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A unified account of Darwinism’s varieties

2024-05-29
(Press-News.org) A new paper published in The Quarterly Review of Biology examines the question of what Darwinism is and how its nonscientific uses relate to the scientific theory of evolution.

Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859 as a work in biology. However, in the past century and a half, Darwin’s ideas have impacted a broad range of domains and stimulated scientists and scholars to advance "evolutionary approaches" in domains as diverse as economics, engineering, psychology, and history. The ideas have been used (and abused) to undermine religiously inspired ideas about the origin of humans and their status concerning other species, to support state-sponsored eugenicist policies, or to support laissez-faire economic policies.

In “The Varieties of Darwinism: Explanation, Logic, and Worldview,” authors Hugh Desmond, André Ariew, Philippe Huneman, and Thomas Reydon observe that while some people claim Darwinism’s meaning should be limited to scientific content, others call for its abolition altogether. The authors propose a unified account of these varieties of Darwinism. “We show how the theories introduced by Darwin have grounded a ‘logic’ or style of reasoning about phenomena, as well as various ethically and politically charged ‘worldviews.’” They posit that the full meaning of Darwinism and how this meaning has changed over time can only be understood through the interaction between these dimensions.

The authors point out that while it is not novel to ask the question “What is Darwinism?” novel sources of confusion warrant revisiting the question. They provide a framework to make sense of how the different significant uses of the term interrelate and what, if any, such ethical and political uses of the term Darwinism have to do with the underlying scientific dimension of Darwinism.

The authors argue against the view that “they have nothing to do with each other." They advance a “thick” conception of Darwinism, where the scientific, ethical, and political dimensions are understood to be intertwined and constitute Darwinism’s full meaning. In their account of the thick conception of Darwinism, the authors rely on Darwinism as an explanatory scheme, Darwinism as logic or methodology, and Darwinism as a worldview or ideology.

The authors conclude that restricting Darwinism to a purely scientific context is not ideal, noting that theoretical elements play a methodological role in structuring scientific inquiry into natural phenomena. They conceded that while the thick conception complicates the analysis of Darwinism it is necessary to do justice to the richness of Darwinism and its influence in the past century and a half.

The premier review journal in biology, The Quarterly Review of Biology has presented insightful historical, philosophical, and technical treatments of important biological topics since 1926. The QRB publishes outstanding review articles of generous length that are guided by an expansive, inclusive, and often humanistic understanding of biology.

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[Press-News.org] A unified account of Darwinism’s varieties