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 Selection Evolution Principle Probability Propensity 

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1989

Authors and Affiliations

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

Personalised recommendations