Entangled Life pp 213-236 | Cite as

The Affordance Landscape: The Spatial Metaphors of Evolution

  • Denis M. WalshEmail author
Part of the History, Philosophy and Theory of the Life Sciences book series (HPTL, volume 4)


The adaptive landscape is a metaphorical device employed to depict the evolutionary change in a population or lineage undergoing natural selection. It is a powerful heuristic and didactic tool. This paper has two objectives. The first is to dig beneath the adaptive landscape in order to expose certain presuppositions about evolution concealed there. The second is to propose and motivate an alternative spatial metaphor, one that embodies a wholly different set of presuppositions. I develop the idea that adaptive evolution occurs on an ‘affordance landscape.’ The conception of adaptation—both the process and the product—that follows from adopting the affordance landscape metaphor is a significant departure from the conception of adaptation embodied in orthodox Modern Synthesis biology.


Phenotypic Plasticity Adaptive Evolution Dispositional Property Adaptive Landscape Biological Form 
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.



I would like to thank audiences in London (Ontario), Dubrovnik, and Stockholm for their lively responses. I am particularly grateful to Fermin Fulda and Susan Oyama for suggested improvements to an earlier draft. In addition, Jacob Stegenga, Cory Lewis, Michael Cournoyea, and Alex Djedovic provided a very helpful discussion. The editors of this volume also provided very helpful suggestions.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy, Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

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