From Fitness-Centered to Trait-Centered Explanations: What Evolutionary Transitions in Individuality Teach Us About Fitness


Fitness has taken center stage in debates concerning how best to identify evolutionary transitions in individuality (ETIs). An influential framework proposes that an ETI occurs only when fitness is exported from constituent particles to a collective. We reformulate the conceptual structure of this framework as involving three steps. The culminating step compares “counterfactual” fitnesses against a long-run measure of fitness. This comparison assumes that collective-level fitness mereologically supervenes on particle fitness. However, if this assumption is rigorously enforced, the proposed conditions for identifying ETIs prove to be too weak. We here suggest an alternative model of ETIs centered around traits.

Philosophy of Science.
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.