Naomi Beck

Institute for the History & Philosophy of Science

University of Paris-1 (Panthéon-Sorbonne)

Naomi Beck researches in Institute for the History & Philosophy of Science at the University of Paris-1 (Panthéon-Sorbonne). Her research focuses on the history of evolutionary theory in the broad cultural context with an emphasis on the relationship between evolutionary ideas and socio-political doctrines. She has been a Harper-Schmidt Fellow at the University of Chicago, and held research fellowships at the University of Bologna and at the Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte in Berlin. Before joining the KLI she worked at the European University Institute in Fiesole, Italy as a Max-Weber Postdoctoral Fellow. She has published articles in the Journal of the History of Biology, Science in Context and in various collected volumes such as The Cambridge Companion to the Origin of Species.

In her dissertation, La gauche évolutionniste: Spencer et ses lecteurs en France et en Italie, she examines how and why Herbert Spencer’s theories on social evolution inspired political doctrines that were opposed to his own liberal individualism. In France, the search for a solidarité backed up by the new evolutionary science led to an interpretation of Spencer’s organic analogy that promoted the welfare State. In Italy, Spencer’s most important followers developed a socialist, and even a Marxist reading of his theory. Her comparative analysis of the diffusion and interpretation of Spencer's ideas in France and Italy highlights the importance of the historical and political context, and the role of key figures (e.g. Emile Durkheim and Enrico Ferri) in this process.

While completing the manuscript of her dissertation, she began a book-length project with the University of Chicago Press, which explores Friedrich August von Hayek's evolutionary theory. Hayek is mainly known for his defence of the free market.She examines Hayek’s evolutionary claims, in particular his model of cultural group selection, and compare them to past developments and recent studies on social evolution. Her analysis offers a fresh perspective on Hayek’s thought and an evaluation of key theoretical elements that are often overlooked. It will contribute to the ongoing discussion of the relationship between evolution, economics and politics, as well as to the newly revived debate on cultural group selection.