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   Darwin's Conjecture

      The Search for General Principles of Social and Economic Evolution

      Geoffrey M. Hodgson and Thorbjørn Knudsen

       University of Chicago Press, published in 2010.  ISBN 9780226346908

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       See the summary of the book in the Montréal Review     



"Both Darwin’s Conjecture and From Pleasure Machines to Moral Communities present a formidable challenge to the previous assumptions of CGE [computable general equilibrium] economics, which is currently under siege on a number of fronts. These books offer a plausible, coherent alternative based on perhaps the most powerful idea of the last two centuries: evolution by natural selection. ... Both books are well argued, timely, and well written, but they are not breezy. The topics are difficult and unsettled in biology (e.g., both the units and the levels of selection) and are even more controversial in the social sciences. Nevertheless, these volumes provide essential reading for anyone with an interest in the new and vibrant field of evolutionary social change." John Gowdy in BioScience.


“This is not a book about business, but it is 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.” Morgen Witzel. See the full review in the Financial Times

"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. Highly recommended." F. Rassekh, University of Hartford, USA in Choice.

"This is an important book concerning the application of a Darwinian approach to social science. It is rich in theoretical and historical detail. It will appeal to those interested in culture and evolution, institutional change, and to those seeking a generalized account of Darwin’s theory. Darwin’s Conjecture clarifies many important concepts and objections. … I am greatly enthused by the general approach, which is exactly what social science needs to examine." Matt Gers, Biology and Philosophy, 2011.

"I still loved this book.  The book traces the history of how (and by whom) Darwinian theories have been generalized to various social settings: organizations, human interaction in general, societies and economies.  The book is wildly interdisciplinary and touches on the work of key scholars in economics, sociology, anthropology etc.  It also carefully outlines the (proposed) similarities between the evolution of biological species/systems and human ones.  Various key concepts are discussed extensively: habits, routines, and mechanisms such as selection, the intricacies of Darwinian versus Lamarckian arguments in the social domain, etc. etc.  Well worth reading.  In fact, I think the book is a must-read." Teppo Felin on

"The authors should be commended for their efforts and it is hoped that this book will help stimulate empirical research to substantiate the evolutionary theory they set forth." Ronnie J. Phillips, Journal of Economic Issues.

For some of the policy implications of the analysis in this book:

The 'Cult of Change' and the NHS 

Organizational Evolution versus the Cult of Change


More comments on Darwin's Conjecture:

Howard E. Aldrich, Department of Sociology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA


“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.  As in their previous work, the authors bring together concepts and principles from an eclectic mix of sources. The work is integrated through their use of a scheme organized around the core Darwinian principles of variation, selection and inheritance (or replication). Among other applications, they show the usefulness of this scheme for explaining the evolution of pre-linguistic 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."

Marion Blute, Professor Emeritus, Department of Sociology, University of Toronto, Canada


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

Peter A. Corning, author and researcher, USA


“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.”

Robin I. M. Dunbar, Director of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, University of Oxford, UK


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

David L. Hull, formerly Dressler Professor in the Humanities Emeritus at Northwestern University, USA


“In Darwin’s Conjecture, Geoffrey Hodgson and Thorbjørn 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 socio-economic evolution.  Hodgson and Knudsen do not reason from gene-based selection to other sorts of selection but provide a general analysis of selection that is equally applicable to all sorts of phenomena. 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.”

Michael Ruse, Department of Philosophy, Florida State University, USA


“At last the social sciences are starting to recognize the importance of Charles Darwin, and this stimulating book shows why.  Read it and agree.  Read it and disagree.  Read it.”