Toward a Biology Worthy of Life > Evolution and the Illusion of Randomness > Brief excerpt
A project by Stephen L. Talbott

The obscurity of fitness

“The precise meaning of ‘fitness’ has yet to be settled, in spite of the fact — or perhaps because of the fact — that the term is so central to evolutionary thought” (Beatty 1992). This is, if anything, even more emphatically true today. The concept remains troubled, as it has been from the very beginning, with little agreement on how to make it a workable part of evolutionary theory. Indeed, the “consensus view,” as Roberta Millstein and Robert Skipper, Jr., write in The Cambridge Companion to the Philosophy of Biology (2007), is that “biologists and philosophers have yet to provide an adequate interpretation of fitness.” And Lewontin, together with University of Missouri philosopher André Ariew, expressed the conviction that “no concept in evolutionary biology has been more confusing” than that of fitness (Ariew and Lewontin 2004). Yet the neo-Darwinian theory of natural selection hinges, “as empirical science,” upon a reasonable understanding of what fitness means (Bouchard and Rosenberg 2004).

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