“Variation and selective retention” as an evolutionary epistemology: were Donald Campbell's life histories sufficient?

in Israel Journal of Ecology and Evolution
No Access
Get Access to Full Text
Rent on DeepDyve

Have an Access Token?

Enter your access token to activate and access content online.

Please login and go to your personal user account to enter your access token.


Have Institutional Access?

Access content through your institution. Any other coaching guidance?


Campbell's “evolutionary epistemology” is used more frequently to refer to extensions of Darwinism than other phrases, and his description of it as “variation and selective retention” is highly cited. However, we can still ask whether it is sufficient. The evidence from his classic essay is that he understood it to include somatic maintenance and reproductive growth, but omitted somatic growth and reproductive maintenance. We describe some of the complexity of the evolutionary ecology of life histories, including ecological and ecological versus social density-dependence and scale-dependence, and find that, interestingly, understood as a distinction between spending and investing, the traditional r versus K density-dependence distinction yields the same pattern of expected life history traits as does scale-dependence (although there should be other ways of distinguishing them). We then use this to fill in the missing somatic growth and offspring maintenance of Campbell's model of sociocultural evolution. In concluding, we emphasize the degree to which not only the evolutionary ecology of life histories but also the logic of population genetics and tree-building have been found relevant to the social sciences. Donald Campbell and David Hull, both now deceased, will be remembered as early modern pioneers of the theory of Darwinian sociocultural evolution.

“Variation and selective retention” as an evolutionary epistemology: were Donald Campbell's life histories sufficient?

in Israel Journal of Ecology and Evolution


AldrichH. 1999 2006. Organizations evolving. Thousand Oaks (CA): Sage Publications Ltd.

AldrichHEHodgsonGMHullDLKnudsenTMokyrJVanbergVJ. 2008. In defence of generalized Darwinism. J Evol Econ. 18:577596.

BielbyJMaceGMBininda-EmondsORPCardilloMGittlemanJLJonesKEOrmeCDPurvisA. 2007. The fast-slow continuum in mammalian life history: an empirical reevaluation. Am Nat 169:748757.

BlackmoreS. 1999. The meme machine. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

BluteM. 2003. The evolutionary ecology of science. J Memetic. 7(1):21 ss.

BluteM. 2007. The evolution of replication. Biol Theory. 2(2):1022.

BluteM. 2010. Darwinian sociocultural evolution: solutions to dilemmas in cultural and social theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

BluteM. 2011. Super cooperators? Trend Ecol Evol. 26(12):624625.

BluteMArmstrongP. 2011. The reinvention of grand theories of the scientific/scholarly process. Perspect Sci. 19(4):391425.

BoydRRichersonPJ. 1985. Culture and the evolutionary process. Chicago (IL): University of Chicago Press.

CampbellDT. 1965. Variation and selective retention in socio-cultural evolution. In: BarringerHRBlankstenGIMackRW editors. Social change in developing areas: a reinterpretation of evolutionary theory. Cambridge (MA): Schenkman Publishing Company; p. 1949. Also reprinted under the same title. In: von BertalanffyLRapoportAMeierRL editors. 1969 General systems: yearbook of the society for general systems research XIV. Society for General Research Systems; p. 6985.

CampbellDT. 1970. Natural selection as an epistemological model. In: NarollRCohenR editors. A handbook of method in cultural anthropology. Garden City (NY): The Natural History Press; p. 5185.

CampbellDT. 1974. Evolutionary epistemology. In: ArthurSP editor. The philosophy of Karl Popper. LA Salle (IL): The Open Court Publishing; p. 413463.

Cavalli-SforzaLLFeldmanMW. 1981. Cultural transmission and evolution: a quantitative approach. Princeton (NJ): Princeton University Press.

CurrieTE. 2013. Cultural evolution branches out: The phylogenetic approach in cross-cultural research. Cross-Cult Res. 47(2):102130.

DawkinsR. 1976. The selfish gene. New York: Oxford University Press.

DawkinsR. 1983. Universal Darwinism. In: BendallDS editor. Evolution: from molecules to men. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; p. 403425.

DennettDC. 1995. Darwin's dangerous idea: evolution and the meanings of life. New York: Simon & Schuster.

EdelmanG. 1987. Neural Darwinism: the theory of neuronal group selection. New York: Basic Books.

Godfrey-SmithP. 2009. Darwinian populations and natural selection. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

HodgsonGM. 2012. From pleasure machines to moral communities: an evolutionary economics without homo economicus. Chicago (IL): University of Chicago Press.

HodgsonGMKnudsenT. 2010. Darwin's conjecture: the search for general principles of social and economic evolution. Chicago (IL): University of Chicago Press.

HullDL. 1988. Science as a process: an evolutionary account of the social and conceptual development of science. Chicago (IL): University of Chicago Press.

HullDLLangmanREGlennSS. 2001. A general account of selection: biology, immunology and behavior. Behav Brain Sci. 24:511573.

MacArthurRH. 1962. Some generalized theorems of natural selection. Proc Nat Acad Sci USA. 48:18931897.

MacArthurRHWilsonEO. 1967. The theory of island biogeography. Princeton (NJ): Princeton University Press.

Maynard SmithJSzathmáryE. 1995. Major transitions in evolution. Cambridge (MA): WH Freeman and Company.

MesoudiAWhitenALalandKL. 2004. Is human cultural evolution Darwinian? Evidence reviewed from the perspective of the Origin of Species. Evolution. 58:111.

MesoudiAWhitenALalandKL. 2006. Towards a unified science of cultural evolution. Behav Brain Sci. 29:329383.

MesoudiA. 2011. Cultural evolution: how Darwinian theory can explain human culture & synthesize the social sciences. Chicago (IL): University of Chicago Press.

Odling-SmeeFJLalandKNFeldmanMarcus W. 1996. Niche construction. Am Nat. 146:641648.

Odling-SmeeFJLalandKNFeldmanMW. 2003. Niche construction: the neglected process in evolution. Princeton (NJ): Princeton University Press.

PiankaER. 1970. On r- and K-selection. Am Nat. 104:592597.

RichersonPJBoydR. 2005. Not by genes alone: how culture transformed human evolution. Chicago (IL): The University of Chicago Press.

RoffDA. 2002. Life history evolution. Sunderland (MA): Sinauer Associates Inc.

RuncimanWG. 2009. The theory of cultural and social selection. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

TurnerJHMaryanskiA. 2009. On the origin of societies by natural selection. Boulder (CO): Paradigm Publishers.

WhitenAHindeRAStringerCB LalandKN editors. 2012. Culture evolves. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

WilsonAJNusseyDH. 2009. What is individual quality? An evolutionary perspective. Trend Ecol Evol. 25:207214.

WuT. 2010. The master switch: the rise and fall of information empires. New York: Vintage Books/Random House.


Content Metrics

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 8 8 1
Full Text Views 8 8 5
PDF Downloads 5 5 2
EPUB Downloads 0 0 0