Article ID: CBB291217176

Disentangling life: Darwin, selectionism, and the postgenomic return of the environment (2017)


In this paper, I analyze the disruptive impact of Darwinian selectionism for the century-long tradition in which the environment had a direct causative role in shaping an organism's traits. In the case of humans, the surrounding environment often determined not only the physical, but also the mental and moral features of individuals and whole populations. With its apparatus of indirect effects, random variations, and a much less harmonious view of nature and adaptation, Darwinian selectionism severed the deep imbrication of organism and milieu posited by these traditional environmentalist models. This move had radical implications well beyond strictly biological debates. In my essay, I discuss the problematization of the moral idiom of environmentalism by William James and August Weismann who adopted a selectionist view of the development of mental faculties. These debates show the complex moral discourse associated with the environmentalist-selectionist dilemma. They also well illustrate how the moral reverberations of selectionism went well beyond the stereotyped associations with biological fatalism or passivity of the organism. Rereading them today may be helpful as a genealogical guide to the complex ethical quandaries unfolding in the current postgenomic scenario in which a revival of new environmentalist themes is taking place.

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Authors & Contributors
Waizbort, Ricardo
Martins, Lilian Al-Chueyer Pereira
Brzezinski Prestes, María Elice de
Stefano, Waldir
Ruse, Michael
De Araújo, Aldo Mellender
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Isis: International Review Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
Asclepio: Archivo Iberoamericano de Historia de la Medicina
Istoriko-Biologicheskie Issledovaniia
Journal for General Philosophy of Science
Journal of Experimental Zoology. Part B, Molecular and Developmental Evolution
Fundo Mackenzie de Pesquisa
American Philosophical Society
Cambridge University Press
Odile Jacob
University of Chicago Press
Natural selection
Adaptation (biology)
Darwin, Charles Robert
Senebier, Jean
Jennings, Herbert Spencer
Lamarck, Jean Baptiste Antoine Pierre de Monet de
Kettlewell, Henry Bernard Davis
Harrison, John William Heslop
Time Periods
20th century
19th century
20th century, early
18th century
Great Britain
United States
Soviet Union
Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, Md.)

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