Biology and Philosophy

, Volume 13, Issue 3, pp 359–391 | Cite as

The Tragedy of a priori Selectionism: Dennett and Gould on Adaptationism

  • Jeremy C. Ahouse


In his recent book on Darwinism, Daniel Dennett has offered up a species of a priori selectionism that he calls algorithmic. He used this view to challenge a number of positions advocated by Stephen J. Gould. I examine his algorithmic conception, review his unqualified enthusiasm for the a priori selectionist position, challenge Dennett's main metaphors (cranes vs. skyhooks and a design space), examine ways in which his position has lead him to misunderstand or misrepresent Gould (spandrels, exaptation, punctuated equilibrium, contingency and disparity), and discuss recent results in developmental biology that suggest that an a priori position does not fill the demands of an evolutionary biology. I conclude by insisting that evolutionary biology is many leveled, complicated, and is carried on an ever shifting and expanding empirical base that when disregarded results in caricature.

adaptation algorithm atavism contingency deep homology Dennett development disparity epicurean selectionism evolution exaptation Gould metaphors punctuated equilibrium selectionism spandrels 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jeremy C. Ahouse
    • 1
  1. 1.Howard Hughes Medical InstituteUniversity of Wisconsin, R.M. Bock LaboratoriesMadisonU.S.A

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