A Darwinian Pilgrim’s Early Progress


  • Michael Ruse Florida State University




teleology, sociobiology, debunking argument, Darwinian theory, History and Philosophy of Science


Part one of three in an autobiographical series which retraces the most significant events, collaborations, and research results of Michael Ruse’s 55-year-long career in the history and philosophy of science. In this article, Ruse’s Quaker roots, his subsequent loss of faith, and the first engagement with the study of natural science are recalled before delving deeper into his academic career. The main topics summarized in this walkthrough are considered chronologically as they developed: the epistemological demonstration that the Darwinian theory was not a narrative, or inferior, kind of science but a full-fledged, consilient research programme founded on genetics (early 1970s); the history of teleology in biological thought (mid-1970s); the sociobiology controversy (late 1970s); the so-called debunking argument and the is-ought fallacy (early 1980s).

Author Biography

Michael Ruse, Florida State University

Michael Ruse is Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor and Director of the History and Philosophy of Science Program at Florida State University in Tallahasee. His teaching career (so far) spans 55 years. A philosopher of science, Ruse specializes in the philosophy of biology and the relationship between science and religion. His focus includes the creation–evolution controversy, and the demarcation problem within science.


Allen, E. et al. Sociobiology Study Group of Science for the People. 1976. “Sociobiology: A New Biological Determinism”. BioScience 26(3): 182–86. https://doi.org/10.2307/1297246

Bates, H. W. 1862. “Contributions to an Insect Fauna of the Amazon Valley”. Transactions of the Linnaean Society of London 23: 495–515. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1095-8312.1981.tb01842.x

Darwin, C. 1859. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. London: John Murray. https://doi.org/10.5962/bhl.title.68064

Darwin, C. 1861. Origin of Species (Third Edition). London: John Murray.

Darwin, C. 1871. The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. London: John Murray.

Darwin, C. 1872. Origin of Species (Sixth Edition). London: John Murray.

Darwin, C. 1881. Letter to William Graham, 3 July; Darwin Correspondence Project, letter no. DCP-LETT-13230. http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-13230 (accessed 12 November 2018).

Dawkins, R. 1976. The Selfish Gene. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Dobzhansky, T. 1973. “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution”. American Biology Teacher 35(3): 125–29. https://doi.org/10.2307/4444260

Haldane, J. B. S. 1927. Possible Worlds and Other Essays. London: Chatto and Windus.

Hamilton, W. D. 1964. “The Genetical Evolution of Social Behavior”. Journal of Theoretical Biology 7(1): 1–52. https://doi.org/10.1016/0022-5193(64)90038-4

Kant, I. [1785] 1959. Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill.

Kant, I. [1790] 2000. Critique of the Power of Judgment. Edited by P. Guyer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kimler, W., and M. Ruse. 2013. “Mimicry and Camouflage”. In The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Darwin and Evolutionary Thought, ed. M. Ruse, 139–45. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/cbo9781139026895.017

Maynard Smith, J. 1958. The Theory of Evolution. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Maynard Smith, J. 1964. “Group Selection and Kin Selection”. Nature 201: 1145–147. https://doi.org/10.1038/2011145a0

Nagel, E. 1961. The Structure of Science, Problems in the Logic of Scientific Explanation. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World.

Richards, R. J., and M. Ruse. 2016. Debating Darwin. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Ruse, M. 1971. “Functional Statements in Biology”. Philosophy of Science 38(1): 87–95. https://doi.org/10.1086/288342

Ruse, M. 1973. The Philosophy of Biology. London: Hutchinson.

Ruse, M. 1975. “Darwin’s Debt to Philosophy: An Examination of the Influence of the Philosophical Ideas of John F.W. Herschel and William Whewell on the Development of Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution”. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 6(2): 159–81. https://doi.org/10.1016/0039-3681(75)90019-9

Ruse, M. 1979a. The Darwinian Revolution: Science Red in Tooth and Claw. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. https://doi.org/10.3138/cjh.15.1.142

Ruse, M. 1979b. Sociobiology: Sense or Nonsense? Dordrecht: Reidel.

Ruse, M. 1986. Taking Darwin Seriously: A Naturalistic Approach to Philosophy. Oxford: Blackwell.

Ruse, M. 1988. Homosexuality: A Philosophical Inquiry. Oxford: Blackwell.

Ruse, M. 2003. Darwin and Design: Does Evolution have a Purpose? Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Ruse, M. 2015. Atheism: What Everyone Needs to Know. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ruse, M. 2017. On Purpose. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Ruse, M. 2019. The Darwinian Revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ruse, M., and R. J. Richards, eds. 2017. The Cambridge Handbook of Evolutionary Ethics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/9781316459409

Ruse, M., and E. O. Wilson. 1985. “The Evolution of Morality”. New Scientist 1478: 108–28.

Ruse, M., and E. O. Wilson. 1986. “Moral Philosophy as Applied Science”. Philosophy 61(236): 173–92. https://www.jstor.org/stable/3750474

Trivers, R. L. 1971. “The Evolution of Reciprocal Altruism”. Quarterly Review of Biology 46(1): 35–57. https://doi.org/10.1086/406755

Unger, J. 2002. The Lunar Men: Five Friends Whose Curiosity Changed the World. London: Faber & Faber.

Whewell, W. 1840. The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences. London: Parker.

Williams, G. C. 1966. Adaptation and Natural Selection. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Wilson, E. O. 1975. Sociobiology: The New Synthesis. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.



How to Cite

Ruse, M. (2019). A Darwinian Pilgrim’s Early Progress. Journal of Cognitive Historiography, 4(2), 151–164. https://doi.org/10.1558/jch.37782