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The Meaning of Evolution and the Evolution of Meaning

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A major lesson to be learned from narrativist philosophy of history since Danto is that history and science differ in the organization and presentation of knowledge rather than in their subject-matter. This insight is most often seen as a decisive argument in favour of the ‘literary’ or ‘cultural’ character of history. However, if their subject-matter does not create an insurmountable barrier between history and science, the insight leaves room, too, for a ‘historical’ approach to issues ordinarily believed to belong to the domain of ‘science’. A case in point is the subject of evolution. Thus the leading evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr considers the nature of evolution to be historical rather than scientific. This might invite historians to overcome their fear of social Darwinism and to apply their own (narrativist) tools for organizing knowledge to evolutionary theory. This essay attempts to show that Niklas Luhmann’s theory of social evolution does just this by satisfying the criteria of historical representation as defended by narrativist philosophy of history. Luhmann’s system concept will be interpreted as a ‘colligatory concept’ in the sense meant by William Walsh. Furthermore, Luhmann’s idea that social systems are ultimately based on meaning processing will be shown to agree with the fundamental role assigned to meaning in Ankersmit’s recent work on historical representation.

Affiliations: 1: Harenj.c.den.hollander@rug.nl

10.1163/18722636-12341274
/content/journals/10.1163/18722636-12341274
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/content/journals/10.1163/18722636-12341274
2014-07-18
2017-11-20

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