How ubiquitous is adaptation? A critique of the epiphenomenist program

Biology and Philosophy 24 (2):267-280 (2009)
It is important to distinguish adaptation per se (adaptedness, or being adapted) from the more specific concept of adaptation for some function. Commonly used criteria for adaptation in either sense have limited applicability. There are, however, a number of widely applicable criteria for adaptation per se, such as several kinds of cost, low variation, the maintenance of integration, and the fitness distribution of mutations. Application of these criteria leads to the conclusion that adaptation is overwhelmingly prevalent for features of organisms. Neither the presence nor the absence of adaptation has a privileged status in inference. Effectively neutral evolution can occur on adaptive buttes while maintaining the same degree of adaptation, but it is likely to be relatively minor.
Keywords Philosophy   Evolutionary Biology   Philosophy of Biology
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DOI 10.1007/s10539-008-9142-x
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