Hostname: page-component-7d684dbfc8-jr2wd Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-09-22T01:53:02.928Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "corePageComponentGetUserInfoFromSharedSession": true, "coreDisableEcommerce": false, "coreDisableSocialShare": false, "coreDisableEcommerceForArticlePurchase": false, "coreDisableEcommerceForBookPurchase": false, "coreDisableEcommerceForElementPurchase": false, "coreUseNewShare": true, "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

What is the Developmentalist Challenge?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 April 2022

Paul E. Griffiths*
Unit for History and Philosophy of Science, University of Sydney
Robin D. Knight*
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University


Kenneth C. Schaffner's paper is an important contribution to the literature on behavioral genetics and on genetics in general. Schaffner has a long record of injecting real molecular biology into philosophical discussions of genetics. His treatments of the reduction of Mendelian to molecular genetics (Schaffner 1967, 1969) first drew philosophical attention to the problems of detail that have fuelled both anti-reductionism (Hull 1974, Kitcher 1984) and more sophisticated models of theory reduction (Sarkar 1992, Schaffner 1993). An injection of molecular detail into discussions of genetics is particularly necessary at the present time, when so many philosophers seem happy to discuss the philosophical and ethical implications of molecular biology using gene concepts derived from evolutionary biology (i.e., the ‘evolutionary gene concept’ of G.C Williams (Williams 1966, Dawkins 1982)). Schaffner has long advocated the view that the philosophy of biology should be more than the philosophy of evolution. This paper shows how radically a picture of gene action derived from molecular biology undercuts the popular picture associated with a more evolutionary view of genes as units of heredity or as ‘difference-makers’ mediated by the ‘black box’ of development (Sterelny and Kitcher 1988).

Research Article
Copyright © Philosophy of Science Association 1998

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Send requests for reprints to Prof. Griffiths, Unit for History and Philosophy of Science, University of Sydney, Carslaw Bldg. F07, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia; e-mail:


Bechtel, W. and Richardson, R. (1993), Discovering Complexity. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Burian, R. M. (1997), “On conflicts between genetic and developmental viewpoints—and their attempted resolution in molecular biology”, in Dalla Chiara, M. L. et al. (eds.), M. L. Dalla Chiara et al. Dordrecht: Kluwer, pp. 243264.Google Scholar
Dawkins, R. (1982), The Extended Phenotype. Oxford: Freeman.Google Scholar
Griffiths, P. E. and Gray, R. D. (1994), “Developmental Systems and Evolutionary Explanation”, Journal of Philosophy XCI (6): 277304.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hull, D. (1974), Philosophy of Biological Science. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall Inc.Google Scholar
Jablonka, E. and Lamb, M. J. (1995), Epigenetic Inheritance and Evolution: The Lamarkian Dimension. Oxford, New York, Tokyo: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Jablonka, E. and Szathmáry, E. (1995), “The evolution of information storage and heredity”, Trends in Ecology and Evolution 10 (5): 206211.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Keller, L. and Ross, K. G. (1993), “Phenotypic plasticity and ‘cultural transmission’ of alternative social organisations in the fire ant solenopsis invicta”, solenopsis invicta 33: 121129.Google Scholar
Kitcher, P. (1984), “1953 and all that: A Tale of Two Sciences”, Philosophical Review 93: 335373.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Knight, R. D. and Griffiths, P. E. (forthcoming), “Selfish Genes: The Eunuchs of Selection”.Google Scholar
Lewontin, R. (1974), “The analysis of variance & the analysis of causes”, American Journal of Human Genetics 26: 400411.Google ScholarPubMed
Lickliter, R. and Berry, T. (1990), “The phylogeny fallacy”, Developmental Review 10: 348364.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Morgan, N. and Baumann, P. (1994), “Phylogenetics of cytoplasmically inherited microorganisms of arthropods”, Trends in Ecology and Evolution 9: 1520.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Moss, L. (1992), “A kernel of truth? On the reality of the genetic program”, Philosophy of Science Association Proceedings 1992 vol. 1: 335348.Google Scholar
Neumann-Held, E. M. (1997), “The Gene is Dead—Long Live the Gene: Conceptualising the Gene the Constructionist Way”, in Koslowski, P. (ed.), Developmental Systems, Competition and Cooperation in Sociobiology and Economics. Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 000000.Google Scholar
Nijhout, H. F. and Paulsen, S. M. (1997), “Developmental models and polygenic characters”, American Naturalist 149: 394405.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Oyama, S. (1985), The Ontogeny of Information. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Sarkar, S. (1992), “Models of reduction and categories of reductionism”, Synthese 91: 167194.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sarkar, S. (1996), “Biological information: A sceptical look at some central dogmas of molecular biology”, in Sarkar, S. (ed.), The Philosophy and History of Molecular Biology: New Perspectives. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, pp. 187232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Schaffner, K. (1967), “Approaches to Reduction”, Philosophy of Science 34: 137147.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Schaffner, K. (1969), “The Watson-Crick model and reductionism”, British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 20: 325348.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Schaffner, K. (1993), Discovery and Explanation in Biology and Medicine. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Sterelny, K. and Kitcher, P. (1988), “The return of the gene”, Journal of Philosophy 85 (7): 339361.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Williams, G. C. (1966), Adaptation & Natural Selection. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar