Biology and Philosophy

, Volume 4, Issue 3, pp 255–273

The non-existence of a principle of natural selection

  • Abner Shimony

DOI: 10.1007/BF02426626

Cite this article as:
Shimony, A. Biol Philos (1989) 4: 255. doi:10.1007/BF02426626


The theory of natural selection is a rich systematization of biological knowledge without a first principle. When formulations of a proposed principle of natural selection are examined carefully, each is seen to be exhaustively analyzable into a proposition about sources of fitness and a proposition about consequences of fitness. But whenever the fitness of an organic variety is well defined in a given biological situation, its sources are local contingencies together with the background of laws from disciplines other than the theory of natural selection; and the consequences of fitness for the long range fate of organic varieties are essentially applications of probability theory. Hence there is no role and no need for a principle of the theory of natural selection, and any generalities that may hold in that theory are derivative rather than fundamental.

Key words

Natural SelectionEvolutionPrincipleProbabilityPropensity

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Abner Shimony
    • 1
  1. 1.Departments of Philosophy and PhysicsBoston UniversityBostonUSA