Acta Biotheoretica

, Volume 66, Issue 3, pp 159–176 | Cite as

Natural Selection and Drift as Individual-Level Causes of Evolution

  • Pierrick BourratEmail author
Regular Article


In this paper I critically evaluate Reisman and Forber’s (Philos Sci 72(5):1113–1123, 2005) arguments that drift and natural selection are population-level causes of evolution based on what they call the manipulation condition. Although I agree that this condition is an important step for identifying causes for evolutionary change, it is insufficient. Following Woodward, I argue that the invariance of a relationship is another crucial parameter to take into consideration for causal explanations. Starting from Reisman and Forber’s example on drift and after having briefly presented the criterion of invariance, I show that once both the manipulation condition and the criterion of invariance are taken into account, drift, in this example, should better be understood as an individual-level rather than a population-level cause. Later, I concede that it is legitimate to interpret natural selection and drift as population-level causes when they rely on genuinely indeterministic events and some cases of frequency-dependent selection.


Natural selection Drift Evolution Causality Probabilities Manipulation Invariance 



I am thankful to Paul Griffiths, Frans Jacobs, Charles Pence, Arnaud Pocheville, Joeri Witteveen and three anonymous reviewers for their comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. This research was supported under Australian Research Council’s Discovery Projects funding scheme (project number DP150102875) and a Macquarie University Research Fellowship.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyMacquarie UniversityNorth RydeAustralia
  2. 2.Department of Philosophy, School of History and Philosophy of Science and Charles Perkins CentreThe University of SydneySydneyAustralia

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