Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 30, Issue 4, pp 587–596 | Cite as

The nature of philosophy and the philosophy of nature

Peter Godfrey-Smith: Philosophy of Biology. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014
  • Tim LewensEmail author
Review Essay


Peter Godfrey-Smith’s introduction to the philosophy of biology is excellent. This review questions one implication of his book, namely that Darwin’s case for the efficacy of natural selection was hampered by his ignorance of the particulate nature of inheritance. I suggest, instead, that Darwin was handicapped by an inability to effectively engage in quantitative population thinking. I also question Godfrey-Smith’s understanding of the role that Malthusian struggle plays in linking natural selection to the origination of new adaptive traits, and I raise problems for his defence of apparently unproblematic conceptions of human nature. Finally, I highlight the welcome conception of a ‘philosophy of nature’ developed by Godfrey-Smith.


William Bateson R. A. Fisher Peter Godfrey-Smith Human nature Natural selection 



Many of the ideas in this review were developed while I was a visiting professor at the University of Lyon III in January 2015. In particular I learned an enormous amount—especially about Mendel and Bateson—from listening to Greg Radick. My accounts of Mendel and Bateson’s work are due to him, except for where they are erroneous. I am also grateful to Thierry Hoquet and to the students at the Lyon Winter School on ‘Darwinian Inheritance’. Peter Godfrey-Smith kindly gave feedback on an earlier draft of this essay. This work has received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013)/ERC Grant Agreement No. 284123.

Conflict of interest

The author declares he has no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of History and Philosophy of ScienceUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK

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