Hostname: page-component-59f8fd8595-klmmf Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-03-21T19:05:53.549Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

Inclusive Fitness as a Measure of Biological Utility

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2022


This article is about the analogy between inclusive fitness and utility. In behavioral ecology, it is often assumed that individual organisms behave as if they were “striving” to maximize their inclusive fitness—a measure analogue to the kind of utility function that is used to represent the preferences of rational agents. Here, I explore some conceptual puzzles related to this view and question whether the kind of biological utility posited by the advocates of the “maximizing agent analogy” can be adequately interpreted in inclusive fitness terms.

Copyright © The Philosophy of Science Association

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


I am very grateful to Samir Okasha for helpful conversations during the preparation of the manuscript. I also thank an anonymous referee for extensive discussion and comments. This work was supported by the Fond National de la Recherche Scientifique.


Alger, Ingela, and Weibull, Jörgen W. 2013. “Homo Moralis—Preference Evolution under Incomplete Information and Assortative Matching.” Econometrica 81:22692302.Google Scholar
Allen, Ben, and Nowak, Martin A. 2015. “Games among Relatives Revisited.” Journal of Theoretical Biology 378:103–16.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Bergstrom, Ted C. 1995. “On the Evolution of Altruistic Ethical Rules for Siblings.” American Economic Review 85:5881.Google Scholar
Bergstrom, Ted C. 2003. “The Algebra of Assortative Encounters and the Evolution of Cooperation.” International Game Theory Review 5:211–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Birch, Jonathan, and Okasha, Samir. 2015. “Kin Selection and Its Critics.” Bioscience 65:2232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Darwall, Stephen. 1998. “Empathy, Sympathy, Care.” Philosophical Studies 89:261–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Frank, Steven A. 1998. The Foundations of Social Evolution. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gardner, Andy, and West, Stuart A. 2007. “Social Evolution: The Decline and Fall of Genetic Kin Recognition.” Current Biology 17:R810R812.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Gardner, Andy, West, Stuart A., and Wild, Geoff. 2011. “The Genetical Theory of Kin Selection.” Journal of Evolutionary Biology 24:1020–43.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Grafen, Alan. 1979. “The Hawk-Dove Game Played between Relatives.” Animal Behavior 27:905–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Grafen, Alan. 1982. “How Not to Measure Inclusive Fitness.” Nature 298:425.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Grafen, Alan. 2006. “Optimization of Inclusive Fitness.” Journal of Theoretical Biology 238:541–63.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Haig, David. 2014. “Genetic Dissent and Individual Compromise.” Biology and Philosophy 29:233–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hamilton, William D. 1964. “The Genetical Evolution of Social Behaviour.” Pts. I and II. Journal of Theoretical Biology 7:116; 17–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hamilton, William D. 1975. “Innate Social Aptitudes of Man: An Approach from Evolutionary Genetics.” In Biosocial Anthropology, ed. Fox, Robin, 133–55. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
Lehmann, Laurent, Alger, Ingela, and Weibull, Jörgen. 2015. “Does Evolution Lead to Maximizing Behavior?Evolution 69:1858–73.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Lewis, David. 1979. “Prisoner’s Dilemma Is a Newcomb Problem.” Philosophy and Public Affairs 8:235–40.Google Scholar
Martens, Johannes. 2017. “Inclusive Fitness and the Maximizing-Agent Analogy.” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 68 (3): 875905.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Maynard Smith, John. 1982. Evolution and the Theory of Games. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Nowak, Martin, Tarnita, C. E., and Wilson, E. O. 2010. “The Evolution of Eusociality.” Nature 466:1057–62.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Okasha, Samir. 2011. “Optimal Choice in the Face of Risk: Decision Theory Meets Evolution.” Philosophy of Science 78:83104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Okasha, Samir. 2012. “The Evolution of Bayesian Updating.” Philosophy of Science 80:745–57.Google Scholar
Okasha, Samir, and Martens, Johannes. 2016. “Hamilton’s Rule and the Goal of Individual Behaviour in Symmetric Two-Player Games.” Journal of Evolutionary Biology 29:473–82.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Savage, Leonard. 1954. The Foundations of Statistics. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
Skyrms, Brian. 1994. “Darwin Meets the Logic of Decision: Correlation in Evolutionary Game Theory.” Philosophy of Science 6:503–28.Google Scholar
Skyrms, Brian. 2002. “Altruism, Inclusive Fitness, and The Logic of Decision.Philosophy of Science 69 (Proceedings): S104S111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sober, Elliott. 1998. “Three Differences between Evolution and Deliberation.” In Modeling Rationality, Morality and Evolution, ed. A, Peter. Danielson, 408–22, Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
West, Stuart A., and Gardner, Andy. 2013. “Adaptation and Inclusive Fitness.” Current Biology 23:R577R584.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed