What Determines Biological Fitness? The Problem of the Reference Environment

Synthese 166 (1):21 - 40 (2009)
Organisms' environments are thought to play a fundamental role in determining their fitness and hence in natural selection. Existing intuitive conceptions of environment are sufficient for biological practice. I argue, however, that attempts to produce a general characterization of fitness and natural selection are incomplete without the help of general conceptions of what conditions are included in the environment. Thus there is a "problem of the reference environment"—more particularly, problems of specifying principles which pick out those environmental conditions which determine fitness. I distinguish various reference environment problems and propose solutions to some of them. While there has been a limited amount of work on problems concerning what I call "subenvironments", there appears to be no earlier work on problems of what I call the "whole environment". The first solution I propose for a whole environment problem specifies the overall environment for natural selection on a set of biological types present in a population over a specified period of time. The second specifies an environment relevant to extinction of types in a population; this kind of environment is especially relevant to certain kinds of long-term evolution
Keywords Environment  Fitness  Natural selection  Niche  Probability
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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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