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Levels of selection in Darwin’s Origin of Species

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Abstract

References in Darwin’s Origin of Species to competition between units of selection at and above the level of individual organisms are enumerated. In many cases these references clearly speak of natural selection and do not support the view that Darwin thought selection only occurred at the level of the individual organism. Darwin did see organismal selection as the main process by which varieties were created but he also espoused what is here termed community and varietal selection. He saw no essential difference between varieties and species and the references show that he also believed that selection could operate at the species level.

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Notes

  1. In the fifth edition (1869, p. 99) this became “…it will adapt the structure of each individual for the benefit of the whole community; if this in consequence profits by the selected change.” In the sixth edition (1872, p. 67) the last phrase became “…if the community profits by the selected change.” Richards (1987, p. 217, Note 82) believes that the version in the first edition “spoke only of individual selection” inasmuch as Darwin is there assuming that all the individuals in the community are closely related.

  2. In the sixth edition (1872, p. 230) the first part of this quote became: “As with the varieties of the stock, so with social insects, selection has been applied to the family, and not to the individual, for the sake of gaining a serviceable end”.

  3. This was deleted from the 1860 edition.

  4. This is followed by the discussion of supraspecific divergence.

  5. Exceptions being the quotes cited in 5.3 and 5.5 (Darwin 1859, p. 467, 152 respectively).

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Acknowledgments

I thank the following people for their contributions to this paper: Jon Hodge for criticising early drafts of this paper and for sharpening my understanding on many points; John van Wyhe for creating Darwin-online and for clarifying the differences between Darwin and Wallace on natural selection; Andrew Johnson for his comments on the manuscript; my wife Karen for suggesting that I publish my views and my daughter Eve for improving my English.

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Correspondence to Gordon Chancellor.

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Chancellor, G. Levels of selection in Darwin’s Origin of Species . HPLS 37, 131–157 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40656-015-0067-9

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