Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 24, Issue 4, pp 487–504

Fitness “kinematics”: biological function, altruism, and organism–environment development


DOI: 10.1007/s10539-009-9153-2

Cite this article as:
Abrams, M. Biol Philos (2009) 24: 487. doi:10.1007/s10539-009-9153-2


It’s recently been argued that biological fitness can’t change over the course of an organism’s life as a result of organisms’ behaviors. However, some characterizations of biological function and biological altruism tacitly or explicitly assume that an effect of a trait can change an organism’s fitness. In the first part of the paper, I explain that the core idea of changing fitness can be understood in terms of conditional probabilities defined over sequences of events in an organism’s life. The result is a notion of “conditional fitness” which is static but which captures intuitions about apparent behavioral effects on fitness. The second part of the paper investigates the possibility of providing a systematic foundation for conditional fitness in terms of spaces of sequences of states of an organism and its environment. I argue that the resulting “organism–environment history conception” helps unify diverse biological perspectives, and may provide part of a metaphysics of natural selection.


Altruism Development systems theory Fitness Function Life history theory Probability 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of Alabama at BirminghamBirminghamUSA

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