Universal Darwinism: Its Scope and Limits

  • James MaclaurinEmail author
Part of the Studies in History and Philosophy of Science book series (AUST, volume 28)


Many things evolve: species, languages, sports, tools, biological niches, and theories. But are these real instances of natural selection? Current assessments of the proper scope of Darwinian theory focus on the broad similarity of cultural or non-organic processes to familiar central instances of natural selection. That similarity is analysed in terms of abstract functional descriptions of evolving entities (e.g. replicators, interactors, developmental systems etc.). These strategies have produced a proliferation of competing evolutionary analyses. I argue that such reasoning ought not to be employed in arbitrating debates about whether particular phenomena count as instances of natural selection. My argument is based on hierarchical functional descriptions of natural selection. I suggest that natural selection ought not to be thought of as a single process but rather as a series of processes which can be analysed in terms of a hierarchy of functional descriptions (in much the same way as many people think of cognition). This, in turn, casts doubt on the idea that it is possible in principle to settle debates about whether particular phenomena count as instances of natural selection.


Natural Selection Evolutionary Theory Niche Construction Functional Description Darwinian Theory 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of OtagoDunedinNew Zealand

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