Books  Evolutionary Biology  Evolution 

Organisms, Agency, and Evolution

  • Proposes a new understanding of the process of evolution
  • Offers a balanced philosophical analysis of current debates within evolutionary biology
  • Compares and contrasts two central theories of evolution and holds each up to empirical scrutiny

By: Denis M Walsh(Author)

280 pages, 3 b/w illustrations, 4 tables

Cambridge University Press

Hardback | Nov 2015 | #223907 | ISBN-13: 9781107122109
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £64.99 $85/€73 approx

About this book

The central insight of Darwin's On the Origin of Species is that evolution is an ecological phenomenon, arising from the activities of organisms in the 'struggle for life'. By contrast, the Modern Synthesis theory of evolution, which rose to prominence in the twentieth century, presents evolution as a fundamentally molecular phenomenon, occurring in populations of sub-organismal entities – genes. After nearly a century of success, the Modern Synthesis theory is now being challenged by empirical advances in the study of organismal development and inheritance. In this important study, Denis Walsh shows that the principal defect of the Modern Synthesis resides in its rejection of Darwin's organismal perspective, and argues for 'situated Darwinism': an alternative, organism-centred conception of evolution that prioritises organisms as adaptive agents. His book will be of interest to scholars and advanced students of evolutionary biology and the philosophy of biology.


Introducing organisms: between unificationism and exceptionalism

Part I. The Eclipse of The Organism
1. Mechanism, reduction, and emergence: of molecules and method
2. Ensemble thinking: struggle and abstraction
3. The fractionation of evolution: struggling or replicating?

Part II. Beyond Replicator Biology
4. Inheritance: transmission or persistence?
5. Units of phenotypic control: parity or privilege?
6. Fit and diversity: from competition to complementarity
7. Integrating development: three grades of ontogenetic commitment

Part III. Situated Darwinism
8. Adaptation: environments and affordances
9. Natural purposes: mechanism and teleology
10. Object and agent: enacting evolution
11. Two neo-Darwinisms: fractionated or situated?


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Denis Walsh is Professor in the Department of Philosophy and the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology at the University of Toronto. He is the editor of Naturalism, Evolution, and Mind (Cambridge, 2001) and the co-editor of Evolutionary Biology: Conceptual, Ethical and Religious Issues (with R. Paul Thompson, Cambridge, 2014).

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