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    Charles Darwin's Instinct Theory

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    The original question: "In short, how could one summarise Charles Darwin's instinct theory?"

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    Charles Darwin's work on instinct created a viable alternative to the traditional providential model of instinct. He initially favoured the idea of the passing down of selectively beneficial behaviour as per the work of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck; that an organism will pass on 'teach' advantageous behaviour to its offspring as an explanation of instinct (Richards, 1987).

    With Darwin's growing dissatisfaction over some of Lamarckism's limitations, such as its inability to explain certain instinctual traits that are impossible to be passed down from parent organisms (e.g. wasps feeding their eggs but dying before seeing their offspring hatch), Darwin moved on to refine his view, giving rise to the theory of 'selection of individuals with useful habits' that resonated with his works on natural selection. However, Darwin did not outright abandon the Lamarckian view as he found examples in nature that supported the idea of socially selected behaviours that couldn't always be explained through biological selection, such as neutered insects within caste-system driven colonies (Darwin, 1986).

    A summarised view could present Darwin's accommodation of instinct in his own theoretical model as the following:

    Charles Darwin built upon his knowledge and analysis to form a theory of instinct that departs from the providential model of instinct where organisms have a genetic/biologically grounded instinct specifically designed to promote their survival and reproduction (Richards, 1987). The theory also acknowledges/accommodates elements of Lamackism to explain concepts of socially selected behaviour and traits within complex societies of species where the traits are selected for the furthering of the group and not the individual's own reproduction; this also provided ground work for developing an understanding of altruism in the context of evolution (Axelrod, 1984).


    Axelrod, R. M. (1984). The evolution of cooperation. New York: Basic Books.

    Darwin, C. (1896). The origin of species by means of natural selection, or, The preservation of favored races in the struggle for life (pp. 152-156). New York: D. Appleton.

    Richards, R. J. (1987). Darwin and the emergence of evolutionary theories of mind and behavior (pp. 85-98). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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