Thesis ID: CBB001560898

Evolution and the Developmental Perspective in Medicine: The Historical Precedent and Modern Rationale for Explaining Disorder and Normality with Evolutionary Processes (2006)


Feil, Kiersten (Author)

University of Chicago
Wimsatt, William C.

Publication Date: 2006
Edition Details: Advisor: Wimsatt, William C.
Physical Details: 249 pp.
Language: English

This is a mostly historical project in which I ask first, what is the origin and nature of evolutionary thought in medicine? The answer is in the late nineteenth century neurosciences, where it helped to explain clinical phenomena that indicated pathology was more an intricate process than an anatomical fact. This view of pathology was grounded in evolutionary theory, and was theoretically elaborated by the philosopher Georges Canguilhem in the mid-twentieth century. He was greatly influenced by the neurologists that preceded him in his perspective, but Canguilhem has a distinctly Darwinian angle. In the second part of the dissertation, I introduce examples from contemporary Evolutionary-Developmental Biology (Evo-Devo) to argue that a modern definition of disorder that is based on a notion of normality as an implicit 'ideal' proves inadequate given new discoveries about how adaptation and variation are inextricably linked to the developmental phenomena Evo-Devo explores. The historical precedent of thinking about normality and pathology as linked with evolutionary processes proves apt once again, given recent emphasis in evolutionary biology on the relationship between individual development and evolutionary change. The developmental perspective possesses a significance that is appropriately captured by a diagram most recently elaborated by Randolph Nesse (2000) in which he identifies the nature of biological questions as based on four intersecting elements. The two objects of explanation are the Single Form, and the Developmental/Historical; the two kinds of questions are Proximate and Evolutionary. There is much precedent in medicine for proximate questions about the Single Form object of explanation: how does this (organ, system, part) work, and how can it be described? Nesse himself, and George Williams spearheaded the evolutionary questioning of the Single Form in Darwinian Medicine. The fact that there is another object of explanation (Developmental/Historical) recognized in biology is reason to inquire about its status in medicine. It is the aim of this dissertation to do that. Specifically, I will narrow the topic by looking through the lens of medicine's most visible distinction, that between pathology and normality, to see where and how the developmental perspective gets involved.


Description Explains how evolutionary ideas entered medicine first in the late 19th century via the neurosciences and later via developmental biology. Cited in Diss. Abstr. Int. A 67/09 (2007). UMI pub. no. 3231392.

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Authors & Contributors
Maienschein, Jane A.
Creath, Richard
Hull, David L.
Robinson, Joseph D.
Ruse, Michael
Hodge, Jon
Journal of the History of Biology
Nuncius: Annali di Storia della Scienza
Theory in Biosciences
Journal of the History of Sexuality
Oxford University Press
Cambridge University Press
Johns Hopkins University Press
Developmental biology
Darwin, Charles Robert
Mill, John Stuart
Burdon Sanderson, John Scott
Wilson, Edmund Beecher
Conklin, Edwin Grant
Watson, Hewett Cottrell
Time Periods
19th century
20th century
20th century, early
21st century
20th century, late
Great Britain
Middle and Near East
Soviet Union
Universiteit Leiden

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