The Inclusive Fitness Controversy: Finding a Way Forward

Royal Society Open Science 4:170335 (2017)
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This paper attempts to reconcile critics and defenders of inclusive fitness by constructing a synthesis that does justice to the insights of both. I argue that criticisms of the regression-based version of Hamilton’s rule, although they undermine its use for predictive purposes, do not undermine its use as an organizing framework for social evolution research. I argue that the assumptions underlying the concept of inclusive fitness, conceived as a causal property of an individual organism, are unlikely to be exactly true in real populations, but they are approximately true given a specific type of weak selection that Hamilton took, on independent grounds, to be responsible for the cumulative assembly of complex adaptation. Finally, I reflect on the uses and limitations of “design thinking” in social evolution research. The debate about the foundations of inclusive fitness theory that has followed in the wake of Nowak, Tarnita and Wilson’s critique has been remarkably polarizing. After several rounds of rebuttals and replies, there is still little evidence of any serious reconciliation between the theory’s critics and its defenders. It doesn’t have to be this way. I believe that, on the main points of disagreement, it is possible to find a way forward that does justice to the insights of both camps. My aim in this paper is to find that way forward.
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