Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 29, Issue 6, pp 781–806

Homology across inheritance systems


DOI: 10.1007/s10539-014-9433-3

Cite this article as:
Powell, R. & Shea, N. Biol Philos (2014) 29: 781. doi:10.1007/s10539-014-9433-3


Recent work on inheritance systems can be divided into inclusive conceptions, according to which genetic and non-genetic inheritance are both involved in the development and transmission of nearly all animal behavioral traits, and more demanding conceptions of what it takes for non-genetic resources involved in development to qualify as a distinct inheritance system. It might be thought that, if a more stringent conception is adopted, homologies could not subsist across two distinct inheritance systems. Indeed, it is commonly assumed that homology relations cannot survive a shift between genetic and cultural inheritance systems, and substantial reliance has been placed on that assumption in debates over the phylogenetic origins of hominin behavioral traits, such as male-initiated intergroup aggression. However, in the homology literature it is widely accepted that a trait can be homologous—that is, inherited continuously in two different lineages from a single common ancestor—despite divergence in the mechanisms involved in the trait’s development in the two lineages. In this paper, we argue that even on an extremely stringent understanding of what it takes for developmental resources to form a separate inheritance system, homologies can nonetheless subsist across shifts between distinct inheritance systems. We argue that this result is a merit of this way of characterizing what it is to be an inheritance system, that it has implications for adjudicating between alternative accounts of homology, and that it offers an important cautionary lesson about how (not) to reason with the homology concept, particularly in the context of cultural species.


Inheritance system Homology Genetic inheritance Cultural inheritance Genetic assimilation Genetic accommodation 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyBoston UniversityBostonUSA
  2. 2.Department of PhilosophyKing’s College LondonLondonUK
  3. 3.National Humanities Center, Research Triangle ParkDurhamUSA

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