Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 29, Issue 2, pp 241–248 | Cite as

The gene’s-eye view, major transitions and the formal darwinism project

  • Andrew F. G. BourkeEmail author


I argue that Grafen’s formal darwinism project could profitably incorporate a gene’s-eye view, as informed by the major transitions framework. In this, instead of the individual being assumed to maximise its inclusive fitness, genes are assumed to maximise their inclusive fitness. Maximisation of fitness at the individual level is not a straightforward concept because the major transitions framework shows that there are several kinds of biological individual. In addition, individuals have a definable fitness, exhibit individual-level adaptations and arise in a major transition, only to the extent that the inclusive-fitness interests of genes within them coincide. Therefore, as others have suggested, the fundamental level at which fitness is maximised is the gene level. Previous reconciliations of the concepts of gene-level fitness and individual-level fitness implicitly recognise this point. Adaptations always maximise the fitness of their causative genes, but may be simple or complex. Simple adaptations may be controlled by single genes and be maladaptive at higher levels, whereas complex adaptations are controlled by multiple genes and rely on those genes having coinciding fitness interests at a higher level, for a given trait.


Adaptation Formal darwinism project Gene’s-eye view Inclusive fitness theory Levels of selection Major transition 


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Biological SciencesUniversity of East AngliaNorwichUK

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