The changeful fate of a groundbreaking insight: the Darwinian fitness principle caught in different webs of belief

Darwin’s explanation of biological speciation in terms of variation and natural selection has revolutionised biological thought. However, while his principle of natural selection, the fitness principle, has shaped biology until the present, its interpretation changed more than once during the almost 150 years of its history. The most striking change of the status of the principle is that, in the middle of the 20th century, it transmutated from an often disputed, groundbreaking insight into a tautology. Moreover, not only the interpretation of the fitness principle, but the whole body of biological knowledge was subjected to significant modifications. In this paper, I relate modifications of the fitness principle to those of the respective body of biological knowledge. This body of knowledge is conceived as a Quinean web of belief. After an exposition of Darwin’s conception of the principle, which equated fitness with adaptedness to the environment, several of its changes are analysed with respect to different webs of biological knowledge. It is concluded that the different interpretations and the reshaping of the fitness principle are rational responses to the modified systems of background knowledge, which saved the coherence of the web of biological knowledge in each single case.
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history
Request removal from index
Download options
Our Archive
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

No citations found.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles
The Confusions of Fitness.André Ariew & R. C. Lewontin - 2004 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 55 (2):347-363.
Fitness.Alexander Rosenberg - 2008 - Journal of Philosophy.
Fitness.Alexander Rosenberg - 1983 - Journal of Philosophy 80 (8):457-473.
Natural Selection Without Survival of the Fittest.C. Kenneth Waters - 1986 - Biology and Philosophy 1 (2):207-225.
A Structural Description of Evolutionary Theory.Robert N. Brandon - 1980 - PSA: Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association 1980:427 - 439.
The Non-Existence of a Principle of Natural Selection.Abner Shimony - 1989 - Biology and Philosophy 4 (3):255-273.

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

284 ( #10,120 of 2,143,563 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

42 ( #5,884 of 2,143,563 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.

Other forums