Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 27, Issue 3, pp 363–380

Collective action in the fraternal transitions


DOI: 10.1007/s10539-012-9312-8

Cite this article as:
Birch, J. Biol Philos (2012) 27: 363. doi:10.1007/s10539-012-9312-8


Inclusive fitness theory was not originally designed to explain the major transitions in evolution, but there is a growing consensus that it has the resources to do so. My aim in this paper is to highlight, in a constructive spirit, the puzzles and challenges that remain. I first consider the distinctive aspects of the cooperative interactions we see within the most complex social groups in nature: multicellular organisms and eusocial insect colonies. I then focus on one aspect in particular: the extreme redundancy these societies exhibit. I argue that extreme redundancy poses a distinctive explanatory puzzle for inclusive fitness theory, and I offer a potential solution which casts coercion as the key enabler. I suggest that the general moral to draw from the case is one of guarded optimism: while inclusive fitness is a powerful tool for understanding evolutionary transitions, it must be integrated within a broader framework that recognizes the distinctive problems such transitions present and the distinctive mechanisms by which these problems may be overcome.


Major transitions Inclusive fitness Kin selection Eusociality Multicellularity Social evolution Collective action Redundancy 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of History and Philosophy of ScienceUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK