•  196
    Fitness, probability and the principles of natural selection
    British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 55 (4): 693-712. 2004.
    We argue that a fashionable interpretation of the theory of natural selection as a claim exclusively about populations is mistaken. The interpretation rests on adopting an analysis of fitness as a probabilistic propensity which cannot be substantiated, draws parallels with thermodynamics which are without foundations, and fails to do justice to the fundamental distinction between drift and selection. This distinction requires a notion of fitness as a pairwise comparison between individuals taken…Read more
  •  74
    Causal processes, fitness, and the differential persistence of lineages
    Philosophy of Science 75 (5): 560-570. 2008.
    Ecological fitness has been suggested to provide a unifying definition of fitness. However, a metric for this notion of fitness was in most cases unavailable except by proxy with differential reproductive success. In this article, I show how differential persistence of lineages can be used as a way to assess ecological fitness. This view is inspired by a better understanding of the evolution of some clonal plants, colonial organisms, and ecosystems. Differential persistence shows the limitation …Read more
  •  184
    Philosophers of biology have been absorbed by the problem of defining evolutionary fitness since Darwin made it central to biological explanation. The apparent problem is obvious. Define fitness as some biologists implicitly do, in terms of actual survival and reproduction, and the principle of natural selection turns into an empty tautology: those organisms which survive and reproduce in larger numbers, survive and reproduce in larger numbers. Accordingly, many writers have sought to provide a …Read more
  •  8
    Science, Politics, and Evolution (review)
    Isis: A Journal of the History of Science 100 444-445. 2009.
  •  34
    We argue that ecology in general and biodiversity and ecosystem function research in particular need an understanding of functions which is both ahistorical and evolutionarily grounded. A natural candidate in this context is Bigelow and Pargetter’s evolutionary forward-looking account which, like the causal role account, assigns functions to parts of integrated systems regardless of their past history, but supplements this with an evolutionary dimension that relates functions to their bearers’ a…Read more
  •  35
    Given the complexity of most phenomena, we have to delegate much epistemic work to other knowers and we must find reasons for relying on these specific knowers and not others. In our societies, these other knowers are often called experts and we rely on their epistemic authority more and more. For many complex phenomena such as climate change, genetically modified crops, and immunization, the experts that are called upon are scientific experts. For that reason, finding good reasons and justifica…Read more
  • Our intuitive assumption that only organisms are the real individuals in the natural world is at odds with developments in cell biology, ecology, genetics, evolutionary biology, and other fields. Although organisms have served for centuries as nature’s paradigmatic individuals, science suggests that organisms are only one of the many ways in which the natural world could be organized. When living beings work together—as in ant colonies, beehives, and bacteria-metazoan symbiosis—new collective in…Read more
  •  116
    Darwinism without populations: a more inclusive understanding of the “Survival of the Fittest”
    Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 42 (1): 106-114. 2011.
    Following Wallace’s suggestion, Darwin framed his theory using Spencer’s expression “survival of the fittest”. Since then, fitness occupies a significant place in the conventional understanding of Darwinism, even though the explicit meaning of the term ‘fitness’ is rarely stated. In this paper I examine some of the different roles that fitness has played in the development of the theory. Whereas the meaning of fitness was originally understood in ecological terms, it took a statistical turn in t…Read more
  •  49
    E. O. Wilson (1974: 54) describes the problem that social organisms pose: “On what bases do we distinguish the extremely modified members of an invertebrate colony from the organs of a metazoan animal?” This framing of the issue has inspired many to look more closely at how groups of organisms form and behave as emergent individuals. The possible existence of “superorganisms” test our best intuitions about what can count and act as genuine biological individuals and how we should study them. As …Read more
  • Fitness
    In J. Pfeifer & Sahotra Sarkar (eds.), The Philosophy of Science: An Encyclopedia, Psychology Press. pp. 310--315. 2006.
  •  30
    Our intuitive assumption that only organisms are the real individuals in the natural world is at odds with developments in cell biology, ecology, genetics, evolutionary biology, and other fields. Although organisms have served for centuries as nature's paradigmatic individuals, science suggests that organisms are only one of the many ways in which the natural world could be organized. When living beings work together--as in ant colonies, beehives, and bacteria-metazoan symbiosis--new collective …Read more
  •  55
    Symbiosis, lateral function transfer and the (many) saplings of life
    Biology and Philosophy 25 (4): 623-641. 2010.
    One of intuitions driving the acceptance of a neat structured tree of life is the assumption that organisms and the lineages they form have somewhat stable spatial and temporal boundaries. The phenomenon of symbiosis shows us that such ‘fixist’ assumptions does not correspond to how the natural world actually works. The implications of lateral gene transfer (LGT) have been discussed elsewhere; I wish to stress a related point. I will focus on lateral function transfer (LFT) and will argue, using…Read more
  •  13
    Darwinism without populations: a more inclusive understanding of the “Survival of the Fittest”
    Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 42 (1): 106-114. 2011.