, Volume 27, Issue 1, pp 79–82 | Cite as

Luck versus Cunning

Denis M. Walsh: Organisms, agency and evolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015, ix+279pp, £64.99 HB
  • Max Dresow
Book Review

In 1887, Samuel Butler published the last in a series of works on evolution, provocatively titled Luck or Cunning as the Main Means of Organic Modification. The “luck” in his title refers to natural selection—a mechanism that, because it works on undirected variation, is “insufficient as a motive-power, or helm, of evolution” (Butler 1887, p. 115). “Cunning” refers to the creative activity of organisms, which Butler found emphasized in the writings of Erasmus Darwin, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and others. Since the consolidation of the Modern Synthesis, most evolutionists have regarded natural selection as the main means of organic modification, with “cunning” playing a supplementary role when it is acknowledged at all. However, in Organisms, Agency and EvolutionDenis Walsh argues that this is dead wrong. Not luck, but cunning is the “motive-power” of evolution, with natural selection representing a mere statistical artifact. Walsh calls his perspective “situated Darwinism,” and offers it...


  1. Butler, Samuel. 1887. Luck, or cunning, as the main means of organic modification?. London: Trübner & Co., Ludgate Hill.Google Scholar
  2. Gerhart, John, and Marc Kirschner. 2007. The theory of facilitated variation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104: 8582–8589.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Millstein, Roberta L. 2005. Natural selection as a population-level causal process. British Journal for Philosophy of Science 57: 627–653.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Walsh, Denis M. 2014. Function and teleology. In Evolutionary biology: Conceptual, ethical and religious issues, ed. Paul R. Thompson, and Denis M. Walsh, 193–216. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Minnesota Center for Philosophy of ScienceUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA

Personalised recommendations