Philosophy and Theory in Biology 2 (20130604) (2010)
Altruism is a central concept in evolutionary biology. Evolutionary biologists still disagree about its meaning (E.O. Wilson 2005; Fletcher et al. 2006; D.S. Wilson 2008; Foster et al. 2006a, b; West et al. 2007a, 2008). Semantic disagreement appears to be quite robust and not easily overcome by attempts at clarification, suggesting that substantive conceptual issues lurk in the background. Briefly, group selection theorists define altruism as any trait that makes altruists losers to selfish traits within groups, and makes groups of altruists fitter than groups of non-altruists. Inclusive fitness theorists reject a definition based on within- and between-group fitness. Traits are altruistic only if they cause a direct and absolute fitness loss to the donor. The latter definition is more restrictive and rejects as cases of altruism behaviors that are accepted by the former. Fletcher and Doebeli (2009) recently proposed a simple, direct and individually based fitness approach, which they claim returns to first principles: carriers of the genotype of interest “must, on average, end up with more net direct fitness benefits than average population members.” This seductively simple proposal uses the concept of assortment to explain how diverse kinds of altruists end up on average with more net fitness than their non-altruistic rivals. In this paper I shall argue that their approach implies a new concept of altruism that contrasts with and improves on the concept of the inclusive fitness approach
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