Darwin without borders? Looking at ‘generalised Darwinism’ through the prism of the ‘hourglass model’

Abstract

This article critically analyzes the arguments of the ‘generalized Darwinism’ recently proposed for the analysis of social-economical systems. We argue that ‘generalized Darwinism’ is both restrictive and empty. It is restrictive because it excludes alternative (non-selectionist) evolutionary mechanisms such as orthogenesis, saltationism and mutationism without any examination of their suitability for modeling socio-economic processes and ignoring their important roles in the development of contemporary evolutionary theory. It is empty, because it reduces Darwinism to an abstract triple-principle scheme (variation, selection and inheritance) thus ignoring the actual structure of Darwinism as a complex and dynamic theoretical structure inseparable from a very detailed system of theoretical constraints. Arguing against ‘generalised Darwinism’ we present our vision of the history of evolutionary biology with the help of the ‘hourglass model’ reflecting the internal dynamic of competing theories of evolution.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The term ‘Universal Darwinism’ was introduced by Dawkins (1983) and later instrumentalized by Hodgson and Knudsen for the purposes of evolutionary economics. Recently, Hodgson (2007) expressed the preference for the term ‘generalized Darwinism’. We use exclusively the term ‘generalized Darwinism’ since it reflects more precisely the theoretical movement we address.

  2. 2.

    Letter 5193—Darwin to Haeckel, 18 Aug [1866] (Darwin’s Correspondence Project).

  3. 3.

    Typology is an empirically based methodology declaring the primacy of structure over function and claiming that organisms are structural phenomena to be ordered in logical schemes in accord with their morphological features.

  4. 4.

    ‘Old’ in the sense of pre-Darwinian.

  5. 5.

    The newest account of Theissen’s approach is in Theissen (2009).

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Acknowledgments

Support by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (Ho 2143, 9–2) for our research on the history of evolutionary biology is gratefully acknowledged. We are thankful to Charles Bourne for valuable suggestions. Michael Markert was instrumental in developing the visual images.

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Correspondence to Georgy S. Levit.

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Levit, G.S., Hoßfeld, U. Darwin without borders? Looking at ‘generalised Darwinism’ through the prism of the ‘hourglass model’. Theory Biosci. 130, 299–312 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12064-011-0138-8

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Keywords

  • Generalised Darwinism
  • Anti-Darwinism
  • Orthogenesis
  • Saltationism
  • The synthetic theory of evolution (STE)
  • The ‘hourglass model’
  • The extended Synthesis