Theory in Biosciences

, Volume 129, Issue 2–3, pp 235–245

Taking evolution seriously in political science

Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s12064-010-0097-5

Cite this article as:
Lewis, O. & Steinmo, S. Theory Biosci. (2010) 129: 235. doi:10.1007/s12064-010-0097-5


In this essay, we explore the epistemological and ontological assumptions that have been made to make political science “scientific.” We show how political science has generally adopted an ontologically reductionist philosophy of science derived from Newtonian physics and mechanics. This mechanical framework has encountered problems and constraints on its explanatory power, because an emphasis on equilibrium analysis is ill-suited for the study of political change. We outline the primary differences between an evolutionary ontology of social science and the physics-based philosophy commonly employed. Finally, we show how evolutionary thinking adds insight into the study of political phenomena and research questions that are of central importance to the field, such as preference formation.


Philosophy of science Evolutionary theory Complex adaptive systems Behavioralism New institutionalisms 

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Rohatyn Center for International AffairsMiddlebury CollegeMiddleburyUSA
  2. 2.European University InstituteFlorenceItaly

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