Holism, Individualism, and the Units of Selection

Developing a definition of group selection, and applying that definition to the dispute in the social sciences between methodological holists and methodological individualists, are the two goals of this paper. The definition proposed distinguishes between changes in groups that are due to group selection and changes in groups that are artefacts of selection processes occurring at lower levels of organization. It also explains why the existence of group selection is not implied by the mere fact that fitness values of organisms are sensitive to the composition of groups. And, lastly, the definition explains why group selection need not involve selection for altruism. Group selection is thereby seen as an evolutionary force which is objectively distinct from other evolutionary forces. Applying the distinction between group and individual selection to the holism/individualism dispute has the desirable result that the dispute is not decidable a priori. This way of looking at the dispute yields a conception of individualism which is untainted by atomism and a conception of holism which is unspoiled by hypostatis.
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DOI 10.2307/192588
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Ayelet Shavit (2004). Shifting Values Partly Explain the Debate Over Group Selection. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 35 (4):697-720.
J. Beach (2003). The Transition to Civilization and Symbolically Stored Genomes. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 34 (1):109-141.

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