Not a sure thing: Fitness, probability, and causation

Philosophy of Science 77 (2):147-171 (2010)
In evolutionary biology changes in population structure are explained by citing trait fitness distribution. I distinguish three interpretations of fitness explanations—the Two‐Factor Model, the Single‐Factor Model, and the Statistical Interpretation—and argue for the last of these. These interpretations differ in their degrees of causal commitment. The first two hold that trait fitness distribution causes population change. Trait fitness explanations, according to these interpretations, are causal explanations. The last maintains that trait fitness distribution correlates with population change but does not cause it. My defense of the Statistical Interpretation relies on a distinctive feature of causation. Causes conform to the Sure Thing Principle. Trait fitness distributions, I argue, do not. *Received July 2009; revised October 2009. †To contact the author, please write to: Department of Philosophy/Institute for the History, Philosophy of Science and Technology, University of Toronto, Victoria College, 91 Charles Street West, Toronto, ON M5S 1K7, Canada; e‐mail:
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DOI 10.1086/651320
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