Philosophical Studies

, Volume 172, Issue 3, pp 813–821 | Cite as

Backwards in Retrospect

  • Tim LewensEmail author


In the title chapter of Did Darwin Write the Origin Backwards?, Sober argues for an asymmetry between facts about genealogy and facts about natural selection, which has the result that evidentially (but not causally) Darwin's book is the wrong way round. Here I make three points about Sober's argument in that chapter. First, it is not clear that Darwin employs what Sober calls 'tree thinking' as frequently as Sober himself suggests. Second, I argue that Darwin's reason for structuring the Origin as he did can be understood if we think of the Origin's argument as an inference to the best explanation. Third, I show circumstances where, even if selection is the only important evolutionary force, we would still be able to infer common ancestry.


Darwin Inference to the best explanation Natural selection Sober 



For valuable discussion of these ideas I am grateful to Elliott Sober, Samir Okasha, Jean Gayon, Jim Moore, Greg Radick and Jon Hodge. 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.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

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

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