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I have never heard of Darwin's 'principle of multiple utility', but several papers refer to it. For example, from Darwin at the molecular scale: selection and variance in electron tunnelling proteins including cytochrome c oxidase

Such a high degree of conservation is probably the consequence of many parallel and concurrent aspects allied to the construction, manifold functions and demolition of cytochrome c oxidase as illustrated in the molecular scale view of Darwin's principle of multiple utility (Darwin 1872) shown in figure 7.

Also, from the pape, Engineering enzymes.

Another source of biological complexity arises from Darwin’s principle of multiple utility. The principle originally applied to organisms recognizes that any one trait in an organism is subject to be selected by multiple forces.

The citation to "On the Origin of Species" in these paper provides no page numbers. Neither do any of the other papers that mention the principle. I searched the sixth edition of "On the Origin of Species" for terms such as utility, multiple, roles, etc., but found nothing that sounds like such a principle.

It seems to me that anything described as a Darwinian principle would be extensively discussed in the literature. That does not seem to be the case with this so-called 'principle of multiple utility'.

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    $\begingroup$ I also can't find anything specific from Darwin himself. The phrase is used in a number of places, but almost always by the same two authors (Dutton and Moser), who invariably refer unhelpfully to (Darwin, 1872). A couple of other papers use the phrase and cite Dutton and Moser. I believe that this is a paraphrase that D&M came up with, not an actual principle that Darwin spelled out. $\endgroup$ – iayork Jan 30 at 15:44
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    $\begingroup$ I agree with @iayork, and the earliest reference I found was in 1991 with no citation to anything. Origin does talk about biological complexity, and specifically has explanations for why we should not expect all life to be "complex" (according to a particular definition of complexity), but if Darwin talks about the multiple utilities of a particular trait that must be in later work, not in Origin. $\endgroup$ – Bryan Krause Jan 30 at 16:28
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    $\begingroup$ I agree with both of you, @iayork and Bryan Krause, that Dutton appears to have coined the term 'principle of multiple utility'. Accordingly, I emailed him to ask for a more precise citation to Origin of Species. $\endgroup$ – Nick Gall Jan 30 at 23:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Nick Gall It would be great if, once you receive Dutton's answer to your email, you could report his answer here! Thanks $\endgroup$ – Remi.b Jan 31 at 5:22
  • $\begingroup$ @Remi.b Absolutely, with his permission of course. $\endgroup$ – Nick Gall Jan 31 at 14:01

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