Biology and Philosophy 31 (2):159-189 (2016)

Russell Powell
Boston University
The model of major transitions in evolution devised by Maynard Smith and Szathmáry has exerted tremendous influence over evolutionary theorists. Although MTE has been criticized for inconsistently combining different types of event, its ongoing appeal lies in depicting hierarchical increases in complexity by means of evolutionary transitions in individuality. In this paper, we consider the implications of major evolutionary events overlooked by MTE and its ETI-oriented successors, specifically the biological oxygenation of Earth, and the acquisitions of mitochondria and plastids. By reflecting on these missed events, we reveal a central philosophical disagreement over the explanatory goals of major transitions theory that has yet to be made explicit in the literature. We go on to argue that this philosophical disagreement is only reinforced by Szathmáry’s recent revisions of MTE in the form of MTE 2.0. This finding motivates us to propose an alternative explanatory strategy: specifically, an interactionist metabolic perspective on major transitions. A metabolic framework not only avoids many of the criticisms that beset classic and revised MTE models, but also accommodates missing events and provides crucial explanatory components for standard major transitions. Although we do not provide a full-blown alternative theory and do not claim to achieve unity, we explain why foregrounding metabolism is crucial for any attempt to capture the major turning points in evolution, and why it does not lead to unmanageable pluralism.
Keywords Macroevolution  Major transitions  Metabolism
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DOI 10.1007/s10539-015-9513-z
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References found in this work BETA

Scientific Essentialism.Brian Ellis - 2001 - Cambridge University Press.
The Major Transitions in Evolution.John Maynard Smith & Eors Szathmary - 1996 - Journal of the History of Biology 29 (1):151-152.
The Limitations of Hierarchical Organization.Angela Potochnik & Brian McGill - 2012 - Philosophy of Science 79 (1):120-140.

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Citations of this work BETA

Multispecies individuals.Pierrick Bourrat & Paul E. Griffiths - 2018 - History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 40 (2):33.
Kinds of Biological Individuals: Sortals, Projectibility, and Selection.DiFrisco James - 2019 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 70 (3):845-875.
Mass Extinctions as Major Transitions.Adrian Currie - 2019 - Biology and Philosophy 34 (2):29.

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