FRAL - Appel Franco-allemand en sciences humaines et sociales

The Explanatory Scope of Generalized Darwinism: Towards Criteria for Evolutionary Explanations Outside Biology – GENDAR

Submission summary

In the past decades, researchers in a variety of areas of work outside the biological sciences have begun to interpret the phenomena they study in evolutionary terms and to use evolutionary concepts and models to describe and explain them. But while finding evolutionary explanations of suitable non-biological phenomena would clearly advance our understanding of these phenomena, it seems that many evolutionary explanations that are constructed in some of these areas do not actually constitute good scientific explanations. Thus, it is important to clarify the conditions under which evolutionary theory can assume the role of multi-purpose explanatory framework or unifying paradigm that could bring a diversity of fields of investigation both within and outside the life sciences together under a common framework. Underwriting this epistemological matter is the metaphysical assumption that various phenomena and systems under study in the various “evolutionary” research programs all instantiate the same basic process (i.e., Darwinian evolution) and hence can be accounted for through the same explanatory scheme, presumably some nuclear form of Darwinian theory that is to be filled in on a case-by-case basis for application to phenomena under focus. The GenDar project assesses the extent to which such epistemological views and metaphysical assumptions are warranted. Undertaken by teams of philosophers of science in Paris and Hannover, with input of external collaborators (evolutionary biologists and social scientists from fields concerned with Darwinian theories), GenDar addresses this question with the aim of determining the explanatory scope of Darwinian evolutionary theory. It targets three research questions: (1) Is there a core set of principles, concepts, etc. that was retained throughout the development of Darwinian evolutionary theory? (2) Is there a preferred (formal or conceptual) way of expressing the core of Darwinism? (3) If Darwinian evolutionary theory yields good explanations of phenomena in fields of investigation outside biology, many of which (ethics, psychology, medicine, social science, etc.) are relevant for our understanding and shaping of the societies we live in, then what are the implications for society and human life of using Darwinian thinking in those areas? Structured in 3 subprojects on mathematical formalisms, metaphysical concepts, and social/ethical consequences, GenDar will investigate mathematical and conceptual formulations of Darwinism, the metaphysics of Darwinian processes and Darwinian entities, and the interplay between generalized evolutionary theory and social/ethical issues. In addressing these issues, the proposed project aims at achieving clarity about the structure of evolutionary explanations, as well as the epistemic and societal promises and risks of applying evolutionary thinking outside the biological sciences.

Project coordination

Philippe HUNEMAN (Institut d'Histoire et de Philosophie des Sciences et des Techniques)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


IHPST Institut d'Histoire et de Philosophie des Sciences et des Techniques
LUH Leibniz Universität Hannover

Help of the ANR 248,911 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: February 2020 - 36 Months

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