Multilevel Selection and the Theory of Evolution: Historical and Conceptual Issues

Cham: Springer Verlag (2018)
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This book puts multilevel selection theory into a much needed historical perspective. This is achieved by discussing multilevel selection in the first half of the twentieth century, the reasons for the energetic rejection of Wynne-Edwards’ group selectionist stance in the 1960s, Elisabeth Lloyd’s contribution to the units of selection debate, Price’s hierarchical equation and its possible interpretations and, finally, species selection in macroevolutionary contexts. Another idea also seems to emerge from these studies; namely, that perhaps a more sure-footed position for multilevel selection theory would be acquired if we were to show a renewed interest in 'old group selection', i.e. in scenarios in which the differential reproduction of the groups themselves affects the frequencies of either individual-level or group-level traits. This book will be of interest to philosophers and historians of biology, as well as to theoretically inclined biologists who have an interest in multilevel selection theory.



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A Backward Question About Multilevel Selection: Can Species Selection Help Disentangle the Notion of Group Selection?

I maintain that a fresh insight into the notion of multilevel selection and its significance for the science of evolution may be gained once an empiricist stance to higher-level selection is preferred. This is why I choose not to focus on the abstract idea of “group selection”, as paradigmatic reali... see more

Price’s Hierarchical Equation and the Notion of Group Fitness

It is usually assumed that, when applied to cases with regularly reshuffled, non-overlapping groups whose characters are defined as the average character of their individual members , Price’s hierarchical equation tracks changes in the average value of individual-level traits and uses a notion of gr... see more

Equivalence, Interactors, and Lloyd’s Challenge to Genic Pluralism

On a train ride in 1986, Elisabeth Lloyd convinced Stephen Jay Gould he had been wrong about species selection. The mistake had to do with differentiating what Lloyd came to call the “interactor question” from three other distinct questions implicit in the units of selection controversy. Lloyd’s eff... see more

Tales of a Failed Scientific Revolution. Wynne-Edwards’ Animal Dispersion

This chapter aims to cover the fierce rejection of Vero Copner Wynne-Edwards’ account of animal dispersion and population dynamics by many neo-Darwinian life scientists during the 1960s and 1970s. It is argued that Wynne-Edwards’ proposed revolution failed for two reasons: One is related to the part... see more

The Roots of Multilevel Selection Theory: Concepts of Biological Individuality in the Early Twentieth Century

Scientists, philosophers, and historians generally agree that biologists thought “naively” about evolutionary dynamics during the early twentieth century, and that their attempts to explain biological phenomena lacked sophistication. Now that several recent works have called attention to the complex... see more


This short introduction argues that the recent insistence of researchers on “new group selection”—i.e. on scenarios with groups making more individuals—may lead multilevel selection theory towards marginalization, if not even towards a new controversial or questionable status. This seems to indicate... see more

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Ciprian Jeler
Al.I.Cuza Iasi University of Iasi

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