Advertisement

Trees of Life pp 241-269 | Cite as

Against Ontogeny

  • John R. Morss
Part of the Australasian Studies in History and Philosophy of Science book series (AUST, volume 11)

Abstract

The notion of a predictable sequence of developmental states, general across individuals of a species, is central to much of developmental biology. Accounts of such predictable developmental change in an individual (‘ontogeny’) have played an important role in evolutionary theory over many years. Charles Darwin, for example, appealed to embryological evidence to support his claims concerning descent with modification. More recently, notions of ontogeny have played a central part in the ‘heterochrony’ formulation of Stephen Jay Gould. In this paper I present three arguments against current uses of the notion of ontogeny. The first argument, grounded in the study of human development, suggests that current versions of ontogeny derive from non-Darwinian evolutionist biology. The second argument extends the analysis of Alberch1 in his critique of the stage-sequence version of ontogeny within the contemporary life sciences. The third argument derives from the recent arguments of Hull2 concerning the biological concept of the individual, and suggests that current versions of ontogeny depend on a natural-kind formulation of the individual organism which is not valid.

Keywords

Natural Kind Sexual Maturation Developmental Pathway Stage Theory Developmental Biologist 
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.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes

  1. 1.
    P. Alberch (1985) Troblems with the Interpretation of Developmental Sequences’, Systematic Zoology 34, pp.46–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    D. Hull (1984) ‘Historical Entities and Historical Narratives’, Minds, Machines and Evolution: Philosophical Studies, C. Hookway (ed), Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    See W. Kessen (1990) The Rise and Fall of Development, Clark University Press for a discussion of the evolution-progress-development complex — “a triad almost as arrogant as ‘For God, for Country, and for Yale’“.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    However, see P.P.G. Bateson (1987) ‘Biological Approaches to the Study of Behavioural Development, International Journal of Behavioural Development 10, pp.1–22.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    J.R. Morss (1990) The Biologising of Childhood: Developmental Psychology and the Darwinian Myth, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  6. 5a.
    Also see M. Ghiselin (1986) The Assimilation of Darwinism in Developmental Psychology, Human Development 29, pp.12–22. Ghiselin notes (p.12) ‘The history of the assimilation of Darwinism has been the history of failure to assimilate Darwinism… This is particularly true of psychology, including developmental psychology”.Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    S. Oyama (1989) ‘Ontogeny and the Central Dogma: Do we need the Concept of Genetic Programming in Order to Have an Evolutionary Perspective?’, M. Gunnar and E. Thelen (eds.), Systems and Development, The Minnesota Symposia on Child Psychology 22, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates; also Oyama, this volume.Google Scholar
  8. 7.
    For a discussion of diverse historical approaches to biology, see R.J. CKHara (1988) Homage to Clio, or, Toward an Historical Philosophy for Evolutionary Biolog’, Systematic Zoology 37, pp.142–155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 8.
    This section is based on my book (Morss, op. cit.) to which reference should be made for documentation on all points made here, unless otherwise noted. The general importance of the wider, non-Darwinian contexts within which evolutionary ideas were expressed has been emphasised by Peter Bowler in a number of publications. See, in particular, P. Bowler (1983) The Eclipse of Darwinism: Anti-Darwinian Evolution Theories in the Decades around 1900, Johns Hopkins University Press;Google Scholar
  10. 8a.
    P. Bowler (1988) The Non-Darwinian Revolution: Reinterpreting a Historical Myth, Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  11. 9.
    It would be a serious mistake to identify Darwinism with a ‘developmental’ approach to biology. As pointed out by Sober (1984) TheNature of Selection, MIT Press, the term ‘development’ (in an ‘evolutionary’ context) might itself seem to connote a sequence of progressive stages — for example, in the style of Lamarck. If so Darwinism, with its stress on variation and stasis, would be inherently anti-developmental. Similarly, Bowler (1988, op. cit.) argues that 19th Century biology as a whole should be described as ‘developmental’. Bowler suggests that the term ‘evolution’ was extrapolated to the history of speciation from a more specifically ontogenetic context. The effects of such an extrapolation are still discerned by some observers; O’Hara, for example, stating that “Biologists must free themselves from the ontogenetic view of evolution” (op. cit., 153). The conceptual relationship between what Haeckel called phylogeny and what he called ontogeny are complex and bidirectional. It is clear, however, that the commitment to a developmental evolutionism is a pre-Darwinian one.Google Scholar
