Thesis ID: CBB001560635

Finding Mind, Form, Organism, and Person in a Reductionist Age: The Challenge of Gregory Bateson and C. H. Waddington to Biological and Anthropological Orthodoxy, 1924--1980 (cited 2011)


Peterson, Erik L. (Author)

University of Notre Dame
Sloan, Phillip R.

Publication Date: cited 2011
Edition Details: Advisor: Sloan, Phillip R.
Physical Details: 517 pp.

By the middle of the twentieth century, scholars in the life sciences had completed a "Modern Synthesis" of Darwinian evolution and genetics. As the self-styled "architects" of the synthesis saw it, nothing in biology made sense unless it was contextualized by their version of neo-Darwinian evolution. By the middle of the 1970s, a new field called "sociobiology" emerged to bring even the social sciences into the synthesis. Recently, however, historians, philosophers, and life scientists have begun to question the sufficiency of the Modern Synthesis and the sociobiological "New Synthesis." Some scholars speculate that neo-Darwinism is too closely tied to a reductionistic notion of heredity that privileges the behavior of DNA over that of higher levels like organisms and groups. This dissertation explores the work of two scholars, Gregory Bateson (1904- 1980) and Conrad Hal Waddington (1905-1975), who promoted an explicitly "organismic" theory of evolution as a refinement of neo-Darwinism decades before the sociobiological synthesis. Trained at Cambridge in the 1920s, Bateson spent the majority of his career working in the social sciences in the United States. Waddington initially studied paleontology at Cambridge, but Bateson encouraged him to study embryology and genetics. Both were trained when a fascination with "organicism" motivated work in British life sciences. Bateson and Waddington remained friends throughout their lives, despite living on different continents. Much of their communication passed through anthropologist Margaret Mead, Bateson's former spouse and partner in ethnographic fieldwork, and also a frequent host to Waddington in his travels to the United States. Through their relationship, Bateson and Waddington found personal and intellectual support for continued work on their organismic evolutionary theory in the life and social sciences. This dissertation is the first to examine their mutual influence in detail. A study of this kind is important not only because it addresses a historical lacuna, but because their holistic evolutionary theory was not the version of evolution that came to dominate the life and, eventually, social sciences in the mid-1970s--though there is growing support for organicism today. The experiences of Bateson and Waddington reveal the extent to which the formation of neo-Darwinism and the proposed sociobiological synthesis were complex and negotiated, rather than linear and discovered, meta-theoretical processes. The organicism of Bateson and Waddington continues to serve as an alternative to the genetic reductionism at the base of contemporary neo-Darwinism and sociobiology.


Description “Explores the work of Gregory Bateson and Conrad Hal Waddington, who promoted an explicitly “organismic” theory of evolution as a refinement of neo-Darwinism decades before the sociobiological synthesis.” (from the abstract) Cited in Diss. Abstr. Int. A 72/03 (2011). Pub. no. AAT 344156.

Citation URI

Similar Citations

Article Wilkins, Adam S.; (2008)
Waddington's Unfinished Critique of Neo-Darwinian Genetics: Then and Now (/isis/citation/CBB001230127/)

Article Steffes, David M.; (2007)
Panpsychic Organicism: Sewall Wright's Philosophy for Understanding Complex Genetic Systems (/isis/citation/CBB000772595/)

Thesis Juzda, E; (cited 2011)
The Rise and Fall of British Craniometry, 1860--1939 (/isis/citation/CBB001567345/)

Book Richter, Virginia; (2011)
Literature after Darwin: Human Beasts in Western Fiction, 1859--1939 (/isis/citation/CBB001033151/)

Article Hjermitslev, Hans Henrik; (2011)
Protestant Responses to Darwinism in Denmark, 1859--1914 (/isis/citation/CBB001230823/)

Article Breidbach, Olaf; Ghiselin, Michael T.; (2007)
Evolution and Development: Past, Present, and Future (/isis/citation/CBB001231996/)

Book Dugatkin, Lee Alan; (2011)
The Prince of Evolution: Peter Kropotkin's Adventures in Science and Politics (/isis/citation/CBB001220994/)

Book Zevenhuizen, Erik; (2008)
Vast in het spoor van Darwin: Biografie van Hugo de Vries (/isis/citation/CBB001022388/)

Book Bruce S. Grant; (2021)
Observing Evolution: Peppered Moths and the Discovery of Parallel Melanism (/isis/citation/CBB047921603/)

Article Marina Mogilner; (2020)
The Science of Empire: Darwinism, Human Diversity, and Russian Physical Anthropology (/isis/citation/CBB533688273/)

Authors & Contributors
Mogilner, Marina
Grant, Bruce
Oliveira, Almir Leal de
Juzda, E
Zevenhuizen, Erik J. A.
Wilkins, Adam S.
History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Theory in Biosciences
Osiris: A Research Journal Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
Journal of the History of Ideas
Journal of the History of Biology
História, Ciências, Saúde---Manguinhos
University of Cambridge (United Kingdom)
Palgrave Macmillan
Kent State University Press
Johns Hopkins University Press
Science and literature
Waddington, Conrad Hal
Darwin, Charles Robert
Grant, Bruce
Branner, John Casper
Vries, Hugo Marie de
Huxley, Julian Sorell
Time Periods
20th century, early
19th century
20th century
Great Britain
United States
Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, Md.)

Be the first to comment!

{{ comment.created_by.username }} on {{ comment.created_on | date:'medium' }}

Log in or register to comment