James Mark Baldwin with Alfred North Whitehead on Organic Selectivity: The "Novel” Factor in Evolution


  • Adam Christian Scarfe California State University, Bakersfield


James Mark Baldwin, Alfred North Whitehead, The Theory of Organic Selection, The Baldwin Effect, Habit, Accommodation, Process-Relational Evolutionary Cosmology, Prehensive Selectivity, Natural Selection, Selectionism, Anti-Selectionism, Critical Pan-Sele


The aim of this paper is to show how James Mark Baldwin's theory of Organic Selection (also known as the "Baldwin effect”) can be fruitfully integrated with Alfred North Whitehead's speculative philosophy, as part of the endeavor to develop a comprehensive process-relational evolutionary cosmology. In so doing, it provides an overview of the theory of Organic Selection and points to several concrete examples from the Galapagos Islands which elucidate Baldwin's claim that organisms, through their selective activities and behavioral adjustments, play a causal role in directing evolutionary processes. I emphasize some of the affinities between Baldwin's theory of Organic Selection and Whitehead's theory of prehensions, especially focusing on the latter's notion of "prehensive selectivity.” Overall, while Baldwin's theory of Organic Selection provides a biological ground for a comprehensive process-relational evolutionary cosmology to be developed, illuminating the importance of Whitehead's theory of prehensions for evolutionary theory, Whitehead's overall speculative scheme can, in turn, strengthen the metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical foundations of Baldwin's theory. In the course of merging the two views, I arrive at an enlarged conception of Organic Selection, placing it in context with Darwin's principle of Natural Selection. At the end of the paper, I take up the resulting question of the ethics of selectivity in general, arguing that the merger of Baldwin's and Whitehead's ideas constitutes a "non-reductionistic critical pan-selectionism.” This position stands in contrast to the antagonistic standpoints of "Selectionism” and "Anti-Selectionism” in the ongoing debates over the ethical dimensions of evolution.

Author Biography

Adam Christian Scarfe, California State University, Bakersfield

Adam C. Scarfe received his Ph.D. from the University of Ottawa, Canada in 2001, having written a dissertation on scepticism in Hegel and Whitehead's respective epistemologies. He completed post-doctoral graduate study with the University of Saskatchewan Process Philosophy Research Unit in 2005. Over the past two years, he has taught as a Lecturer in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at California State University, Bakersfield. He is particularly interested in the theme of ldquo;prehensive selectivityrdquo; in Whiteheadrsquo;s speculative philosophy and its application to various domains of inquiry. Dr. Scarfe has published several articles in Process Studies and elsewhere relating Whiteheadrsquo;s cosmology to environmental philosophy, and interpreting the theory of prehensions as descriptive of learning and teaching processes. Currently, Dr. Scarfe is the International Book Review Editor for emProcess Studies/em journal and occupies the Secretary position on the Board of Directors of the International Process Network




How to Cite

Scarfe, A. C. (2009). James Mark Baldwin with Alfred North Whitehead on Organic Selectivity: The "Novel” Factor in Evolution. Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, 5(2), 40–107. Retrieved from https://cosmosandhistory.org/index.php/journal/article/view/136