George C. Williams dies

williams_small.jpgFew evolutionary biologists have had the impact within and without their field as has George Williams, who died this week. His groundbreaking Adaptation and Natural Selection in 1966 set off the debate over levels of selection, the ubiquity of natural selection and some decent philosophising. It’s no exaggeration to say that the field of the philosophy of biology got going with the publication of that book.

Here’s a 1998 interview with Williams.

Some obituaries:

New York Times

David Sloan Wilson

The Chronicle of Higher Education, by Michael Ruse

Reminiscences at The Edge; More from The Edge, from Robert Trivers.

The Loom by Carl Zimmer



I’ll add more as I find them

2 thoughts on “George C. Williams dies

  1. Thanks for posting this, John. I’m assuming that you are on the effect, rather than the cause, side of the causal network that gives you fairly quick access to info on recent star deaths in the field. (I will continue to encourage caution from other legends when around you, nonetheless.)

    I guess I think it’s slight hyperbole to say that Williams’ 1966 book kicked of the field–Hull was already chipping around earlier in the 1960s–though it was the first port of call for those like Hull and Sober during the 1970s as they came to be major players themselves. (Derivatively, it was “the” book that I was advised to read and work through by both of them, early on, as I’m sure others were.) Williams was on the faculty in some capacity, or recently had been, when I started at Queen’s in 1992, but I never met him.


    1. I’ll have some news about you soon, Rob, don’t worry…

      I think Williams’ book started a lot of philosophy of biology that might not otherwise have been done, not least because of his influence on Dawkins and the subsequent framing of issues over gene selectionism and group selection. Of course he’s not the only source; if you want to identify a single originator, I think that

      Beckner, M. 1959. The biological way of thought. New York: Columbia University Press.

      is a good candidate, or perhaps

      Smart, J. J. C. 1959. Can biology be an exact science? Synthese 11 (4):359-368.

      Other suggestions? Before the news about you becomes public, I mean?


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