The Levels of Selection Debate: Philosophical Issues



For a number of years, the debate in evolutionary biology over the ‘levels of selection’ has attracted intense interest from philosophers of science. The main question concerns the level of the biological hierarchy at which natural selection occurs. Does selection act on organisms, genes, groups, colonies, demes, species, or some combination of these? According to traditional Darwinian theory the answer is the organism – it is the differential survival and reproduction of individual organisms that drives the evolutionary process. But there are alternative views too, including pluralist views which say that the choice between different levels of selection is often a matter of perspective, not empirical fact.