Inheritance and Cooperation
June 25th & 26th, Balliol College Oxford
Heredity is understood to be a core ingredient of evolution by natural selection, and is standardly thought of as mediated by the passing of genes from parents to their offspring. Genetic inheritance underpins the theory of kin selection, which stands as a leading explanation for the evolution of cooperation. Organisms can be selected to help their relatives, because those relatives inherited some of the same genes from the common ancestor. We say that helping relatives then boosts the organism's indirect fitness. However, cooperation takes place in many scenarios in which there is no recourse to explanation in terms of indirect fitness benefits, because the participants lack a common genetic inheritance: between species; between unrelated humans; between genes; to name a few.
We are becomingly increasingly aware of the action of systems of inheritance that are not genetic. Organisms inherit, for example, epigenetic marks, niches, symbionts, culture. We are learning more and more about non-standard genetic inheritance systems such as lateral gene transfer, meiotic driver genes and transposable elements.
What happens to our ability to explain the occurrence of cooperation if we expand our conception of inheritance? Might we throw light on the possibility of cooperation between partners that fail to share a common genetic inheritance? Can other inheritance systems play an analogous explanatory role to that played by genes in kin selection theory? Are all inheritance systems equal, in this sense, or do they vary in ways that systematically affect their influence upon cooperation?
The aim of this conference is to pull together people who research different sorts of inheritance systems, or explore the impact of those systems on cooperation, to see if anything general can be extracted about the ways in which inheritance influences cooperation.
Francesca Merlin (Philosophy, Paris)
Heikki Helanterä (Biology, Helsinki)
Rachael Brown (Philosophy, Macquarie)
Simon Powers (Biology, Lausanne)
Maria Kronfeldner (Philosophy, Bielefeld)
Tobias Uller (Biology, Lund/Oxford)
Jonathan Birch (Philosophy, LSE)