Research Article

Extending the Explanatory Scope of Evolutionary Theory: The Origination of Historical Kinds in Biology and Culture

  • Günter P. Wagner (Yale University)
  • Gary Tomlinson (Yale University)


Two welcome extensions of evolutionary thinking have come to prominence over the last thirty years: the so-called “extended evolutionary synthesis” (EES) and debate about biological kinds and individuals. These two agendas have, however, remained orthogonal to one another. The EES has mostly restricted itself to widening the explanations of adaptation offered by the preceding “modern evolutionary synthesis” by including additional mechanisms of inheritance and variation; while discussion of biological kinds has turned toward philosophical questions of essential vs. contingent properties of life forms and realist vs. epistemological approaches to categorization and classification. Here we attempt to broaden the explanatory scope of evolutionary theory by linking these two agendas. We expand on the mechanistic orientation of the EES, using new understandings of networked systems of components in order to engage the distinct intellectual challenge of the origination of historical kinds. With this phrase we designate a subset of natural kinds that acquires, through evolutionary processes, a quasi-independent lineage-history. Such kinds emerge in both biology and culture, and we enlarge the limited number of historical kinds that have thus far been recognized in evolutionary biology in a series of paradigmatic exemplars, from genes and cell types to rituals and music. For each exemplar we discern specific mechanisms by which it arose and persists; comparing these, we suggest a general unity in the ways in which diverse historical kinds originate.

Keywords: natural kinds, historical kinds, cultural kinds, individuals, evolutionary theory, extended evolutionary theory, homology

How to Cite:

Wagner, G. & Tomlinson, G., (2022) “Extending the Explanatory Scope of Evolutionary Theory: The Origination of Historical Kinds in Biology and Culture”, Philosophy, Theory, and Practice in Biology 14: 1. doi:



Published on
25 Jan 2022
Peer Reviewed