Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 23, Issue 5, pp 659–671 | Cite as

The adaptive landscape of science

  • John S. Wilkins


In 1988, David Hull presented an evolutionary account of science. This was a direct analogy to evolutionary accounts of biological adaptation, and part of a generalized view of Darwinian selection accounts that he based upon the Universal Darwinism of Richard Dawkins. Criticisms of this view were made by, among others, Kim Sterelny, which led to it gaining only limited acceptance. Some of these criticisms are, I will argue, no longer valid in the light of developments in the formal modeling of evolution, in particular that of Sergey Gavrilets’ work on adaptive landscapes. If we can usefully recast the Hullian view of science as being driven by selection in terms of Gavrilets’ and Kaufmann’s view of there being “giant components” of high-fitness networks through any realistic adaptive landscape, we may now find it useful to ask what the adaptive pressures on science are, and to extend the metaphor into a full analogy. This is in effect to reconcile the Fisherianism of the Dawkins–Hull approach to selection and replicators, with a Wrightean drift account of social constructionist views of science, preserving, it is to be hoped, the valuable aspects of both.


Adaptive landscape David Hull Theory change Selection 



Thanks to Paul Griffiths, Stefan Linquist, Dan Schweizer, and especially Jon Kaplan for critical comments and advice, and to David Hull for his assistance over the years.


  1. Boden MA (1990) The creative mind: myths and mechanisms. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, LondonGoogle Scholar
  2. Boden MA (1994) Representational redescription—a question of sequence. Behav Brain Sci 17(4)Google Scholar
  3. Burchfield JD (1990) Lord Kelvin and the Age of the Earth. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  4. Dawkins R (1976) The selfish gene. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  5. Dawkins R (1996) Climbing Mount Improbable. 1st American ed. Norton, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  6. Distin K (2004) The selfish meme: a critical reassessment. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  7. Dobzhansky T (1937) Genetics and the origin of species. Columbia University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  8. Eldredge N (1989) Macroevolutionary dynamics: species, niches, and adaptive peaks. McGraw-Hill, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  9. Garfinkel A (1981) Forms of explanation: rethinking the questions in social theory. Yale University Press, New Haven, ConnGoogle Scholar
  10. Gavrilets S (2003) Perspective: models of speciation: what have we learned in 40 years? Evol Int J Org Evol 57(10):2197–2215Google Scholar
  11. Gavrilets S (2004) Fitness landscapes and the origin of species, monographs in population biology; v. 41. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ; Oxford, EnglandGoogle Scholar
  12. Gigerenzer G (1989) The empire of chance: how probability changed science and everyday life, ideas in context. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge UK, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  13. Hull DL (1988a) A mechanism and its metaphysics: an evolutionary account of the social and conceptual development of science. Biol Philos 3:123–155. doi: 10.1007/BF00140989 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hull DL (1988b) Science as a process: an evolutionary account of the social and conceptual development of science. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  15. Hull DL, Wilkins JS (2005) Replication. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  16. Hull DL, Tessner PD, Diamond AM (1978) Planck’s Principle. Science 202(4369):717–723. doi: 10.1126/science.202.4369.717 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hull DL, Langman RE, Glenn SS (2001) A general account of selection: biology, immunology, and behavior. Behav Brain Sci 24(3):511–528. doi: 10.1017/S0140525X0156416X discussion 528–573CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kauffman SA (1993) The origins of order: self-organization and selection in evolution. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  19. Kirkpatrick S, Gelatt CD, Vecchi MP (1983) Optimization by simulated annealing. Science 220(4598):671–680. doi: 10.1126/science.220.4598.671 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Latour B, Woolgar S (1986) Laboratory life: the construction of scientific facts. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJGoogle Scholar
  21. Levin SG, Stephan PE, Walker MB (1995) Planck’s Principle revisited: a note. Soc Stud Sci 25(2):275–283. doi: 10.1177/030631295025002003 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Lloyd EA (1988) The structure and confirmation of evolutionary theory. Greenwood Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  23. Newell A (1973) You can’t play twenty questions with nature and win: projective comments on the papers of this symposium. In: Chase WG (ed) Visual information processing. Academic Press, New York, pp 283–308Google Scholar
  24. Newell A (1990) Unified theories of cognition. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  25. Provine WB (1986) Sewall Wright and evolutionary biology, science and its conceptual foundations. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  26. Richards RJ (1987) In: Richards RJ (ed) Darwin and the emergence of evolutionary theories of mind and behavior. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  27. Rosenberg A (1994) Instrumental biology, or, the disunity of science. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  28. Segerstråle U (2000) Defenders of the truth: the sociobiology debate. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  29. Sober E (1984) The nature of selection: evolutionary theory in philosophical focus. MIT Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  30. Sterelny K (1994) Science and selection. Biol Philos 9(1):45–62. doi: 10.1007/BF00849913 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Sulloway FJ (1996) Born to rebel: birth order, family dynamics, and creative lives. Pantheon Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  32. Suppe F (1988) The semantic conception of theories and scientific realism. University of Illinois Press, Urbana, ILGoogle Scholar
  33. Todes DP (1989) Darwin without Malthus: the struggle for existence in Russian evolutionary thought, monographs on the history and philosophy of biology. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  34. van Fraassen B (1980) The scientific image. Clarendon Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  35. Wilkins JS (1998) The evolutionary structure of scientific theories. Biol Philos 13(4):479–504. doi: 10.1023/A:1006507411225 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Wilkins JS (2007) The dimensions, modes and definitions of species and speciation. Biol Philos 22(2):247–266. doi: 10.1007/s10539-006-9043-9 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Williams GC (1992) Natural selection: domains, levels, and challenges. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  38. Wray KB (2003) Is science really a young man’s game? Soc Stud Sci 33(1):137–149. doi: 10.1177/0306312703033001961 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Wright S (1932) The roles of mutation, inbreeding, crossbreeding and selection in evolution. In: Jones DF (ed) Proceedings of the Sixth International Congress of Genetics. Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Brooklyn, NY, pp 356–366Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia

Personalised recommendations