Biology and Philosophy 36 (1):1-19 (2021)

The ‘Major Transitions in Evolution’ framework has emerged as the dominant paradigm for understanding the origins of life's hierarchical organization, but it has been criticized on the grounds that it lacks theoretical unity, that is, that the events included in the framework do not constitute a coherent category. I agree with this criticism, and I argue that the best response is to modify the framework so that the events it includes do comprise a coherent category, one whose members share fundamental similarities. Specifically, I recommend defining major transitions as all those, and only those, events and processes that result in the emergence of a new population of evolutionary individuals. Two sorts of change will be required to achieve this. First, events and processes that do not meet this criterion, such as the origins of the genetic code and of human language, should be excluded. Second, events and processes that do meet the criterion, but which have generally been neglected, should be included. These changes would have the dual benefits of making MTEs a philosophically coherent category and of increasing the sample size on which we may infer trends and general principles that may apply to all MTEs.
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DOI 10.1007/s10539-020-09773-z
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The Major Transitions in Evolution.John Maynard Smith & Eors Szathmary - 1996 - Journal of the History of Biology 29 (1):151-152.
Units of Evolution: A Metaphysical Essay.David L. Hull - 1981 - In Uffe Juul Jensen & Rom Harré (eds.), The Philosophy of Evolution. St. Martin's Press. pp. 23--44.

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