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Darwinism and Evolutionary Economics

Edited by John Laurent and John Nightingale

Darwinism and Evolutionary Economics brings together contributions from eminent authors who, building on Darwin’s own insights and on developments in evolutionary theory, offer challenging views on how economics can use evolutionary ideas effectively.
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Chapter 6: Is Social Evolution Lamarckian or Darwinian?

Geoffrey M. Hodgson


Geoffrey M. Hodgson1 Is social, economic or cultural evolution ‘Lamarckian’ in some literal or metaphorical sense? Leading economists such as Jack Hirshleifer (1977), Herbert Simon (1981), Richard Nelson and Sidney Winter (1982), Friedrich Hayek (1988), Christopher Freeman (1992) and J. Stanley Metcalfe (1993) have claimed that it is (Hayek and Simon are both Nobel Laureates). Other prominent social theorists such as Karl Popper (1972), William McKelvey (1982), John Gray (1984), and Robert Boyd and Peter Richerson (1985) have likewise accepted that social evolution takes a ‘Lamarckian’ form. Is this widespread view correct? If so, a possible problem arises. The prevailing wisdom in biology is that Lamarckian ideas are untenable, at least in the biotic context. This raises a question of theoretical inconsistency between biology and the social sciences. Can we be Lamarckians in the social sciences and Darwinians in biology? Is there a contradiction here? Can we be Protestants and Catholics at the same time? Answers to these questions depend on the precise definitions of the terms involved. What does Lamarckism mean? Lamarckism is typically associated with the principal proposition that acquired characters can be inherited. Accordingly, variations of type occur largely through adaptations to the environment rather than random mutations. This meaning of Lamarckism shall be adopted here. The term ‘Darwinism’ is no less problematic. It is often associated with the denial of the central Lamarckian proposition. However, detailed examination of its usage reveals a wider and more accommodating meaning. The answer to the central question of this essay...

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