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An Evolving Research Programme: The Structure of Evolutionary Theory from a Lakatosian Perspective

  • Telmo Pievani
Chapter

Abstract

The main topic of the paper is a discussion of the ways through which the theory of evolution remakes itself, changes and grows, keeping alive and reinforcing its Darwinian explanatory core. The theory shows a 150 years old history of theoretical and empirical extensions and revisions, without any apparent radical change of “paradigm” and without a rival Research Programme able to replace it. The ongoing transition from the Modern Synthesis (MS) to a so-called “Extended Evolutionary Synthesis” (ES) is here interpreted through the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes, proposed by the epistemologist Imre Lakatos and updated. The current situation in evolutionary biology could be represented by a “progressive” shift of the Darwinian research programme, moving from the quite rigid theoretical framework of the standard version of Modern Synthesis (gradualism, extrapolationism, adaptationism) to the more inclusive and pluralistic “core” and “protective belt” of the Extended Synthesis. Promising and advanced researches – like those concerning evolutionary developmental biology (Evo-Devo), epigenetics, multiple ways of speciation and the role of structural internal constraints – find in this perspective a realistic interpretation as theoretical and empirical novelties with huge implications, nevertheless not incoherent with an extended Neo-Darwinian explanatory core. A Neo-Lakatosian approach seems useful when we discuss the extension of evolutionary models in non biological fields, avoiding the application of just metaphorical forms of “ultra-Darwinism.” This analysis in terms of a rational and continuous dynamics of growth of biological thought seems much needed also for a critical examination of some popular and radicalized controversies about the health of a no better defined “Darwinism or Neo-Darwinism.”

Keywords

Niche Construction Modern Synthesis Empirical Content Extended Synthesis Evolutionary Research Programme 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Italia S.r.l.  2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy of ScienceUniversity of Milano-BicoccaMilanItaly

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