Robert N. Brandon

Professor of Biology

209 West Duke Bldg, Durham, NC 27708
Campus Box: 
Duke Box 90743, Durham, NC 27708-0743
(919) 660-3067
Robert N. Brandon (Ph.D. 1979, Harvard) joined the Duke Faculty in fall of 1979. He holds a joint appointment in Philosophy and Biology . He has published articles in Philosophy of Science, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, Biology and Philosophy, PSA 1980 and PSA 1982, some of which have subsequently been anthologized. He has co-edited (with Richard Burian) Genes, Organisms, Populations: Controversies over the Units of Selection (Bradford Books, MIT Press, 1984), and his book, Adaptation and Environment was published by Princeton University Press in 1990. His most recent book Concepts and Methods in Evolutionary Biology (Cambridge) was published in 1996. During the spring of 1984 he had a visiting appointment at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Pittsburgh. Brandon is a member of Duke's Center for the Philosophy of Biology.


  • Ph.D., Harvard University 1979

  • B.A., University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill 1974

Brandon, R. N., and Roger Samson. Integrating Development and Evolution. Edited by Roger Samson and Robert Brandon. The MIT Press, 2007.

Brandon, R. N. “A general case for functional pluralism.” In Functions: Selection and Mechanisms, 97–104, 2013. Full Text

Brandon, R. N. “The concept of the environment in evolutionary theory.” In The Environment: Philosophy, Science, and Ethics, 19–35, 2012.

Brandon, R. N. “The Concept of the Environment in Evolutionary Theory.” In The Environment: Topics in Contemporary Philosophy, edited by M. O’rourke and M. Slater, Vol. 9. MIT Press, 2011.

Brandon, R. N. “Teleology in self-organizing systems.” In Self-Organization and Emergence in Life Sciences, 267–81, 2006. Full Text

Brandon, R. N., and Grant Ramsey. “What’s Wrong with the Emergentist Statistical Interpretation of Natural Selection and Random Drift.” In The Cambridge Companion to Philosophy of Biology, edited by Michael Ruse and David Hull. Cambridge University Press, 2006.

McShea, Daniel W., Steve C. Wang, and Robert N. Brandon. “A quantitative formulation of biology's first law.Evolution; International Journal of Organic Evolution 73, no. 6 (June 2019): 1101–15. Full Text

Fleming, Leonore, and Robert Brandon. “Why flying dogs are rare: A general theory of luck in evolutionary transitions.Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 49 (February 2015): 24–31. Full Text

Brandon, R., and L. Fleming. “Drift sometimes dominates selection, and vice versa: A reply to Clatterbuck, Sober and Lewontin.” Biology and Philosophy 29, no. 4 (January 1, 2014): 577–85. Full Text

Brandon, R. N., and D. W. McShea. “Four solutions for four puzzles.” Biology and Philosophy 27, no. 5 (September 1, 2012): 737–44. Full Text

Ramsey, G., and R. Brandon. “Why reciprocal altruism is not a kind of group selection.” Biology and Philosophy 26, no. 3 (May 1, 2011): 385–400. Full Text

Brandon, R. N. “A non-newtonian newtonian model of evolution: The ZFEL view.” Philosophy of Science 77, no. 5 (January 1, 2010): 702–15. Full Text

Brandon, Robert N. “The Principle of Drift: Biology's First Law.” The Journal of Philosophy CII, no. 7 (July 2006): 319–35.

Brandon, R. N. “The difference between selection and drift: A reply to Millstein.” Biology and Philosophy 20, no. 1 (January 1, 2005): 153–70. Full Text

Brandon, R. N. “The Units of Selection Revisited: The Modules of Selection.” Biology and Philosophy 14, no. 2 (January 1, 1999): 167–80. Full Text

Brandon, R. N. “Does biology have laws? The experimental evidence.” Philosophy of Science 64, no. 4 SUPPL. 1 (January 1, 1997). Full Text


Selected Grants

Post-doctoral/Graduate Research and Training Program in Philosophy of Biology awarded by National Science Foundation (Co-Principal Investigator). 2004 to 2008

Theory and Experiment in Population Biology awarded by National Science Foundation (Principal Investigator). 1994 to 1995

The Concept of the Environment in the Theory of Natural Selection awarded by National Science Foundation (Principal Investigator). 1987 to 1988