Conceptual issues in evolutionary biology by Elliott Sober

By Elliott Sober

Those essays by way of major scientists and philosophers deal with conceptual concerns that come up within the thought and perform of evolutionary biology. The 3rd variation of this regularly occurring anthology has been considerably revised and up to date. 4 new sections were extra: on ladies within the evolutionary technique, evolutionary psychology, legislations in evolutionary idea, and race as social building or organic truth. Other Read more...

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The sociobiological notion of ‘‘inclusive fitness’’ also seems susceptible to a propensity analysis. Biologists have invoked this notion in order to explain the evolution of certain altruistic traits. The idea (very simply) is that some of the organisms benefiting from an altruistic action may be genetically related to the altruistic actor, and may therefore share the behavioral trait which led to the action (if the trait is genetically based). Thus, although an altruistic action may decrease the The Propensity Interpretation of Fitness 23 fitness1 of the actor, it may increase the fitness2 of the altruistic trait.

Thus, according to one of the more popular interpretations of natural selection, that process occurs whenever two or more individuals leave different numbers of offspring, or whenever two or more types leave different average numbers of offspring. For example, Crow and Kimura (1970) stipulate that ‘‘selection occurs when one genotype leaves a different number of progeny than another’’ (p. 173). Insofar as it is correct to say that the fittest are selected, this definition of ‘‘selection’’ clearly reflects a definition of ‘‘fitness’’ in terms of actual descendant contribution.

Again, statistical significance would be of no 18 Susan K. Mills and John H. Beatty concern if fitness were identified straightforwardly with offspring contribution. Statistical significance is important, however, if fitness is identified with phenotypic properties causally connected with offspring contribution. As these examples demonstrate, fitness ascriptions play not only a legitimate, but a crucial role in explanations of evolutionary change. While biologists have not been able to justify their usage of the concept of ‘‘fitness,’’ their usage of that concept has nevertheless been consistent and appropriate.

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