  12. 10.
    Haeckel defined ontogeny as ‘germ-history, or the history of the evolution of the individual’ and phylogeny as ‘tribal history or the palaeontological history of evolution’: E. Haeckel (1879) The Evolution of Man, Kegan Paul, Vol. II p.460.Google Scholar
  13. 11.
    W. Preyer (1896); cited in G. Eckardt (1985) ‘Preyer’s Road to Child Psychology in G. Eckardt, W. Bringmann and L. Sprung (eds) Contributions to a History of Developmental Psychology, Mouton.Google Scholar
  14. 12.
    W. Preyer (1869; 1897); cited in Morss, op. cit., 28.Google Scholar
  15. 13.
    R. Richards (1977) Tioyd Morgan’s Theory of Instinct: From Darwinism to Neo-Darwiniam’Jowrnal for the History of the Behavioural Sciences 13, pp.l2–32;cfp.l5.Google Scholar
  16. 14.
    Darwin’s ‘Biographical Sketch of an Infant is discussed in B. Bradley (1989) Visions of Infancy, Polity Press.Google Scholar
  17. 15.
    Bowler (1983) Darwin’s ‘Biographical Sketch of an Infant is discussed in B. Bradley (1989) Visions of Infancy; (1988) op. cit.Google Scholar
  18. 16.
    For a general discussion of the widespread impact of evolutionist thinking, see S.J. Gould (1977) Ontogeny and Phytogeny, Belknap Press.Google Scholar
  19. 17.
    G.S. Hall (1904) Adolescence: Its Psychology and its Relations to Physiology, Anthropology, Sociology, Sex, Crime, Religion and Education, Ap-pleton.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 18.
    J. Chisholm (1988) Toward a Developmental Evolutionary Ecology of Humans’, K. MacDonald (ed) Sociobiological Perspectives on Human Development, Springer-Verlag.Google Scholar
  21. 19.
    F. Sulloway (1979) Freud, Biologist of the Mind, Basic Books;Google Scholar
  22. 19a.
    also S.J. Gould (1987) ‘Freud’s Phylogenetic Fantasy’, Natural History, December, pp.10–20.Google Scholar
  23. 20.
    Ghiselin, op. cit., discusses Piagets “failure to understand evolution” (“Piagefs real intellectual ancestor was Spencer”); Vidal et al. suggest that Piaget misunderstood the significance of Mendelism: F. Vidal, M. Buscaglia, and J. Vonéche (1983) ‘Darwinism and Developmental Psychology’, Journal for the History of the Behavioural Sciences 19, pp.81–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 21.
    The title is more innocuous in English translation: J. Piaget (1979) Behaviour and Evolution, Routledge and Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  25. 22.
    As well as Morss op. cit., see the more detailed account of this ‘three- mountains’ task in Morss (1987) The Construction of Perspectives: Piagets Alternative to Spatial Egocentrismo International Journal of Behavioural Development 10, pp.263–279. Piaget re-reported the study (by Edith Meyer) on several occasions, each time giving greater prominence to certain (‘egocentric’) features of the results.Google Scholar
  26. 23.
    Lorenz’ debt to Bölsche is discussed by T. Kalikow (1983) Konrad Lorenz’ Ethological Theory: Explanation and Ideology, 1938–1943’, Journal of the History of Biology 16, pp.39–73. Lorenz’early writings on evolution are reprinted in R. Evans (1975) Konrad Lorenz: The Man and his Ideas, Dutton.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 24.
    Detailed substantiation of this claim is given in Morss (1990), Konrad Lorenz’ Ethological Theory: Explanation and Ideology, 1938–1943’, Journal of the History of Biology 16, pp.39–73., 199–204.Google Scholar
  28. 25.
    W. Hodos and C. Campbell (1969) ‘Scala Naturae: Why there is no Theory in Comparative Psychology’, Psychological Review 76, pp.337–350.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 26.
    Oyama, this volume.Google Scholar
  30. 27.
    Although the term ontogeny has not been extensively criticised within developmental psychology, it is important to note that stage theories of development have been. For example, the Piaget-Kohlberg stage theory of moral development has been criticised by R. Harré (1983) Personal Being, Blackwell.Google Scholar
  31. 28.
    D. Rosen (1984) Hierarchies and History’J. Pollard (ed) Evolutionary Theory: Paths into the Future, Wiley.Google Scholar
  32. 29.
    J. Eldredge and J. Cracraft (1980) Phylogenetic Patterns and the Evolutionary Process, Columbia UP.Google Scholar
  33. 30.
    R. Fortey and R. Jefferies (1982) ‘Fossils and Phylogeny: A Compromise Approach’, K. Joysey and A. Friday (eds) Problems of Phylogenetic Reconstruction, Academic Press.Google Scholar
  34. 31.
    P. Janvier (1984) ‘Cladistics: Theory, Purpose and Evolutionary Implications’, in Pollard, Problems of Phylogenetic Reconstruction.Google Scholar
  35. 32.
    Alberch, (1984) ‘Cladistics: Theory, Purpose and Evolutionary Implications’, in Pollard, Problems of Phylogenetic Reconstruction., 56.Google Scholar
  36. 33.
    On Von Baer, see Eldredge and Cracraft, op. cit., 60; also, Alberch’s comment on Nelson’s version of the ‘biogenetic lav’.Google Scholar
  37. 34.
    S.J. Gould (1990) Wonderful Life, Hutchinson.Google Scholar
  38. 35.
