Inheritance and Cooperation

Project summary

This project brought together philosophers, biologists, psychologists and anthropologists to think about inheritance, to think about the evolution of cooperation, and to think about ways in which the two can be mutually illuminating. Connecting topics included major transitions, inclusive fitness theory, cultural evolution, extended inheritance theory (including epigenetics, niche construction theory, developmental systems theory and information transmission, human nature, lateral gene transfer, evolutionary game theory, definitions of reproduction and more).

Guest talks for this project included:
  • John Odling-Smee (Emeritus Research Fellow in Biological Anthropology at Mansfield College): Niche Construction and Human Evolution; Friday, January 30, 2015-1:00pm to 3:00pm, Radcliffe Humanities Building, Colin Matthew Room. 
  • Eva Jablonka (Cohn Institute, Tel-Aviv University): The Role of Epigenetics in Major Transitions; Friday, February 20, 2015 - 1:00pm to 3:00 pm, Radcliffe Humanities Building, Ryle Room


In addition to the regular weekly reading group noted above, a two-day philosophy of biology conference was organized on 25-26th June 2015 at Balliol College in LR23.  Speakers included:

  • Francesca Merlin (Philosophy, Paris): ‘Limited extended inheritance’
  • Heikki Helanterä (Biology, Helsinki): ‘Superorganisms as model systems’
  • Rachael Brown (Philosophy, Macquarie): ‘Generating benefit: Social learning and the other cooperation problem’
  • Simon Powers (Biology, Lausanne): ‘What drove the last major evolutionary transition to large-scale human societies?’
  • Jonathan Birch (Philosophy, LSE): ‘Time and relatedness in microbes and humans’
  • Ellen Clarke (Philosophy, Oxford): ‘Inheritance and cooperation’
  • Peter J Richerson (Biology, UC Davis): TBA
  • With responses from Cecilia Heyes, Tobias Uller, Michael Bentley, Jessica Laimann, John Odling-Smee and Matthew Clark.


Lead investigator

Jessica Laimann, Faculty of Philosophy and Balliol College, University of Oxford

Research team

Dr Ellen Clare, Postdoctoral Fellow, All Souls College, University of Oxford

Contact details for enquiries

Please email the lead investigator, Jessica Laimann, for any queries regarding this project.