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For some decades most biologists interested in design have agreed that natural selection leads to organisms acting as if they are maximizing a quantity known as "inclusive fitness." This maximization principle has been criticized on the (uncontested) grounds that other quantities, such as offspring number, predict gene frequency changes accurately in a wider range of mathematical models. Here, we adopt a resolution offered by Birch, who accepts the technical difficulties of establishing inclusive fitness maximization in a fully general model, while concluding that inclusive fitness is still useful as an organizing framework. We set out in more detail why inclusive fitness is such a practical and powerful framework, and provide verbal and conceptual arguments for why social biology would be more or less impossible without it. We aim to help mathematicians understand why social biologists are content to use inclusive fitness despite its theoretical weaknesses. Here, we also offer biologists practical advice for avoiding potential pitfalls.

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Journal article



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Fitness maximization, biological design, inclusive fitness, population genetics, social evolution, δ-weak selection