Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 31, Issue 6, pp 893–911 | Cite as

A levels-of-selection approach to evolutionary individuality

  • Ellen ClarkeEmail author


What changes when an evolutionary transition in individuality takes place? Many different answers have been given, in respect of different cases of actual transition, but some have suggested a general answer: that a major transition is a change in the extent to which selection acts at one hierarchical level rather than another. The current paper evaluates some different ways to develop this general answer as a way to characterise the property ‘evolutionary individuality’; and offers a justification of the option taken in Clarke (J Philos 110(8):413–435, 2013)—to define evolutionary individuality in terms of an object’s capacity to undergo selection at its own level. In addition, I suggest a method by which the property can be measured and argue that a problem which is often considered to be fatal to that method—the problem of ‘cross-level by-products’—can be avoided.


Levels of selection Evolutionary individuality Major transitions 



With many thanks to Samuel Alizon, Pierrick Bourrat, Matthew Herron, Samir Okasha, Thomas Pradeu, Paul Ryan and two anonymous referees.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.All Souls CollegeOxford UniversityOxfordUK

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