Biology and Philosophy

, Volume 1, Issue 2, pp 207–225 | Cite as

Natural selection without survival of the fittest

  • C. Kenneth Waters


Susan Mills and John Beatty proposed a propensity interpretation of fitness (1979) to show that Darwinian explanations are not circular, but they did not address the critics' chief complaint that the principle of the survival of the fittest is either tautological or untestable. I show that the propensity interpretation cannot rescue the principle from the critics' charges. The critics, however, incorrectly assume that there is nothing more to Darwin's theory than the survival of the fittest. While Darwinians all scoff at this assumption, they do not agree about what role, if any, this principle plays in Darwin's theory of natural selection. I argue that the principle has no place in Darwin's theory. His theory does include the idea that some organisms are fitter than others. But greater reproductive success is simply inferred from higher fitness. There is no reason to embody this inference in the form of a special principle of the survival of the fittest.

Key words

Fitness propensity tautology untestable semantic view of theories 


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Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • C. Kenneth Waters
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyJohn Carroll UniversityUniversity HeightsU.S.A.

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