Charles Darwin's theory of evolution: A review of our present understanding [Book Review]

Biology and Philosophy 1 (2):133-168 (1986)


The paper characterizes Darwin's theory, providing a synthesis of recent historical investigations in this area. Darwin's reading of Malthus led him to appreciate the importance of population pressures, and subsequently of natural selection, with the help of the wedge metaphor. But, in itself, natural selection did not furnish an adequate account of the origin of species, for which a principle of divergence was needed. Initially, Darwin attributed this to geographical isolation, but later, following his work on barnacles which underscored the significance of variation, and arising from his work on botanical arithmetic, he supposed that diversity allowed more places to be occupied in a given region. So isolation was not regarded as essential. Large regions with intense competition, and with ample variation spread by blending, would facilitate speciation. The notion of place was different from niche, and it is questioned whether Darwin's views on ecology were as modern as is commonly supposed. Two notions of struggle are found in Darwin's theory; and three notions of variation. Criticisms of his theory led him to emphasize the importance of variation over a range of forms. Hence the theory was populational rather than typological. The theory required a Lamarckian notion of inheritable changes initiated by the environment as a source of variation. Also, Darwin deployed a use/habit theory; and the notion of sexual selection. Selection normally acted at the level of the individual, though kin selection was possible. Group selection was hinted at for man. Darwin's thinking (and also the exposition of his theory) was generally guided by the domestic-organism analogy, which satisfied his methodological requirement of a vera causa principle.

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Citations of this work

Darwin and the Inefficacy of Artificial Selection.Richard A. Richards - 1997 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 28 (1):75-97.
Darwin's Psychological Theorizing: Triangulating on Habit.Daniel Rochowiak - 1988 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 19 (2):215.

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