The London School of Economics and Political Science announces that this year’s Lakatos Award, of £10,000 for an outstanding contribution to the philosophy of science, goes to:
Samir Okasha (Bristol University), for his book Evolution and the Levels of Selection (Oxford University Press, 2006).
Does natural selection act primarily on genes, on individual organisms or on whole species of organisms? Samir Okasha provides a comprehensive analysis, and proposed resolution, of this longstanding debate. The framework developed sheds new light both on issues within biology (particular attention is paid to the recent literature on ‘major evolutionary transitions’ and multi-level selection theories) and within the foundations or philosophy of biology (for example reductionism and holism, and realism and pluralism).
Lakatos Award Lecture
11 May 2010, 6.30pm
Wolfson Theatre, London School of Economics
Individuals versus Groups in Evolutionary Biology
In many animal species, individual organisms live in groups and interact with other group members. Often these interactions are co-operative, and indeed in some cases the groups are so cohesive and well-integrated that it is tempting to regard them as ‘organisms’ in their own right, e.g. certain insect colonies. However, the potential conflict between individual self-interest and group welfare is ever-present, threatening to undermine group cohesion and produce a Hobbes ‘war of all against at all’.
This generic problem, and its possible resolutions, lie at the heart of modern social evolution theory. While highly successful in its own terms, this body of theory rests on certain implicit philosophical assumptions which it is important to scrutinize. My talk offers an integrative survey and philosophical analysis of the ways in which evolutionary biologists have theorized about the relation between individual and group.