The structure of evolution by natural selection

Richmond Campbell, Jason Robert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


We attempt a conclusive resolution of the debate over whether the principle of natural selection (PNS), especially conceived as the 'principle' of the 'survival of the fittest', is a tautology. This debate has been largely ignored for the past 15 years but not, we think, because it has actually been settled. We begin by describing the tautology objection, and situating the problem in the philosophical and biology literature. We then demonstrate the inadequacy of six prima facie plausible reasons for believing that the tautology debate has been satisfactorily resolved (the PNS is strictly a methodological principle; scientific theories can contain tautologies; the scope of the PNS has been reduced; theories should be understood as models and not exceptionless laws; the widespread acceptance of the propensity interpretation of fitness; and the abandonment of operationalism and verificationism). We proceed to a detailed discussion of Brandon's law (D) describing the PNS, and show that law (D) seriously misrepresents the structure of evolution by natural selection. In the final sections, we provide and defend a novel reinterpretation of the structure of the principle (or, we prefer, model) of evolution by natural selection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)673-696
Number of pages24
JournalBiology and Philosophy
Issue number4
StatePublished - Sep 2005


  • Darwin
  • Evolution
  • Natural selection
  • Tautology
  • Testability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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