reality. New York: Springer-Verlag.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Nowak, Martin, and Highfield, Roger. 2011. Supercooperators: Altruism, Evolution, and Why We Need Each Other to Succeed. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  46. Nowak, Martin, Tarnita, Corina, and Wilson, E.O. 2010. “The Evolution of Eusociality.” Nature 466 (7310): 1057–1062.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Okasha, Samir. 2005. “Multilevel Selection and the Major Transitions in Evolution.” Philosophy of Science 72 (5): 1013–1025.Google Scholar
  48. Osborn, Henry Fairfield. 1894. “The Discussion Between Spencer and Weismann.” Psychological Review 1: 312–315.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Parker, George Howard. 1924. “Organic Determinism.” Science 59 (1537): 517–521.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Pennisi, Elizabeth. 2009. “Agreeing to Disagree.” Science 323 (5915): 706–708.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Price, George R. 1970. “Selection and Covariance.” Nature 227 (5257): 520–521.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Reeve, H. Kern, and Hölldobler, Bert. 2007. “The Emergence of a Superorganism Through Intergroup Competition.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States 104 (23): 9736–9740.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Ruse, Michael. 2004. “Adaptive Landscapes and Dynamic Equilibrium: The Spencerian Contribution to Twentieth-Century American Evolutionary Biology.” Abigail Lustig, Robert Richards, and Michael Ruse (eds.), Darwinian Heresies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  54. Ruse, Michael. 2013. The Gaia Hypothesis: Science on a Pagan Planet. Chicago: Chicago University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Schneirla, Theodor. 1944. “A Unique Case of Circular Milling in Ants, Considered in Relation to Trail Following and the General Problem of Orientation.” American Museum Novitates 1253: 1–26.Google Scholar
  56. Seeley, Thomas. 1989. “The Honey Bee Colony as a Superorganism.” American Scientist 77 (6): 546–553.Google Scholar
  57. Segerstråle, Ullica. 2000. Defenders of the Truth: The Battle for Science in the Sociobiology Debate and Beyond. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  58. Sellars, Roy Wood. 1922. Evolutionary Naturalism. Chicago: The Open Court Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  59. Sleigh, Charlotte. 2007. Six Legs Better: A Cultural History of Myrmecology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.Google Scholar
  60. Smocovitis, Betty. 1992. “Unifying Biology: The Evolutionary Synthesis and Evolutionary Biology.” Journal of the History of Biology 25 (1): 1–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Smuts, Jan C. 1926. Holism and Evolution. New York: The MacMillan Company.Google Scholar
  62. Sober, Elliott and Wilson, David Sloan. 1999. Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  63. Sober, Elliott and Wilson, David Sloan. 2000. “Morality and ‘Unto Others': Response to Commentary Discussion.” Journal of Consciousness Studies 7 (1-2): 257–268.Google Scholar
  64. Spaulding, E.G. 1918. The New Rationalism. New York: Henry Holt and Company.Google Scholar
  65. Spencer, Herbert. 1860. “The Social Organism.” The Westminster Review XVII (143): 90–121.Google Scholar
  66. Spencer, Herbert. 1881. The Principles of Sociology, vol. I. New York: Appleton and Company.Google Scholar
  67. Spencer, Herbert. 1893c. “A Rejoinder to Professor Weismann.” The Contemporary Review 64: 893–912.Google Scholar
  68. Spencer, Herbert. 1894. “Weismannism Once More.” The Contemporary Review 65: 592–608.Google Scholar
  69. Strassman, Joan E., Page, Jr., Robert E., Robinson, Gene E., and Seeley, Thomas D. 2011. “Kin Selection and Eusociality.” Nature 471 (7339): e5–e6.Google Scholar
  70. Strassmann, Joan E., and Queller, David C. 2010. “The Social Organism: Congresses, Parties and Committees.” Evolution 64 (3): 605–616.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Tschinkel, Walter S. 1999. “Sociometry and Sociogenesis of Colonies of the Harvester Ant.” Ecological Entomology 24 (2): 222–237.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Watson, James, and Crick, Francis. 1953. “A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid.” Nature 171 (1953): 737–738.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Weintraub, Pamela. 2011. E. O. Wilson’s Theory of Altruism Shakes up Understanding of Evolution. Discover Magazine (January–February).Google Scholar
