Can fitness differences be a cause of evolution?

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Philosophy and Theory in Biology, ISSN: 1949-0739, Vol: 5, Issue: 20170609, Page: 1-13

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Ramsey, Grant
University of Michigan Library; Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library
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article description
The causal status of fitness and natural selection is increasingly called into doubt in the philosophical literature. For example, Elliott Sober argues that the fitness of individual organisms is holistic; i.e., it is dependent on causally independent factors like census size. Others have argued that fitness differences cannot properly be causes of evolutionary change. In this paper I directly challenge the holistic conclusion, and thereby shed light on the debates over the causal status of fitness. I show that the causalists and statisticalists are—to a large degree—arguing past each other. There is a plurality of fitness concepts; some are legitimately causal, while others seem to be based, at least in part, on purely statistical parameters. But such facts say nothing about whether fitness in general is causal or statistical.