, Volume 175, Issue 2, pp 193–218 | Cite as

Darwinian ‘blind’ hypothesis formation revisited

  • Maria E. Kronfeldner
Open Access


Over the last four decades arguments for and against the claim that creative hypothesis formation is based on Darwinian ‘blind’ variation have been put forward. This paper offers a new and systematic route through this long-lasting debate. It distinguishes between undirected, random, and unjustified variation, to prevent widespread confusions regarding the meaning of undirected variation. These misunderstandings concern Lamarckism, equiprobability, developmental constraints, and creative hypothesis formation. The paper then introduces and develops the standard critique that creative hypothesis formation is guided rather than blind, integrating developments from contemporary research on creativity. On that basis, I discuss three compatibility arguments that have been used to answer the critique. These arguments do not deny guided variation but insist that an important analogy exists nonetheless. These compatibility arguments all fail, even though they do so for different reasons: trivialisation, conceptual confusion, and lack of evidence respectively. Revisiting the debate in this manner not only allows us to see where exactly a ‘Darwinian’ account of creative hypothesis formation goes wrong, but also to see that the debate is not about factual issues, but about the interpretation of these factual issues in Darwinian terms.


Darwinism Blind variation Creativity Hypothesis formation Guided variation Lamarckism Evolutionary epistemology Popper Campbell Simonton 



I have presented earlier versions of this paper at the ISHPSSB 2005 Meeting at the University of Guelph and at the Philosophy Department at the University of Regensburg. I want to thank all participants of these meetings for their helpful comments. I am highly indebted to Hans Rott for his severe criticism and propulsive help, whenever it was necessary for my work. I am also obliged to Marion Blute, Sören Hägquist, Christophe Heintz, Mohammadreza Memarsadeghi, and Francesca Merlin, and to the anonymous referees: they all helped a lot to develop my arguments and to make them more precise. An earlier version of the paper has been awarded the “Karl Popper Essay Prize 2006–2007”.

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© The Author(s) 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Max Planck Institute for the History of ScienceBerlinGermany

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