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date: 02 December 2020

Abstract and Keywords

I examine the concept of “fitness” in the philosophy of evolutionary biology to show how discussions of probability in biology can go wrong, and right. Many of the critiques of the propensity interpretation of fitness have focused on the mathematical aspects of fitness; re-focusing on several aspects of the propensity interpretation of probability more generally can help to address these concerns. I conclude with some general lessons for thinking about probability in biology. The propensity interpretation of fitness, properly understood, solves the explanatory circularity problem and the mismatch problem, andalso withstands many other problems. Fitness is the propensity for organisms to survive and reproduce in particular environments and in particular populations. Fitness values can be described in terms of distributions of propensities and can be modeled for any number of generations using computer simulations. Fitness is a causal concept. Relative fitness is what matters for natural selection.

Keywords: probability, biology, fitness, natural selection, propensity interpretation, Mills, Beatty, Finsen, Gillespie, Rice

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