Biology and Philosophy

, Volume 20, Issue 4, pp 673–696 | Cite as

The Structure of Evolution by Natural Selection

  • Richmond CampbellEmail author
  • Jason Scott Robert


We attempt a conclusive resolution of the debate over whether the principle of natural selection (PNS), especially conceived as the `principle' of the `survival of the fittest', is a tautology. This debate has been largely ignored for the past 15 years but not, we think, because it has actually been settled. We begin by describing the tautology objection, and situating the problem in the philosophical and biology literature. We then demonstrate the inadequacy of six prima facie plausible reasons for believing that the tautology debate has been satisfactorily resolved (the PNS is strictly a methodological principle; scientific theories can contain tautologies; the scope of the PNS has been reduced; theories should be understood as models and not exceptionless laws; the widespread acceptance of the propensity interpretation of fitness; and the abandonment of operationalism and verificationism). We proceed to a detailed discussion of Brandon's law (D) describing the PNS, and show that law (D) seriously misrepresents the structure of evolution by natural selection. In the final sections, we provide and defend a novel reinterpretation of the structure of the principle (or, we prefer, model) of evolution by natural selection.


natural selection Darwin evolution tautology testability 


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Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyDalhousie UniversityHalifaxCanada
  2. 2.Center for Biology and Society and School of Life SciencesArizona State UniversityTempeUSA

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