Fitness “kinematics”: biological function, altruism, and organism–environment development

Biology and Philosophy 24 (4):487-504 (2009)
It’s recently been argued that biological fitness can’t change over the course of an organism’s life as a result of organisms’ behaviors. However, some characterizations of biological function and biological altruism tacitly or explicitly assume that an effect of a trait can change an organism’s fitness. In the first part of the paper, I explain that the core idea of changing fitness can be understood in terms of conditional probabilities defined over sequences of events in an organism’s life. The result is a notion of “conditional fitness” which is static but which captures intuitions about apparent behavioral effects on fitness. The second part of the paper investigates the possibility of providing a systematic foundation for conditional fitness in terms of spaces of sequences of states of an organism and its environment. I argue that the resulting “organism–environment history conception” helps unify diverse biological perspectives, and may provide part of a metaphysics of natural selection.
Keywords Philosophy   Evolutionary Biology   Philosophy of Biology
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DOI 10.1007/s10539-009-9153-2
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Charles H. Pence (2015). The Early History of Chance in Evolution. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 50:48-58.
Marshall Abrams (2013). Populations and Pigeons: Prosaic Pluralism About Evolutionary Causes. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (3):294-301.
Marshall Abrams (2009). The Unity of Fitness. Philosophy of Science 76 (5):750-761.

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