Design sans adaptation

Sara Green*, Arnon Levy, William Bechtel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Design thinking in general, and optimality modeling in particular, have traditionally been associated with adaptationism—a research agenda that gives pride of place to natural selection in shaping biological characters. Our goal is to evaluate the role of design thinking in non-evolutionary analyses. Specifically, we focus on research into abstract design principles that underpin the functional organization of extant organisms. Drawing on case studies from engineering-inspired approaches in biology we show how optimality analysis, and other design-related methods, play a specific methodological role that is tangential to the study of adaptation. To account for the role of these reasoning strategies in contemporary biology, we therefore suggest a reevaluation of the connection between design thinking and adaptationism.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)15-29
Number of pages15
JournalEuropean Journal for Philosophy of Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2014

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014, Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht.


  • Adaptationism
  • Design thinking
  • Heuristic
  • Optimality
  • Reverse engineering


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