Biology and Philosophy

, Volume 14, Issue 4, pp 481–504 | Cite as

The Use and Abuse of Sir Karl Popper

  • David L. Hull


Karl Popper has been one of the few philosophers of sciences who has influenced scientists. I evaluate Popper's influence on our understanding of evolutionary theory from his earliest publications to the present. Popper concluded that three sorts of statements in evolutionary biology are not genuine laws of nature. I take him to be right on this score. Popper's later distinction between evolutionary theory as a metaphysical research program and as a scientific theory led more than one scientist to misunderstand his position on evolutionary theory as a scientific theory. In his later work Popper also introduced what he took to be “improvements” of evolutionary theory. Thus far these improvements have had almost no influence on evolutionary biology. I conclude by examining the influence of Popper on the reception of cladistic analysis.

cladistics evolutionary theory Lamarckism metaphysical research programs operationalism Popper stage laws tautology testability 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Baldwin, J.M.: 1896, ‘A New Factor in Evolution’, American Naturalist 30, 441-451, 536—553.Google Scholar
  2. Bartley, W.W.: 1982, ‘A Popperian Harvest’, in L. Levinson (ed.), In Pursuit of Truth, Humanities Press, New York, pp. 249-289.Google Scholar
  3. Blute, M.: 1979, ‘Sociocultural Evolutionism: An Untried Theory’, Behavioral Science 24, 46-59.Google Scholar
  4. Bondi, H.: 1992, ‘The Philosopher for Science’, Nature 358, 363.Google Scholar
  5. Bondi, H.: 1994, ‘Karl Popper (1902–1994)’, Nature 371, 478.Google Scholar
  6. Caplan, A.L.: 1981, ‘Popper's Philosophy’, Nature 290, 623-624.Google Scholar
  7. Continenza, B.: 1986, ‘The Baldwin Effect: Simulation of Lamarckism or Stimulation of Darwinism’, Rivista di Storia della Scienza 3, 155-190.Google Scholar
  8. Cooke, J.: 1995, ‘Beyond Natural Selection?’ Nature 375, 744-745.Google Scholar
  9. Cox, B.: 1981, ‘Premises, Premises’, Nature 291, 373.Google Scholar
  10. Darnbrough, C., Goddard, J. and Stevely, W.S.: 1981, ‘American Creation’, Nature 2982, 95-96.Google Scholar
  11. Darwin, C.: 1859, On the Origin of Species: A Facsimile of the First Edition (1966), Harvard University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  12. Eldredge, N. and Gould, S.J.: 1972, ‘Punctuated Equilibria: An Alternative to Phyletic Gradualism’, in T.J.M. Schopf (ed.), Models in Paleobiology, Freeman, Cooper, San Francisco, pp. 82-115.Google Scholar
  13. Faith, D.P. and Cranston, P.S.: 1992, ‘Probability, Parsimony, and Popper’, Systematic Biology 41, 252-257.Google Scholar
  14. Ghiselin, M.T.: 1974, ‘A Radical Solution to the Species Problem’, Systematic Zoology 23, 536-544.Google Scholar
  15. Halstead, L.B.: 1980a, ‘Popper: Good Philosophy, Bad Science?’ New Scientist 87, 215-217.Google Scholar
  16. Halstead, L.B.: 1980b, ‘Museum of Errors’, Nature 288, 208.Google Scholar
  17. Halstead, L.B.: 1981a, ‘Halstead Replies’, Nature 289, 106-107.Google Scholar
  18. Halstead, L.B.: 1981b, ‘Halstead's Defense against Irrelevancy’, Nature 292, 403-404.Google Scholar
  19. Harré, R. (ed.): 1975, Problems of Scientific Revolution: Progress and Obstacles to Progress in the Sciences, Oxford University Press, Oxford.Google Scholar
