Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 31, Issue 4, pp 551–569 | Cite as

The phenotypic gambit: selective pressures and ESS methodology in evolutionary game theory

  • Hannah RubinEmail author


The ‘phenotypic gambit,’ the assumption that we can ignore genetics and look at the fitness of phenotypes to determine the expected evolutionary dynamics of a population, is often used in evolutionary game theory. However, as this paper will show, an overlooked genotype to phenotype map can qualitatively affect evolution in ways the phenotypic approach cannot predict or explain. This gives us reason to believe that, even in the long-term, correspondences between phenotypic predictions and dynamical outcomes are not robust for all plausible assumptions regarding the underlying genetics of traits. This paper shows important ways in which the phenotypic gambit can fail and how to proceed with evolutionary game theoretic modeling when it does.


Evolutionary game theory Philosophy of biology Methodology Evolutionary models 



I would like to thank Justin Bruner, Simon Huttegger, Cailin O’Connor, Brian Skyrms, Kyle Stanford, two anonymous referees, and audiences at the Philosophy of Science 2014 meeting for helpful comments.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Logic and Philosophy of ScienceUniversity of California, IrvineIrvineUSA

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