John Wilkins (
Wed, 30 Aug 1995 12:35:56 +1000

In article <41sg71$>, stgprao@sugarland.unocal.COM
(Richard Ottolini) wrote:

| This is a circular term.
| It is not always possible to foresee what trait enhances
| survival, so fitness is whatever survives.

This is an old argument, one raised by Popper, and which is (a) entirely
untrue and (b) irrelevant to Darwin's and neoDarwinian formulations of the
principles of natural selection. The phrase is Herbert Spencer's, and he
was noted for his lack of empirical study and repeated attempts to dictate
a priori a philosophy of transmutation as some sort of cosmic principle.

If you think of natural selection as a principle of environmental sorting
of replicating traits, then the differential rate of replication on
environmental grounds is not in any way circular.

A good discussion of the circularity argument resides in Elliot Sober's
1984 _The Nature of Selection_ (MIT Press?), and I also recommend
Elizabeth Lloyd's 1989 _The structure and confirmation of evolutionary
theory_ Greenwood Press. For a working biologist's refelections on the
topic, try Ernst Mayr's 1988 _Toward a new philosophy of biology:
Observations of an evolutionist_ The Belknap Press of Harvard U P.


John "Chris" Wilkins, Assoc. Prof. of Recent Runes, Uni of Ediacara
(Also: Head of Communication Services, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute)
Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.