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The Survival of the Fittest and Natural Selection

As the preservation of incapables is habitually secured by our social arrangements; and as very few except criminals are prevented by their inferiorities from leaving the average number of offspring (indeed the balance of fertility is probably in favour of the inferior); it results that survival of the fittest, can scarcely at all act in such a way as to produce specialities of nature, either bodily or mental. (Herbert Spencer, 1864, The Principles of Biology, p. 469)45

Wallace uses the expression survival of the fittest, which is often understood as the survival of the strongest.46 Survival, according to Wallace, depends mostly on health and behavior. These two dimensions of the organism can integrate themselves more or less easily with the resources of an environment. For Wallace, fitness is a way of doing things that is particularly well adapted to an environment, like a shoe in which a foot is comfortable. A piece of a puzzle fits with another piece when they can fit together and form the part of the design that is sought. This has nothing to do with the notion, driven by certain neo-Darwinian movements, that only the strongest survive. Not all tyrants and geniuses had children; those that did, did not necessarily beget particularly powerful or brilliant offspring.47

Health is the assimilating factor that rules survival. If an organism cannot withstand the temperature or the available food in an environment, it becomes ill and dies. The accommodating factor is the capacity to calibrate behavior. This behavior can be motivated by many types of thoughts and physiological mechanisms. Without knowing it, Wallace thus confirmed the importance that Lamarck gave to behavior, even if the framework of their thinking was different:

It is not the organs, which is to say the nature and shape of the parts of the body of an animal, which have created its habits and particular faculties. On the contrary, it is his habits, the way he lives, and the circumstances in which its parents met that have with time created the shape of his body, the number and the structure of his organs, and finally the faculties he possesses. (Lamarck, 1802, p. 44; translated by Marcel Duclos)

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