Darwin-L Message Log 1:131 (September 1993)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

Note: Additional publications on evolution and the historical sciences by the Darwin-L list owner are available on SSRN.

<1:131>From DARWIN@iris.uncg.edu  Wed Sep 15 10:02:54 1993

Date: Wed, 15 Sep 1993 11:03:21 -0400 (EDT)
From: DARWIN@iris.uncg.edu
Subject: A "progress" bibliography?
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Organization: University of NC at Greensboro

I concur with Jeremy Ahouse's impression of some of the current work being
done on the notion of complexity in relation to evolution.  Jeremy asks what
people's opinions are on the progress issue generally.  There was some
discussion on this topic right after the list opened, and I must confess that
I find a lot of discussion on this topic to be fuzzy and not always helpful.
Unless people are very careful to disentangle a variety of terms including
order, complexity, progress, the meanings of "higher" and "lower", and on and
on, discussion of the topic usually isn't fruitful.  It's also important to
distinguish between what any one may believe "progress" and its allies means
today, and what different people have taken these terms to mean in the past.

I suggested that before we dive into this dark thicket, it might be helpful
to have some solid bibliographic guidance, and proposed that some readers
might like to put together an annotated bibliography on the topic of progress
in various historical sciences.  We haven't had any takers yet, but the offer
is still open.  Here are some starters:

Nitecki, Matthew, ed.  1988.  Evolutionary Progress.  Univ. Chicago Press.
  [A volume of papers on different aspects of "progress" in evolution.]

Lass, Roger.  1980.  On Explaining Language Change.  Cambridge Univ. Press.

Aitchison, Jean.  1991.  Language Change: Progress or Decay?  Cambridge Univ.

George Gale kindly contributed these two a few days ago:

"An extremely useful account of change vs. evolution vs. progress, and all
the other synonyms, is to be found in "The Concept of Biological Progress",
by Francisco Ayala, in _Studies in the Philosophy of Biology_, Ayala and
Dobzhansky, U.C. press.  An even more general discussion, perhaps more useful
because of it, is William Dray, _Philosophy of History_, Prentice-Hall, Ch.

And here's one of mine in which I argue that the notion of evolutionary
progress is an artifact of our (human) psychology and how it perceives
biological diversity:

O'Hara, Robert J.  1992.  Telling the tree: narrative representation and the
study of evolutionary history.  Biology and Philosophy, 7:135-160.

Bob O'Hara, Darwin-L list owner

Robert J. O'Hara (darwin@iris.uncg.edu)
Center for Critical Inquiry and Department of Biology
100 Foust Building, University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Greensboro, North Carolina 27412 U.S.A.

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