Journal Article

What is the Gene Trying to Do?

Warren J. Ewens

in The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science

Published on behalf of British Society for the Philosophy of Science

Volume 62, issue 1, pages 155-176
Published in print March 2011 | ISSN: 0007-0882
Published online June 2010 | e-ISSN: 1464-3537 | DOI:
What is the Gene Trying to Do?

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The aim of this paper is to offer a new biological interpretation of Fisher’s ‘Fundamental Theorem of Natural Selection’ and from this to consider optimality properties of gene frequency changes. These matters are of continuing interest to biologists and philosophers alike. In particular, the extent to which biological evolution can be calculated from the ‘gene’s-eye’ point of view is also discussed. In this sense, the paper bears indirectly on the concepts of the unit of selection and of the ‘selfish gene’. A new biological significance for the Fundamental Theorem, not previously found in the literature, is offered, together with an optimality principle connected with this theorem. 1



Preliminary Calculations and Average Effects


The Modern Interpretation of the One-Locus Fundamental Theorem


The Whole-Genome Interpretation of the Fundamental Theorem


A New Biological Meaning for the Fundamental Theorem of Natural Selection


A Numerical Example


The Malthusian Parameter


Decreases in Mean Fitness


Optimality Considerations



Journal Article.  9489 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Philosophy of Science ; Science and Mathematics

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