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The Propensity Interpretation of Fitness

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 April 2022

Susan K. Mills
Affiliation:
Indiana University
John H. Beatty
Affiliation:
Indiana University

Abstract

The concept of “fitness” is a notion of central importance to evolutionary theory. Yet the interpretation of this concept and its role in explanations of evolutionary phenomena have remained obscure. We provide a propensity interpretation of fitness, which we argue captures the intended reference of this term as it is used by evolutionary theorists. Using the propensity interpretation of fitness, we provide a Hempelian reconstruction of explanations of evolutionary phenomena, and we show why charges of circularity which have been levelled against explanations in evolutionary theory are mistaken. Finally, we provide a definition of natural selection which follows from the propensity interpretation of fitness, and which handles all the types of selection discussed by biologists, thus improving on extant definitions.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Philosophy of Science Association 1979

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Footnotes

We wish to thank Professor Michael Ruse, for initially drawing our attention to the problems of the logical status of evolutionary theory, and for insightful criticisms of an early draft of this paper. We are heavily indebted to Alberto Coffa, for providing us with explications both of propensities and of the nature of explanation, and for innumerable criticisms and suggestions. Ron Giere also suggested that the propensity interpretation was a little more complex than we originally suspected. However, we claim complete originality for our mistakes.

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