Darwin’s Unkindly Variable: Fitness and the Tautology Problem

Abstract

Few problems in the philosophy of evolutionary biology are more widely disseminated and discussed than the charge of Darwinian evolution being a tautology. The history is long and complex, and the issues are many, and despite the problem routinely being dismissed as an introductory-level issue, based on misunderstandings of evolution, it seems that few agree on what exactly these misunderstandings consist of. In this paper, I will try to comprehensively review the history and the issues. Then, I will try to present the following “solution”, or, one might say, “dissolution”, of the problem, and consider the wider implications of formal, or schematic, explanations in science: yes, the principle of natural selection is a tautology, and so what? It is a promissory note for actual, physical, explanations in particular cases, and is none the worse for that. This is not a new argument, of course, but it does point up the importance of formal schematic models in science.

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2010-04-18

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John Wilkins
University of Melbourne

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