    Neoteny is defined (Gould, 1977, Wonderful Life., 483) as ‘Paedomorphosis (retention of formerly juvenile characters by adult descendents) produced by retardation of somatic development’. The term was originated by Kollmann in 1885.Google Scholar
  39. 36.
    Heterochrony is defined by Haeckel (op. cit., Vol. I, 12) as ‘a kenogenetic vitiation of the original, palingenetic incidents of evolution’ by displacement in time of the phenomena, resulting from adaptation to changed conditions. Gould (op. cit., 482) adopts De Beer’s definition of ‘phyletic change in the onset or timing of development’.Google Scholar
  40. 37.
    Gould, Heterochrony is defined by Haeckel (op. cit., Vol. I, 12) as ‘a kenogenetic vitiation of the original, palingenetic incidents of evolution’ by displacement in time of the phenomena, resulting from adaptation to changed conditions., 399.Google Scholar
  41. 38.
    Heterochrony is defined by Haeckel (op. cit., Vol. I, 12) as ‘a kenogenetic vitiation of the original, palingenetic incidents of evolution’ by displacement in time of the phenomena, resulting from adaptation to changed conditions., 366.Google Scholar
  42. 39.
    A logical point should perhaps be made here. Gould’s argument is that neoteny and hypermorphosis have been of special significance for human evolution. Gould, op. cit., defines these two processes as two of the six permutations among three factors (increase in size, increase in shape, onset of sexual maturation) one of the three being either slowed down or speeded up in each case. (3 factors multiplied by 2 types of rate change = 6 possible kinds of heterochrony). In neoteny, the second of these factors is retarded; in hypermorphosis the third of these is retarded. Now the combined effect of neoteny and hypermorphosis together — second and third factors both retarded — is, logically, equivalent to the acceleration of the first factor alone. This process is giantism — a simpler but perhaps less interesting model for human evolution.Google Scholar
  43. 40.
    Eldredge and Cracraft, op. cit., 62.Google Scholar
  44. 41.
    Alberch, op. cit.Google Scholar
  45. 42.
    S.J. Gould (1981) The Mismeasure of Man, Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  46. 43.
    Alberch, (1981) The Mismeasure of Man, Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  47. 44.
    B. Goodwin (1984) ‘Changing from an Evolutionary to a Generative Paradigm in Biology’, in Pollard, op. cit.Google Scholar
  48. 45.
    C. Waddington (1957) The Strategy of the Genes, Allen and Unwin.Google Scholar
  49. 46.
    Gould’s developmental pathways tend to reduce to a single sequence in rather the same way as tree-like representations of ‘phylogeny7 tend to reduce to single trunks: see R. O’Hara Telling the Tree: Narrative Representation and the Study of Evolutionary History’ (MS submitted to Systematic Zoology, 1991).Google Scholar
  50. 47.
    Transcendental trends are still to be found in the literature however. Trends to increased size and complexity are discussed by Bonner (1988) The Evolution of Complexity by Means of Natural Selection, Princeton University Press. Butler (in Joysey and Friday, op. cit.) describes ‘reversed evolution’ in the history of dentition, but only with respect to single characters; “Such reversals are secondary consequences of progressive evolution of a wider functional system to which the characters are subordinate”. This ‘saving’ of progressivism is a familiar technique in developmental psychology. Stephen Jay Gould remarked (‘Living Treasures’ lecture, University of Otago, 1990) that evolution sometimes “goes into a different channel” as a result of a certain environmental event. It is difficult to conceive of a ‘channel’ except as in some sense pre-existing the going-into. For an exploration of an interactive interpretation of developmental pathways, see Oyama, this volume.Google Scholar
  51. 48.
    Hull, op. cit.; M. Ghiselin (1988) ‘Species Individuality has no Necessary Connection with Evolutionary Gradualism’, Systematic Zoology 37, pp.66–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. 49.
    Hull, (1988) ‘Species Individuality has no Necessary Connection with Evolutionary Gradualism’, Systematic Zoology 37, 17.Google Scholar
  53. 50.
    Morss (1990), ‘Species Individuality has no Necessary Connection with Evolutionary Gradualism’, Systematic Zoology 37., 205.Google Scholar
  54. 51.
    Hull, (1988) ‘Species Individuality has no Necessary Connection with Evolutionary Gradualism’, Systematic Zoology 37, 33.Google Scholar
  55. 52.
    Ghiselin (1988) ‘Species Individuality has no Necessary Connection with Evolutionary Gradualism’, Systematic Zoology 37, 66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. 53.
    The oral presentation of this paper carried the title ‘Species of Origin’ and it would seem that considerable explanatory weight is placed on the reality of an origin in the historical-entity formulation, as it has been in more traditional accounts of development. Whether this reliance on origins is either necessary or desirable is as yet unclear.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • John R. Morss
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of EducationUniversity of OtagoNew Zealand

Personalised recommendations