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Darwin’s Conjecture

The Search for General Principles of Social and Economic Evolution

Darwin’s Conjecture

The Search for General Principles of Social and Economic Evolution

Of paramount importance to the natural sciences, the principles of Darwinism, which involve variation, inheritance, and selection, are increasingly of interest to social scientists as well. But no one has provided a truly rigorous account of how the principles apply to the evolution of human society—until now.

In Darwin’s Conjecture, Geoffrey Hodgson and Thorbjørn Knudsen reveal how the British naturalist’s core concepts apply to a wide range of phenomena, including business practices, legal systems, technology, and even science itself. They also critique some prominent objections to applying Darwin to social science, arguing that ultimately Darwinism functions as a general theoretical framework for stimulating further inquiry. Social scientists who adopt a Darwinian approach, they contend, can then use it to frame and help develop new explanatory theories and predictive models.

This truly pathbreaking workat long last makes the powerful conceptual tools of Darwin available to the social sciences and will be welcomed by scholars and students from a range of disciplines.

304 pages | 1 halftone, 4 line drawings, 3 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2010

Economics and Business: Economics--General Theory and Principles

Sociology: Methodology, Statistics, and Mathematical Sociology


“A long-awaited and desperately needed guide to why the social sciences should take Darwin seriously. Erudite, lucidly written—a veritable tour de force.”

Robin I. M. Dunbar, University of Oxford

“In this provocative and informative new book, Hodgson and Knudsen offer a general conceptual scheme that allows the application of Darwinian principles to social and economic evolution. The authors bring together concepts and principles from an eclectic mix of sources. Among other applications, they show the usefulness of this scheme for explaining the evolution of prelinguistic culture, human language, tribal customs, writing and records, states and laws, and the institutionalization of science and technology. This book is essential reading for anyone interested in modern evolutionary thought as applied to the social sciences.”--Howard E. Aldrich, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Howard E. Aldrich

“This is a foundational book. It should be required reading for anyone who is concerned about the future of economic theory, not to mention those who may need some retrofitting in the wake of the neoclassical meltdown.”--Peter A. Corning, Institute for the Study of Complex Systems

Peter A. Corning

“In Darwin’s Conjecture, Hodgson and Knudsen join numerous scholars from Darwin’s day to the present in attempting to extend Darwin’s analysis of selection to cover other sorts of phenomena, including socioeconomic evolution. The reader of this carefully and clearly written book will come away bereft of the usual superficial objections to selection outside gene-based biological evolution.”--David Lee Hull, Northwestern University

David Lee Hull

“One of the most accomplished institutional economists of our time and his coauthor argue for a generalized Darwinism for the social sciences. They are far from alone in thinking that the time is right!”--Marion Blute, University of Toronto

Marion Blute

"A book that business people should read in order to understand business. It is a scholarly and profound work of relevance to all the social sciences."—Financial Times

Financial Times

"Hodgson and Knudsen argue in meticulous detail that [Darwin’s] principles apply to all ’complex systems of population’ in social and economic domains. . . . The authors conducted a massive amount of research in writing this book, which is a must read for social science scholars interested in evolutionary theory or complexity."


“Hodgson and Knudsen recognize that Darwinian principles operate at a high level of generality and that many differences exist between the biological and the social mechanisms through which variation appears, is selected, and is then inherited. Nevertheless, generalized Darwinism can be one of the foundations of a new science of evolutionary social change. . . . Well argued, timely, and well written . . . [Darwin’s Conjecture is] essential reading for anyone with an interest in [this] vibrant new field.”


“Hodgson and Knudsen’s important book provides rigorous foundations for evolutionary economics. . . . The book exhibits a rigor, scholarship, and vision that others should emulate. It advances the discussion of evolutionary economics and sets a salutary standard of scholarly rigor and precision that puts evolutionary economics on a solid foundation. I urge you to buy it and read it.”

Roger Koppl | Review of Austrian Economics

Table of Contents



chapter one   

The Challenge of Darwinism for the Social Sciences

chapter two   

Generalizing Darwinism

chapter three   

Rivals and Rebuttals

chapter four   

The Lamarckian Confusion

chapter five   

The Principle of Selection and Its Application to Social Evolution

chapter six   

Information, Complexity, and Generative Replication

chapter seven   

From Group Selection to Organizational Interactors

chapter eight   

Major Information Transitions in Social Evolution

chapter NINE   

Conclusions and Agenda for Future Research




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