  20. Hennig, W.: 1961, Phylogenetic Systematics, University of Illinois Press, Chicago.Google Scholar
  21. Hughes-Games, M.J.: 1980, ‘Museum Pieces’, Nature 288, 430.Google Scholar
  22. Hull, D.L.: 1976, ‘Are Species Really Individuals?’ Systematic Zoology 25, 174-191.Google Scholar
  23. Hull, D.L.: 1980, ‘Individuality and Selection’, Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 11, 311-332.Google Scholar
  24. Hull, D.L.: 1982, ‘The Naked Meme’, in H.C. Plotkin (ed.), Learning, Development, and Culture, John Wiley, London, pp. 273-327.Google Scholar
  25. Hull, D.L.: 1983, ‘Karl Popper and Plato's Metaphor’, in N. Platnick and V. Funk (eds.), Advances in Cladistics, Vol. 2, Columbia University Press, New York, pp. 177-189.Google Scholar
  26. Hull, D.L.: 1984, Lamarck among the Anglos, Introduction to Lamarck's Zoological Philosophy, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp. xi-lxvi.Google Scholar
  27. Hull, D.L.: 1988a, Science as a Process: An Evolutionary Account of the Social and Conceptual Development of Science, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.Google Scholar
  28. Hull, D.L.: 1988b, ‘Interactors versus Vehicles’, in H.C. Plotkin (ed.), The Role of Behavior in Evolution, MIT Press, Cambridge, pp. 19-50.Google Scholar
  29. Hull, D.L.: 1988c, ‘A Mechanism and Its Metaphysics’, Biology & Philosophy 3, 123-263.Google Scholar
  30. Hull, D.L., Langman, R. and Glenn, S.: forthcoming, ‘A General Analysis of Selection’, The Behavioral and Brain Sciences.Google Scholar
  31. Huxley, T.H.: 1880, Lay Sermons, Appleton, New York.Google Scholar
  32. Jablinka, E. and Lamb, M.J.: 1995, Epigenetic Inheritance and Evolution: The Lamarckian Dimension, Oxford University Press, Oxford.Google Scholar
  33. Kantorovich, A.: 1989, ‘A Genotype-Phenotype Model for the Growth of Theories and the Selection Cycle in Science’, in K. Hahlwed and C.A. Hooker (eds.), Issues in Evolutionary Epistemology, State University of New York Press, Albany, NY, pp. 171-184.Google Scholar
  34. Lewontin, R.C.: 1978, ‘Adaptation’, Scientific American 239, 212-230.Google Scholar
  35. Lewontin, R.C.: 1983, ‘The Organism as the Subject and Object of Evolution’, Scientia 118, 65-82.Google Scholar
  36. Lindahl, B.I.B. and Welljams-Dorof, A.: 1992, ‘Estimating Popper's Impact’, Nature 360, 204.Google Scholar
  37. Little, J.: 1980, ‘Evolution: Myth, Metaphysics, or Science?’ New Scientist 87, 708-709.Google Scholar
  38. MacBeth, N.: 1971, Darwin Retried, Gambit, Boston.Google Scholar
  39. Mayr, E.: 1963, Animal Species and Evolution, Harvard University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  40. McKenna, M.: 1981, ‘More Museums’, Nature 289, 626-627.Google Scholar
  41. Miles, R.S.: 1981, ‘Film Loop Evolves’, Nature 291, 530.Google Scholar
  42. Mills, S.K. and Beatty, J.H.: 1979, ‘The Propensity Interpretation of Fitness’, Philosophy of Science 46, 263-286.Google Scholar
  43. Mulkay, M. and Gilbert, G.N.: 1981, ‘Putting Philosophy to Work: Karl Popper's Influence on Scientific Practice’, Philosophy of the Social Sciences 11, 389-407.Google Scholar
  44. Nelson, G. and Platnick, N.: 1981, Systematics and Biogeography: Cladistics and Vicariance, Columbia University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  45. Ospovat, D.: 1981, The Development of Darwin's Theory: Natural History, Natural Theology, and Natural Selection, Cambridge University Press, London.Google Scholar
