Article ID: CBB031764747

Who's afraid of epigenetics? Habits, instincts, and Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory (2021)


Our paper aims at bringing to the fore the crucial role that habits play in Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by means of natural selection. We have organized the paper in two steps: first, we analyse value and functions of the concept of habit in Darwin's early works, notably in his Notebooks, and compare these views to his mature understanding of the concept in the Origin of Species and later works; second, we discuss Darwin’s ideas on habits in the light of today’s theories of epigenetic inheritance, which describe the way in which the functioning and expression of genes is modified by the environment, and how these modifications are transmitted over generations. We argue that Darwin’s lasting and multifaceted interest in the notion of habit, throughout his intellectual life, is both conceptually and methodologically relevant. From a conceptual point of view, intriguing similarities can be found between Darwin’s (early) conception of habit and contemporary views on epigenetic inheritance. From a methodological point of view, we suggest that Darwin’s plastic approach to habits, from his early writings up to the mature works, can provide today’s evolutionary scientists with a viable methodological model to address the challenging task of extending and expanding evolutionary theory, with particular reference to the integration of epigenetic mechanisms into existing models of evolutionary change. Over his entire life Darwin has modified and reassessed his views on habits as many times as required by evidence: his work on this notion may represent the paradigm of a habit of good scientific research methodology.

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Authors & Contributors
Martucci, Vittorio
Westwater, Martha
Shimao, Eikoh
Naccache, Bernard
Brackman, Arnold C.
Ellegård, Alvar
Physis: Rivista Internazionale di Storia della Scienza
Victorian Newsletter
Annals of Science: The History of Science and Technology
Osiris: A Research Journal Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
Archives of Natural History
Science and Education
University of Chicago Press
Cambridge University Press
Times Books
Bloomsbury Publishing
University of Toronto Press
Science and society
Darwin, Charles Robert
Bianconi, Giovanni Giuseppe
Bagehot, Walter
Marx, Karl
Wallace, Alfred Russel
Gray, Asa
Time Periods
19th century
20th century
21st century
18th century
20th century, early
British Isles
Great Britain
China; Japan
United States

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