Theory in Biosciences

, Volume 129, Issue 2–3, pp 167–182 | Cite as

Evolutionary epistemology as a scientific method: a new look upon the units and levels of evolution debate

  • Nathalie Gontier
Original Paper


Evolutionary epistemology can provide a unified scientific methodology that enables scholars to study the evolution of life as well as the evolution of cognition, science, culture and any other phenomenon displayed by living organisms. In this article, three heuristics are provided that allow for a thorough search for the units, levels and mechanisms of evolution. Contrary to previous approaches, units, levels and mechanisms are not identified by pointing out essential features, but rather ostensive definitions are preferred. That is, units are considered as such if a level of evolution and a mechanism of evolution is identifiable. Levels are levels if one can point out units that evolve at that level according to evolutionary mechanisms, and mechanisms are considered as such if one can point out units and levels where the mechanism is active.


Evolutionary epistemology Units Levels Evolutionary mechanisms 



My warm thanks are extended to Olga Pombo for inviting me to organise the Lisbon conference. I am also very grateful for the help I got in this endeavour from my co-organizers Helena Abreu, Francisco Carrapiço, André Levy and Marco Pina. I acknowledge the financial support received from the Portuguese Fund for Science and Technology (the FACC). I am indebted to all contributors for making the volumes what they are. Finally, I want to sincerely thank the editors-in-chief of Theory in Biosciences for providing us with a good home for our proceedings.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Fund for Science and Technology, Portugal (FCT), Centre for Philosophy of ScienceUniversidade de LisboaLisbonPortugal
  2. 2.Marie Curie Outgoing Research Fellow, Centre for Logic and Philosophy of ScienceVrije Universiteit BrusselBrusselsBelgium
  3. 3.Division of PalaeontologyAmerican Museum of Natural HistoryNew YorkUSA

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