Metaphysics and the Origin of Species

By Michael T. Ghiselin

Subjects: Philosophy
Series: SUNY series in Philosophy and Biology
Paperback : 9780791434680, 377 pages, July 1997
Hardcover : 9780791434673, 377 pages, July 1997

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Table of contents


1. Introduction

2. Beyond Language

3. What an Individual Is

4. What an Individual Is Not

5. Some Definitions of 'Definition'

6. Definitions of 'Species' and Some Other Terms

7. Some Alternatives to the Biological Species Concept

8. Objections to the Individuality Thesis

9. Working Out the Analogies

10. Why Do Species Exist?

11. Objectives and Subjective Systems

12. Natural and Artificial Systems

13. Characters and Homologies

14. Laws of Nature

15. The Principles of Historical Inference

16. Embryology as History and as Law

17. The Artifactual Basis of Macroevolution

18. Toward a Real History of Life

Appendix: Aphorisms, Summary and Glossographic



This sweeping discussion of the philosophy of evolutionary biology is based on the revolutionary idea that species are not kinds of organisms but wholes composed of organisms.


This sweeping discussion of the philosophy of evolutionary biology is based on the author's revolutionary idea that species are not kinds of organisms but wholes composed of organisms—individuals in the broadest ontological sense. Although the book's primary focus is on species and speciation, it deals with a wide variety of other fundamental units and basic processes and provides a reexamination of the role of classification in biology and other sciences.

In explaining his individuality thesis, Michael T. Ghiselin provides extended discussions of such philosophical topics as definition, the reality of various kinds of groups, and how we classify traits and processes. He develops and applies the implications for general biology and other sciences and makes the case that a better understanding of species and of classification in general puts biologists and paleontologists in a much better position to understand nature in general, and such processes as extinction in particular.

Michael T. Ghiselin is the author of Intellectual Compromise, The Economy of Nature and the Evolution of Sex, and The Triumph of the Darwinian Method. A Senior Research Fellow at the California Academy of Sciences, he is the recipient of a 1981 MacArthur Prize and was awarded the 1970 Pfizer Prize by the History of Science Society.


"As important as Michael Ghiselin's work has been, he is an excellent example of someone who really has not received the attention and acclaim that his work deserves. The most innovative scientists and philosophers think highly of his work and cite it frequently, but too often the larger body of scholars is aware of only bits and pieces. This book will set things straight. Ghiselin has been preparing to write this book all his life. It integrates all of the various aspects of his research into a single, unified, and impressive whole." — David L. Hull, Dressler Professor in the Humanities, Northwestern University

"…Ghiselin's book has an exceptional intellectual sharpness for a treatise on biology. Almost every page offers an original insight or penetrating argument … there is no 'metaphysical book' more bracing for the philosophy of biology. It is the only one that evolutionary biologists and systematists simply must read." — ISIS

"This book will be highly praised by some readers and viciously attacked by others. There is no other such comprehensive treatment in the available literature. The excellent, very extensive cross-references are a particular virtue. The crucial literature is cited for virtually every controversial issue. Thus the book is a most useful introduction to the covered field." — Ernst Mayr, Harvard University