Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 29, Issue 2, pp 155–174 | Cite as

The formal darwinism project in outline

  • Alan GrafenEmail author


The formal darwinism project aims to provide a mathematical framework within which important fundamental ideas in large parts of biology can be articulated, including Darwin's central argument in The Origin (that mechanical processes of inheritance and reproduction can give rise to the appearance of design), modern extensions of evolutionary theory including ESS theory and inclusive fitness, and Dawkins' synthesis of them into a single structure. A new kind of argument is required to link equations of motion on the one hand to optimisation programs on the other, and a major point is that the biologist's concept of fitness maximisation is not represented by concepts from dynamical systems such as Lyapunov functions and gradient functions. The progress of the project so far is reviewed, though with only a brief glance at the rather complicated mathematics itself, and the centrality of fitness maximisation ideas to many areas of biology is emphasised.


Formal darwinism Fitness maximisation Behavioural ecology Biological design  Population genetics Natural selection 



I am very grateful to the editors and to all those colleagues who will write commentaries on this article. I am also grateful to Richard Gratwick and Paul Crewe for robust and relevant discussions over the past year, and to the Research Centre of St John’s College, Oxford, for a grant (to AG and to Prof. Charles Batty) to pursue the project. Paul Crewe, Cécile Fabre, Andy Gardner, Richard Gratwick, Jarrod Hadfield, Tom Kemp, Samir Okasha, Stu West and Greg Wyatt commented very helpfully on an earlier draft.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.St John’s CollegeOxfordUK

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