  46. Patterson, C.: 1980, ‘Museum Pieces’, Nature 288, 430.Google Scholar
  47. Platnick, N. and Gaffney, E.: 1977, ‘Systematics: A Popperian Perspective’, Systematic Zoology 26, 360-365.Google Scholar
  48. Platnick, N. and Gaffney, E.: 1978a, ‘Evolutionary Biology: A Popperian Perspective’, Systematic Zoology 27, 137-141.Google Scholar
  49. Platnick, N. and Gaffney, E.: 1978b, ‘Systematics and the Popperian Paradigm’, Systematic Zoology 27, 381-388.Google Scholar
  50. Popper, K.R.: 1934, Logik der Forschung, Julius Springer Verlag, Vienna.Google Scholar
  51. Popper, K.R.: 1957, The Poverty of Historicism, Routledge, London.Google Scholar
  52. Popper, K.R.: 1959, The Logic of Scientific Discovery, New York: Basic BooksGoogle Scholar
  53. Popper, K.R.: 1962, Conjectures and Refutations, Basic Books, New York.Google Scholar
  54. Popper, K.R.: 1972, Objective Knowledge: An Evolutionary Approach, At the Clarendon Press, Oxford.Google Scholar
  55. Popper, K.R.: 1974a, ‘Autobiography of Karl Popper’, in P.A. Schilpp (ed.), The Philosophy of Karl Popper, Open Court, La Salle, IL. pp. 1-181.Google Scholar
  56. Popper, K.R.: 1974b, ‘Darwinism as a Metaphysical Research Programme’, in P.A. Schilpp (ed.), The Philosophy of Karl Popper, Open Court, La Salle, IL, pp. 133-143.Google Scholar
  57. Popper, K.R.: 1974c, ‘Replies to My Critics’, in P.A. Schilpp (ed.), The Philosophy of Karl Popper, Open Court, La Salle, IL, pp. 961-1197.Google Scholar
  58. Popper, K.R.: 1978, ‘Natural Selection and the Emergence of Mind’, Dialectica 32, 339-355.Google Scholar
  59. Popper, K.R.: 1981, ‘Evolution’, New Scientist 87, 611.Google Scholar
  60. Popper, K.R.: 1984, In Search of a Better World: Lectures and Essays from Thirty Years, Routledge, London.Google Scholar
  61. Popper, K.R.: 1990, A World of Propensities, Thoemmes, Bristol.Google Scholar
  62. Rensch, B.: 1971, Biophilosophy, Columbia University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  63. Ridley, M.: 1981, ‘Who Doubts Evolution?’ New Scientist 89, 830-832.Google Scholar
  64. Ruse, M.: 1978, ‘Review of Harré (1975)’, Erkenntnis 13, 407-416.Google Scholar
  65. Ruse, M.: 1981, ‘Darwin's Theory: An Exercise in Science’, New Scientist 89, 828-830.Google Scholar
  66. Schlichting, C.D. and Pigliucci, M.: 1998, Adaptive Phenotypic Evolution: A Reaction Norm Perspective, Sinaure, New York.Google Scholar
  67. Simpson, G.G.: 1964, This View Of Life, Harcourt, New York.Google Scholar
  68. Skoyles, J.R.: 1992, ‘Popper: Success or Failure?’ Nature 359, 100.Google Scholar
  69. Sparkes, J.: 1981, ‘What Is this Thing Called Science?’ New Scientist 89, 156-158.Google Scholar
  70. Spencer, H.: 1857, ‘Progress: Its Law Can Causes’, Westminster and Foreign Quarterly Review 61, 445-485.Google Scholar
  71. Stebbins, G.L. and Ayala, F.J.: 1981, ‘Is a New Evolutionary Synthesis Necessary?’ Science 213, 967-971.Google Scholar
  72. Wolpert, L. and Richards, A.: 1988, A Passion for Science: Renowned Scientists Offer Vivid Personal Portraits of their Lives in Science, Oxford University Press, Oxford.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • David L. Hull
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyNorthwestern UniversityEvanstonUSA E-mail

Personalised recommendations