Authors
Jonathan Birch
London School of Economics
Abstract
In an incendiary 2010 Nature article, M. A. Nowak, C. E. Tarnita, and E. O. Wilson present a savage critique of the best-known and most widely used framework for the study of social evolution, W. D. Hamilton’s theory of kin selection. More than a hundred biologists have since rallied to the theory’s defence, but Nowak et al. maintain that their arguments ‘stand unrefuted’. Here I consider the most contentious claim Nowak et al. defend: that Hamilton’s rule, the core explanatory principle of kin selection theory, ‘almost never holds’. I first distinguish two versions of Hamilton’s rule in contemporary theory: a special version (HRS) that requires restrictive assumptions, and a general version (HRG) that does not. I then show that Nowak et al. are most charitably construed as arguing that HRS almost never holds, while HRG buys its generality at the expense of explanatory power. While their arguments against HRS are fairly uncontroversial, their arguments against HRG are more contentious, yet these have been largely overlooked in the ensuing furore. I consider the arguments for and against the explanatory value of HRG, with a view to assessing what exactly is at stake in the debate. I suggest that the debate hinges on issues concerning the causal interpretability of regression coefficients, and concerning the explanatory function Hamilton’s rule is intended to serve.
Keywords kin selection  inclusive fitness  Hamilton's rule  evolutionary game theory  Price equation  explanation  causation  unification
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Reprint years 2013, 2014
DOI 10.1093/bjps/axt016
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References found in this work BETA

Evolution and the Levels of Selection.Samir Okasha - 2006 - Oxford University Press.
Evolution of the Social Contract.Brian Skyrms - 1996 - Cambridge University Press.
Explanatory Unification and the Causal Structure of the World.Philip Kitcher - 1989 - In Philip Kitcher & Wesley Salmon (eds.), Scientific Explanation. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. pp. 410-505.

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Citations of this work BETA

The Relation Between Kin and Multilevel Selection: An Approach Using Causal Graphs.Samir Okasha - 2016 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 67 (2):435-470.
A Critical Review of the Statisticalist Debate.Jun Otsuka - 2016 - Biology and Philosophy 31 (4):459-482.
Beyond Descriptive Accuracy: The Central Dogma of Molecular Biology in Scientific Practice.M. Polo Camacho - 2021 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 86:20-26.
Hamilton’s Two Conceptions of Social Fitness.Jonathan Birch - 2016 - Philosophy of Science 83 (5):848-860.

View all 12 citations / Add more citations

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