Jonathan Birch, London School of Economics and Political Science

Title: Inclusive fitness: dissecting a scientific controversy
April 30, 2018 - 12:00pm
Location: Life Sciences Bldg., RM 310 (please make note of new room)

W. D. Hamilton’s concept of inclusive fitness is a longstanding source of controversy in evolutionary biology. For some social evolution researchers, it is the insight of a genius and an essential concept for understanding social adaptation. For others, it is an arcane, obsolete construct, based on lazy approximations and implausible assumptions, that holds back progress in the field. What's going on here, and who is right? In this talk I draw together some of the main threads from my book The Philosophy of Social Evolution (OUP, 2017) to make sense of the controversy. I explain the roots of the disagreement, offer a path to reconciliation between the two sides, and consider the wider lessons for the philosophy of biology. We end up, I suggest, with a better understanding of the explanatory role played by abstract principles like "Hamilton’s rule” in evolutionary theory, and a better understanding of the explanatory roles fitness concepts are called upon to perform in explaining adaptation.