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The causal meaning of Hamilton's rule

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Article number160037
Number of pages9
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Early online date16 Mar 2016
StatePublished - Mar 2016


Hamilton’s original derivation of his rule for the spread of an altruistic gene (rb>c) assumed additivity of costs and benefits. Recently, it has been argued that an exact version of the rule holds under non-additive pay-offs, so long as the cost and benefit terms are suitably defined, as partial regression coefficients. However, critics have questioned both the biological significance and the causal meaning of the resulting rule. This paper examines the causal meaning of the generalized Hamilton’s rule in a simple model, by computing the effect of a hypothetical experiment to assess the cost of a social action and comparing it to the partial regression definition. The two do not agree. A possible way of salvaging the causal meaning of Hamilton’s rule is explored, by appeal to R. A. Fisher’s ‘average effect of a gene substitution’.

    Research areas

  • Hamilton’s rule, altruism, causality, average effect

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    Rights statement: (C) 2016 The Authors. Published by the Royal Society under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, provided the original author and source are credited

    Final published version, 368 KB, PDF-document

    License: CC BY


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