  74. Weismann, August. 1893a. “The All-Sufficiency of Natural Selection: A Reply to Herbert Spencer.” The Contemporary Review 64: 309–338.Google Scholar
  75. Wheeler, William Morton. 1910. Ants: Their Structure, Development and Behavior. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  76. Wheeler, William Morton. 1911. “The Ant-Colony as an Organism.” Journal of Morphology 22: 307–326.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Wheeler, William Morton. 1918. “A Study of Some Ant Larvae, with a Consideration of the Origin and Meaning of the Social Habit among Insects.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 57 (4): 293–343.Google Scholar
  78. Wheeler, William Morton. 1920. “The Termitodoxa, or Biology and Society.” The Scientific Monthly 10 (2): 113–124.Google Scholar
  79. Wheeler, William Morton. 1923. Social Life Among the Insects. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company.Google Scholar
  80. Wheeler, William Morton. 1926. “Emergent Evolution and the Social.” Science 64 (1662): 440–443.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Wheeler, William Morton. 1928a. Emergent Evolution and the Development of Societies. New York: Norton & Company.Google Scholar
  82. Wheeler, William Morton. 1928b. The Social Insects: Their Origin and Evolution. London: Kegan, Paul, Trench, Trubner.Google Scholar
  83. Whitehead, Alfred North. 1925. Science and the Modern World. New York: The MacMillan Company.Google Scholar
  84. Whitman, Charles Otis. 1891. “Specialization and Organization: Companion Principles of All Progress – The Most Important Need of American Biology.” Biological Lectures Delivered at Marine Biological Laboratory. Boston: Ginn and Company.Google Scholar
  85. Whitman, Charles Otis. 1894. “The Inadequacy of the Cell-Theory of Development.” Biological Lectures Delivered at the Marine Biological Laboratory of Wood’s Holl. Boston: Ginn and Company.Google Scholar
  86. Wilson, Edward O. 1953. “The Origin and Evolution of Polymorphism in Ants.” The Quarterly Review of Biology 28 (2): 136–156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Wilson, Edward O. 1967. “The Superorganism Concept and Beyond.” L’effet de Groupe Chez les Animaux 173: 27–39.Google Scholar
  88. Wilson, Edward O. 1975. Sociobiology: The New Synthesis. Cambridge: Belknap Press.Google Scholar
  89. Wilson, Edward O. 1976. “Academic Vigilantism and the Political Significance of Sociobiology.” BioScience 26 (3): 183, 187–190.Google Scholar
  90. Wilson, Edward O. 1984. Biophilia. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  91. Wilson, Edward O. 1992. “Dedication: Frank Morton Carpenter.” Psyche 99 (2–3): 241–244.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. Wilson, Edward O. 1993. “Analyzing the Superorganism: The Legacy of Whitman and Wheeler.” Robert B. Barlow, Jr., John E. Dowling, and Gerald Weisseman (eds.), The Biological Century: Friday Evening Talks at the Marine Biological Laboratory. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  93. Wilson, Edward O. 1994. Naturalist. Washington, DC: Island Press.Google Scholar
  94. Wilson, Edward O. 2005. “Kin Selection as the Key to Altruism: Its Rise and Fall.” Social Research 72 (1): 159–166.Google Scholar
  95. Wilson, Edward O. 2008. “One Giant Leap: How Insects Achieved Altruism and Colonial Life.” BioScience 58 (1): 17–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  96. Wilson, Edward O. 2012. The Social Conquest of Earth. New York: Norton and Company.Google Scholar
  97. Wilson, Edward O., and Hölldobler, Bert. 2005. “Eusociality: Origin and Consequences.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States 102 (38): 13367–13371.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  98. Wilson, Edward O., and Michener, Charles D. 1982. Alfred Edwards Emerson National Academy of Science Biographical Memoirs. Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences.Google Scholar
  99. Wilson, David Sloan, and Sober, Eliot. 1989. “Reviving the Superorganism.” Journal of Theoretical Biology 136: 337–356.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  100. Wilson, David Sloan, and Wilson, Edward O. 2007. “Rethinking the Theoretical Foundations of Sociobiology.” Quarterly Review of Biology 82 (4): 327–348.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  101. Wilson, David Sloan, and Wilson, Edward O. 2008. “Evolution for the Good of the Group.” American Scientist 96 (5): 380–389.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of HistoryFlorida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA

Personalised recommendations