International Society for History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology

twitter 2015
     facebook 2015


MONDAY, JULY 6  /  19:00 - 20:30  /  Salle Marie Gérin-Lajoie
Edward O. Wilson’s “conversion”: A current polemic about group selection

Lívia Assunção (Universidade Federal da Bahia, Brazil); Mark Borrello (University of Minnesota, United States); Juan Manuel Sánchez Arteaga (Universidade Federal da Bahia, Brazil)

Since the publication of On The Origin of Species, in 1859, the level of biological organization at which natural selection works has been under discussion by evolutionary biologists. The idea that natural selection could work in different biological hierarchies, more specifically at the level of individuals and at the level of the groups of individuals, was first proposed by Charles Darwin and was intensely discussed during the beginning of the 20th century. However, from the mid-1960s, the theory of group selection began to be widely rejected. One of the causes of this rejection was the decisive criticism by George C. Williams and the advent of alternative explanations to the origin of social behaviours. Within this debate, one of the remarkable figures that opposed group selection theory was the biologist Edward O. Wilson. He began to be directly involved in the debate about the forces of social evolution since the beginning of the 1970s. For the next 40 years, Wilson opposed to the idea of group selection as a theoretical basis to explain the evolution of social behaviour. However, with the publication of “Rethinking the Theoretical Foundations of Sociobiology” (2007), in collaboration with David Sloan Wilson, E. O. Wilson changed his position. This project aims at analysing Wilson’s conversion regarding the theory of group selection since his first publications about the topic until his current ones. In order to do so, it has been done a chronological analysis about his work that discusses group selection, the evolution of altruism and related topics. Some of the early results from this research (currently in progress) are that Wilson did not neglect the discussion about levels of selection. Wilson clearly changed his positioning regarding multilevel selection toward a more pluralist view, including group selection in his explanations about the evolution of social behaviours.