Biology and Philosophy

, Volume 13, Issue 3, pp 427–442

The Invisible Hand of Natural Selection, and Vice Versa

  • Toni Vogel Carey

DOI: 10.1023/A:1006538721601

Cite this article as:
Carey, T.V. Biology & Philosophy (1998) 13: 427. doi:10.1023/A:1006538721601


Building on work by Popper, Schweber, Nozick, Sober, and others in a still-growing literature, I explore here the conceptual kinship (not the hackneyed ideological association) between Adam Smith's 'invisible hand' and Darwinian natural selection. I review the historical ties, and examine Ullman-Margalit's 'constraints' on invisible-hand accounts, which I later re-apply to natural selection, bringing home the close relationship. These theories share a 'parent' principle, itself neither biological no politico-economic, that collective order and well-being can emerge parsimoniously from the dispersed (inter)action of individuals. The invisible hand operates on 'memes' the way natural selection operates on genes. Like Darwin's concept, it brings together traditional opposites, 'nature' and 'selection,' forming a saltation-mitigating transition between biological instinct and full-blown conscious design. Herschel's criterion of confirmation, which Darwin long strove to satisfy, is itself an invisible hand-like meme – a 'Midas effect' revealing and rewarding the fittest theories, Darwin's and Smith's emphatically among them.

invisible hand natural selection economics conscious design distributive-collective Herschel criterion evolutionary epistemology 

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Toni Vogel Carey
    • 1
  1. 1.LansdaleU.S.A

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