Article ID: CBB001023966

Weismann, Wittgenstein and the Homunculus Fallacy (2010)


A problem that has troubled both neo-Darwinists and neo-Lamarckians is whether instincts involve knowledge. This paper discusses the contributions to this problem of the evolutionary biologist August Weismann and the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. Weismann discussed an empirical homunculus fallacy: Lamarck's theory mistakenly presupposes a homunculus in the germ cells. Wittgenstein discussed a conceptual homunculus fallacy which applies to Lamarck's theory: it is mistaken to suppose that knowledge is stored in the brain or DNA. The upshot of these two fallacies is that instincts arise through a neo-Darwinian process but are not cognitions in the sense that they involve (the recollection of stored) knowledge. Although neo-Lamarckians have rightly argued that learning processes may contribute to the development of instincts, their ideas about the role of knowledge in the evolution and development of instincts are mistaken.


Description Discusses the problem addressed by August Weismann and Ludwig Wittgenstein of whether instincts involve knowledge.

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Authors & Contributors
Waizbort, Ricardo
Martins, Lilian Al-Chueyer Pereira
Brzezinski Prestes, María Elice de
Stefano, Waldir
Gissis, Snait B.
Jablonka, Eva
Journal of the History of Biology
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Science and Society
VIET: Voprosy Istorii Estestvoznaniia i Tekhniki
Asclepio: Archivo Iberoamericano de Historia de la Medicina
19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century
Fundo Mackenzie de Pesquisa
The MIT Press
Columbia University Press
University of California, Davis
Philosophy of biology
Weismann, August
Lamarck, Jean Baptiste Antoine Pierre de Monet de
Darwin, Charles Robert
Popper, Karl Raimund
Steele, E. J.
Wheeler, William Morton
Time Periods
19th century
20th century
20th century, early
20th century, late
21st century
18th century
United States
Human Genome Project

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