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Peter Godfrey-Smith, Online Papers

Philosophy of Biology

(Last relic of my original steam-powered website.)



"Conditions for Evolution by Natural Selection" (2007). Evolution by natural selection is often said to occur whenever three ingredients are present: variation, heredity, and fitness differences. But things are not so simple.

 "Darwinian Individuals" (2013) is about living things and evolving things.

"The Replicator in Retrospect" (2000). The replicator concept is useful for some purposes, but the role of replicators has been overstated. In particular, replicators are not essential to evolution by natural selection.

"Three Kinds of Adaptationism" (2001). Some versions of adaptationism about evolution are empirical claims about the biological world, but others are not. Much of the heat generated by the debate is due to a more philosophical version of the view.

"Individualist and Multi-Level Perspectives on Selection in Structured Populations" (2002). Written with Ben Kerr. "Individualist" and "Multi-Level" treatments of trait-group models are mathematically equivalent, but they package information differently and have different heuristic features. The right response is to maintain an ability to "gestalt-switch" between the two approaches.

"Varieties of Population Structure and the Levels of Selection" (BJPS). Neighbor-structured populations are compared to group-structured populations with respect to levels-of-selection issues and the evolution of altruism.

"Local Interaction, Multi-Level Selection, and Evolutionary Transitions" (Biological Theory, 2006). Discusses varieties of population structure in relation to models of the "major transitions" in evolution.


"Information in Biology." A survey of work on the role of informational concepts within biology, especially genetics.

• "On the Theoretical Role of 'Genetic Coding'" (2000). Genes can code for proteins, but not for phenotypes in the usual sense.

"Information and the Argument from Design" (2001). Some proponents of "Intelligent Design" creationism appeal to information theory to make their arguments look more rigorous. This paper criticizes William Dembski's view, and also includes a general discussion of information and probability in evolution. This is a modified version of a paper in a collection edited by Rob Pennock on the "Intelligent Design" controversy.


"A Modern History Theory of Functions." (1994) and "Functions: Consensus Without Unity" (1993) discuss functions and functional explanations in biology.


 "Generalization of the Price Equation for Evolutionary Change," with Ben Kerr (Evolution, 2009). A generalization of the Price equation enables it to deal with any pattern of connectivity between ancestral and descendant populations.

"Selection in Ephemeral Networks," with Ben Kerr (American Naturalist, 2009). A model of evolutionary change in social networks which form and dissolve as part of the organisms' life cycle. Includes a model of the evolution of altruism.

"Evolution of Behavioral Heterogeneity in Individuals and Populations" (1998). Written with Carl Bergstrom, about the relation between mixed strategies and polymorphisms in game-theoretic models. When will evolution distinguish the two?

 "What is Altruism?" (2004). Written with Ben Kerr and Marc Feldman. Distinguishes three different evolutionary senses of altruism that have different dynamical properties. Technical, but worth it for Ben's great color graphic at the end.