Abstract

The term "natural selection" is commonly taken to refer to a key factor/cause/mechanism in the evolutionary process. However, there is no general agreement about what aspect/part of the evolutionary process the term is supposed to pick out; at least five different proposals can be found in the literature. So, although on one level of description there is - I’m quite sure - consensus about what the evolutionary process is like, on a more abstract level where the general structure of evolutionary explanation and the appropriate conceptual scheme is to be determined there isn’t. The disagreement sometimes surfaces as a disagreement about whether certain assertions involving the term “natural selection” are to be taken at face value rather than being considered as manners of speaking which should be avoided in a clear formulation of the theory.

After presenting the main alternative uses of the term "natural selection," and their limitations, I will provide a reconstruction of the situation in which Darwin made use of what we may call "the principle of natural selection." The import of the argument in which the principle takes part is to undermine a reason to deny that substantial evolutionary change is the best explanation of the data under consideration. Said argument does not, however, explain evolution in the sense of answering the question why there has been substantial evolutionary change rather than not.