What is this stuff called fitness?

Biology and Philosophy 6 (1):81-92 (1991)
Abstract
This paper considers a variety of attempts to define fitness in such a way as to defend the theory of evolution by natural selection from the criticism that it is a circular argument. Each of the definitions is shown to be inconsistent with the others. The paper argues that the environment in which an animal evolves can be defined only with respect to the properties of the phenotype of the animal and that it is therefore not illuminating to try to explain the phenotypic properties of the animal in terms of adaptation to an environment that is defined by those very properties. Furthermore, since there is no way that the environment can be defined independently of the presence of the animal there is no way that the quality of an animal can be assessed; and there can be no objective criteria by whichany form of selection can be carried out, therefore there can be no criteria by whichnatural selection can be carried out. It is proposed that fitness is nothing more than the production of offspring, that this is a phenotypic property like all the others, and if it is heritable then the offspring of the parents that produce the most offspring will themselves produce the most offspring, and that in principle it is impossible to account for this in terms of the other phenotypic properties of the fittest animals except by circular argument. Differential rates of reproduction are the causes of evolution and the phenotypic causes are strictly inexplicable.
Keywords Evolution  fitness  natural selection
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