Journal Article

Fisher's Fundamental Theorem of Natural Selection—A Philosophical Analysis

Samir Okasha

in The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science

Published on behalf of British Society for the Philosophy of Science

Volume 59, issue 3, pages 319-351
Published in print September 2008 | ISSN: 0007-0882
Published online July 2008 | e-ISSN: 1464-3537 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/bjps/axn010
Fisher's Fundamental Theorem of Natural Selection—A Philosophical Analysis

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This paper provides a philosophical analysis of the ongoing controversy surrounding R.A. Fisher's famous ‘fundamental theorem’ of natural selection. The difference between the ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’ interpretations of the theorem is explained. I argue that proponents of the modern interpretation have captured Fisher's intended meaning correctly and shown that the theorem is mathematically correct, pace the traditional consensus. However, whether the theorem has any real biological significance remains an unresolved issue. I argue that the answer depends on whether we accept Fisher's non-standard notion of environmental change, on which the theorem rests; arguments for and against this notion are explored. I suggest that there is a close link between Fisher's fundamental theorem and the modern ‘gene's eye’ view of evolution.

Introduction

What Does the Fundamental Theorem Say?

Key Concepts Explained

Alleged Significance of the FTNS

Traditional versus Modern Interpretations of the FTNS

The Modern Interpretation Illustrated

Fisher's Concept of ‘Environmental Change’

Causality and the Modern Interpretation

The Significance of the FTNS Re-considered

Appendix

Journal Article.  13279 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Philosophy of Science ; Science and Mathematics

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