Article ID: CBB530242611

Natural selection and the reference grain problem (2020)


Over the last 20 years, the concept of natural selection has been highly debated in the philosophy of biology. Yet, most discussions on this topic have focused on the questions of whether natural selection is a causal process and whether it can be distinguished from drift. In this paper, I identify another sort of problem with respect to natural selection. I show that, in so far as a classical definition of fitness includes the transmission of a type between generations as part of the definition, it seems difficult to see how the fitness of an entity, following this definition, could be description independent. In fact, I show that by including type transmission as part of the definition of fitness, changing the grain at which the type of an entity is described can change the fitness of that entity. If fitness is not grain-of-description independent, this further propagates to the process of natural selection itself. I call this problem the ‘reference grain problem’. I show that it can be linked to the reference class problem in probability theory. I tentatively propose two solutions to it.

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Authors & Contributors
Maienschein, Jane A.
Creath, Richard
Ruse, Michael
Godfrey-Smith, Peter
Ariew, André
Waizbort, Ricardo
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
British Journal for the Philosophy of Science
Biology and Philosophy
Philosophy of Science
Cambridge University Press
Fundo Mackenzie de Pesquisa
Belknap Press of Harvard University Press
University of Calgary (Canada)
Open University (United Kingdom)
University of Toronto
Philosophy of biology
Natural selection
Adaptation (biology)
Darwin, Charles Robert
Mill, John Stuart
Mayr, Ernst
Senebier, Jean
Jennings, Herbert Spencer
Darwin, George Howard
Time Periods
19th century
20th century
20th century, late
18th century
20th century, early
21st century

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