Hierarchy Theory of Evolution and the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis: Some Epistemic Bridges, Some Conceptual Rifts

Abstract

Contemporary evolutionary biology comprises a plural landscape of multiple co-existent conceptual frameworks and strenuous voices that disagree on the nature and scope of evolutionary theory. Since the mid-eighties, some of these conceptual frameworks have denounced the ontologies of the Modern Synthesis and of the updated Standard Theory of Evolution as unfinished or even flawed. In this paper, we analyze and compare two of those conceptual frameworks, namely Niles Eldredge’s Hierarchy Theory of Evolution (with its extended ontology of evolutionary entities) and the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis (with its proposal of an extended ontology of evolutionary processes), in an attempt to map some epistemic bridges (e.g. compatible views of causation; niche construction) and some conceptual rifts (e.g. extra-genetic inheritance; different perspectives on macroevolution; contrasting standpoints held in the “externalism–internalism” debate) that exist between them. This paper seeks to encourage theoretical, philosophical and historiographical discussions about pluralism or the possible unification of contemporary evolutionary biology.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    We should stress that this historiographic account is not exempt of criticism. Two critical appraisals, among many others, are found in Amundson (2005) and Delisle (2011).

  2. 2.

    However, in his recent book Eternal Ephemera: Adaptation and the Origin of Species from the Nineteenth Century Through Punctuated Equilibria and Beyond, Niles Eldredge (2015) claimed that the HTE is much older: it goes back to the early decades of the nineteenth century, with the pioneering contributions of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and Giambattista Brocchi, among others (see also Eldredge 2016).

  3. 3.

    We should clarify that, for Eldredge, these hierarchies are only analogous to the biological hierarchies, with no ontological equivalency.

  4. 4.

    This aspect of the comparison between the HTE and the EES was pointed out by an anonymous reviewer.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Telmo Pievani, Ilya Tëmkin, Emanuele Serrelli, Andrea Parravicini, Francesco Suman, Warren D. Allmon, T. Ryan Gregory, Stefan Linquist and Mihaela Pavličev for insightful discussions during the 2016 International Meeting “Evolutionary Theory: A Hierarchical Perspective” (September 22–23, Washington, D.C and Annandale, VA), where the first author presented a preliminary version of this paper. We are indebted to an anonymous reviewer for the feedback provided and his suggestions of further lines of inquiry.

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Fábregas-Tejeda, A., Vergara-Silva, F. Hierarchy Theory of Evolution and the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis: Some Epistemic Bridges, Some Conceptual Rifts. Evol Biol 45, 127–139 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11692-017-9438-3

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Keywords

  • Hierarchy Theory of Evolution
  • Extended Evolutionary Synthesis
  • Niche construction
  • Unfinished Synthesis
  • Macroevolution
  • Reciprocal causation