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Darwinian Populations and Natural Selection Hardcover – May 17, 2009

ISBN-13: 978-0199552047 ISBN-10: 0199552045 Edition: 1st
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Editorial Reviews


Peter Godfrey-Smith's Darwinian Populations and Natural Selection is a dense and deep work on the foundations of evolutionary biology... God rey-Smith's book fruitfully forces us to think in new ways about evolution and natural selection. Jay Odenbaugh, Science Darwinian Populations and Natural Selection will be something to be reckoned with for anybody interested in the conceptual foundations of evolutionary theory and in the applicability of Darwinian ideas beyond the strict confines of biological evolution. Massimo Pigliucci, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

About the Author

Peter Godfrey-Smith is Professor of Philosophy at Harvard University. He is the author of Complexity and the Function of Mind in Nature and Theory and Reality: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (May 17, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199552045
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199552047
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 0.8 x 6.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,555,050 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Herbert Gintis on June 16, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Peter Godfrey-Smith is among the very best of a new breed of philosopher of biology whose contributions are very strong both in the biological sciences and the philosophy thereof. This book reviews some major controversies in evolutionary biology over the past half-century, with the author's own attempt to adjudicate among the contestants.

It is not clear to me to whom this book is targeted. Godfrey-Smith describes the controversies at too high a level for a novice reader, but the descriptions are too detailed and labored for a reader who has followed the debates. His own contributions are very powerful in some cases, while in others he more or less follows the lead of others, supplying little that is new at all.

His most important point is that the replicator/vehicle approach to Darwinian evolution was motivated by paradigmatic controversies unleashed by Dawkins' The Selfish Gene, and is really a step backward. He shows rather definitively that the standard definition of Darwinian evolution by Lewontin and others is both adequate and much broader than that proposed by the replicator/vehicle proponents. Indeed, he gives examples of Darwinian evolution where there are no replicators at all. Godfrey-Smith also claims that the replicator/vehicle approach often embraces and ``agential'' view of genes, endowing them anthropomorphically with "plans" and "objectives." He does not make clear why this is a problem. I do not believe it is. There is nothing wrong with game-theoretic behavioral models in which different alleles at a locus are associated with different phenotypic behaviors. This "phenotypic gambit" has allowed evolutionary biology to develop very powerful models of strategic interactions within species.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By mattphilos on March 14, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Godfrey-Smith sets out, generally with great clarity, reasons why we should dispense with the replicator foundation of evolutionary theory. As with many processes, there are degrees of some population behaving in Darwinian fashion and the replicator approach picks out only a subset of these. By introducing a sophisticated version of a conceptual space model Godfrey-Smith does much to advance conceptual analysis in general and philosophy of science in particular. Gone are the days of necessity and sufficiency, now there is a tool to deal with conceptual vagueness in a principled way. In places this book doesn't say enough. But the framework is laid for much further work in biology, and perhaps most interestingly, in social science.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Tim Tyler on October 30, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a philosophy-oriented book about Darwinian evolution. It's a great read. Peter has a number of papers freely available online, for readers who want to see if they like the style or subject matter. The material addresses the interesting topic of what Darwinian evolution is all about. Peter thinks clearly and logically and is an expert at classifying things.

I'll skip straight to the places where I disagree:

I don't like the "Darwinian populations" term - of the book's title. The term "Darwinian" should be applied to processes and techniques - and not to populations. Populations can change via Darwinian processes, but it doesn't seem right to describe a population as being "Darwinian".

The author is critical of formulations of Darwinian evolution based on replication. However, all this means is that he has failed to find a sympathetic interpretation of them. He criticizes the idea that Darwinian evolution requires high fidelity copying. However few replication advocates have claimed this, as Peter's own quotes on the topic demonstrate. Instead they say things like this:

"A number of authors have developed and refined the definition of a replicator. An emerging consensus argues that replication involves a causal relationship between two or more entities, where there is substantial similarity between the original and replicated entities, and where information concerning adaptive solutions to survival problems is passed from one set of entities to another (Sterelny et al. 1996; Godfrey-Smith 2000; Sperber 2000). The definitional characteristics of causality, similarity and information transfer are common to these accounts.
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By DJ.Fishbrain on December 22, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
really good read, i advise giving this as a gift
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