Multilevel selection 1, multilevel selection 2, and the Price equation: a reappraisal


The distinction between multilevel selection 1 (MLS1) and multilevel selection 2 (MLS2) is classically regarded as a distinction between two multilevel selection processes involving two different kinds of higher-level fitness. It has been invoked to explain evolutionary transitions in individuality as a shift from an MLS1 to an MLS2 process. In this paper, I argue against the view that the distinction involves two different kinds of processes. I show, starting from the MLS2 version of the Price equation, that it contains the MLS1 version if, following the assumption that a collective constitutively depends (i.e., mereologically supervenes) on its particles, one considers that a necessary map between fitness at two levels exists. I defend the necessity of such a map, making the distinction between MLS1 and MLS2 a matter of perspective and limited knowledge (i.e., epistemic limitations) rather than objective facts. I then provide some reasons why the MLS1/MLS2 distinction nonetheless has some pragmatic value and might be invoked usefully in some contexts, particularly within the context of explaining evolutionary transitions in individuality.

Synthese, 202(3), 72
Pierrick Bourrat
Pierrick Bourrat
Senior Lecturer & DECRA Fellow

My research interests include the various concepts deployed in evolutionary theory, causation, and the interplay between biological and cultural evolution.