The return of the group

Philosophy of Science 63 (4):562-584 (1996)


Once upon a time in evolutionary theory, everything happened for the best. Predators killed only the old or the sick. Pecking orders and other dominance hierarchies minimized wasteful conflict within the group. Male displays ensured that only the best and the fittest had mates. In the culmination of this tradition, Wynne-Edwards argued that many species have mechanisms that ensure groups do not over-exploit their resource base. The “central function” of territoriality in birds and other higher animals is “of limiting the numbers of occupants per unit area of habitat”. Species with dominance hierarchies, species with lekking breeding systems, and species with communal breeding regulate their populations. These social mechanisms have population regulation as their “underlying primary function”. Wynne-Edwards argued that these mechanisms evolve through group selection. Populations without such mechanisms are apt to go extinct by eroding their own resource base.

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Kim Sterelny
Australian National University

References found in this work

The Return of the Gene.Kim Sterelny & Philip Kitcher - 1988 - Journal of Philosophy 85 (7):339.
Philosophy of Biology.Elliott Sober & Pénel Jean-Dominique - 1995 - Revue Philosophique de la France Et de l'Etranger 185 (3):382-383.

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