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

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TUESDAY, JULY 7  /  09:00 - 10:30  /  DS-1525
Individual papers
Species Origins, Mutual Aid and Organ Donation

Alfred Russel Wallace and the problems of the origin of species

Koen Tanghe (Universiteit Gent, Belgium)

John van Wyhe recently qualified the traditional assumption that Alfred Russel Wallace set out for the Amazon in 1848 with the aim of solving the problem of the origin of species as an anachronistic myth. In reaction, Charles H. Smith defends the traditional story by arguing that it is almost certain that Wallace left for the Amazon with the intention of considering evidential materials that might reveal the causal basis of organic evolution. This article presents a synthesis of these two theses by discerning six separate origin of species problems: three before 1859 and three after 1859. The main post-1859 origin of species question was indeed projected back into history and has colored the traditional account of the Amazon expedition ever since: it is doubtful whether Wallace in 1848 intended to find the causes of evolution. However, van Wyhe subsequently pushes his case too far by implicitly assuming that there existed no genuine pre-1859 origin of species problems at all and by interpreting both the Amazon expedition and pre-1859 origin of species talk through the lens of the main post-1859 origin of species problem. In reality, Wallace had, in the mid-1840s, become very interested in the budding evolutionary approach to two of the three pre-1859 problems. Ten years later, he became intrigued by the question that, after 1859, would become the main origin of species problem. It is in these senses and only in these senses that his expeditions can be interpreted in terms of evolutionary origin of species ‘problem-solving’.

Kropotkin's theory of mutual aid: Implications and current evidence

George Stamets (Florida State University, United States)

Charles Darwin recognized that success in the ‘struggle for existence’ may be realized through different means, depending on the broad environmental context. But while he thus identified the possibility of success through intra- and inter-species cooperation and symbiosis, he was strongly influenced by Thomas Malthus, and his actual examples of struggle tended to favor the same ‘gladiatorial’ view of nature that his disciple Thomas Huxley deployed in his writings in ethics – one that stressed competition and conflict between organisms. Peter Kropotkin and his Russian contemporaries accepted the picture of natural selection as driven by a metaphorical ‘struggle for existence’, but sought to undermine the increasing prominence accorded the Malthusian elements of Darwin’s theory in both evolutionary and political theory in England. Kropotkin observed, in Siberia and elsewhere, widespread cooperative and altruistic behavior, with organisms of all kinds forming small groups that appeared to extend well beyond ties of blood kinship. While recognizing that there exists much ‘warfare and extermination’ between various organisms across various environments, Kropotkin concluded that sociability – including the capacity for mutual aid and cooperation – is at least as much a factor in driving natural selection, on the whole, as conflict and competition. After outlining Kropotkin’s theory of ‘mutual aid’ and situating it as a response to the influence of Malthus on mainstream Darwinian thought, this paper first examines the strength of Kropotkin’s evidence in light of the current state of research in evolutionary biology and anthropology. It then considers the implications of that evidence for a theory of human nature – and thus also for normative theories of human social organization. Particular attention is paid to the question of whether, as Kropotkin believed, just and successful human communities must build upon humans’ natural inclinations, rather than attempt to reverse them.

Ego depletion and organ donation

Sara Kolmes (Florida State University, United States)

Many people have died while waiting for necessary organs to become available for transplantation. However, the treatment of the bodies of the deceased who house these organs is naturally important to many people. There are various religious and metaphysical reasons which make people unwilling to have organs removed after death. In the interest of balancing these concerns, we allow people to refuse to become organ donors without having to justify this decision. In order to reach a similar balance for those who die without expressing a preference, families of the deceased may refuse donation on their behalf. If we take these refusals seriously, then we must allow families an unimpeded opportunity to refuse donation. Both because of the pressing need for more organs for transplantation and because of the biological realities of how quickly organs must be removed in order to be useful for organ donation, Organ Procurement Organizations engage in practices such as asking the families about organ donation multiple times in a short period of time even if met with refusals, requesting donation at the same time as the family is informed of the patient’s death, and approaching the family accompanied by multiple authority figures. I will argue that research on the psychological phenomenon known as ego depletion suggests these practices reduce the ability of families to refuse donation if they are against it. This is because it has been shown to be difficult to refuse medical authority figures, and repetition of the request as well as having to suppress immediate sadness in order to examine the request has been shown to make difficult refusals significantly more difficult. If legitimate agreement to donation is desirable, then the ego depletion inherent in donation requests should be minimized so that families are able to make their concerns known.