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survival of the fittestÜberleben des Angepasstesten (ger.)

  • A phrase used to describe the process of natural selection, expressing the fact that those organisms which are best adapted to their environment continue to live and produce offspring, while those of the same or related species which are less adapted perish. (OED 2012)
    adaptation survival
    Now if the individuals of a species are thus necessarily made unlike, in countless ways and degrees […]; then, among all the individuals, some will be less liable than others to have their equilibria overthrown by a particular incident force, previously unexperienced. Unless the change in the environment is of so violent a kind as to be universally fatal to the species, it must affect more or less differently the slightly different moving equilibria which the members of the species present. It cannot but happen that some will be more stable than others, when exposed to this new or altered factor. That is to say, it cannot but happen that those individuals whose functions are most out of equilibrium with the modified aggregate of external forces, will be those to die; and that those will survive whose functions happen to be most nearly in equilibrium with the modified aggregate of external forces. But this survival of the fittest, implies multiplication of the fittest. Out of the fittest thus multiplied, there will, as before, be an overthrowing of the moving equilibrium wherever it presents the least opposing force to the new incident force. And by the continual destruction of the individuals that are the least capable of maintaining their equilibria in presence of this new incident force, there must eventually be arrived at an altered type completely in equilibrium with the altered conditions. […] This survival of the fittest, which I have here sought to express in mechanical terms, is that which Mr Darwin has called “natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.”
    Spencer, H. (1864). The Principles of Biology, vol. 1: 444.
    I fully agree with all that you say on the advantages of H. Spencer’s excellent expression of “the survival of the fittest.” This, however, had not occurred to me till reading your letter. It is, however, a great objection to this term that it cannot be used as a substantive governing a verb; and that this is a real objection I infer from H. Spencer continually using the words, natural selection. […] The term Natural Selection has now been so largely used abroad and at home, that I doubt whether it could be given up, and with all its faults I should be sorry to see the attempt made. Whether it will be rejected must now depend “on the survival of the fittest.”
    Darwin, C. (1866). [Letter to A.R. Wallace, July, 5 1866] (in: The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, vol. 3, ed by. F. Darwin, London 1887): 45f.

    If we assume that each particular variation was from the beginning of all time preordained, the plasticity of organisation, which leads to many injurious deviations of structure, as well as that redundant power of reproduction which inevitably leads to a struggle for existence, and, as a consequence, to the natural selection or survival of the fittest, must appear to us superfluous laws of nature.

    Darwin, C. (1868). The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication, vol. 2: 432.

    Natürliche Zuchtwahl oder das Überleben des Passendsten
    Carus, J.V. (Übers.) (1868). Darwin, C. Das Variiren der Thiere und Pflanzen im Zustande der Domestication, Bd. 2: 298.
    [The] preservation of favourable individual differences and variations, and the destruction of those which are injurious, I have called Natural Selection, or the Survival of the Fittest
    Darwin, C. (1859/72). On the Origin of Species: 64.
    ein Überleben des am besten Angepassten
    Vetter, B. (Übers.) (1876). Spencer, H., System der synthetischen Philosophie, Die Principien der Biologie, Bd. 1: 386.

    The result of the struggle for existence would be the survival of the fittest among an indefinite number of varieties.

    Huxley, T.H. (1877). A Manual of the Anatomy of Invertebrated Animals: 40.

    der Kampf ums Dasein und das Ueberleben des Tüchtigsten schon im Neste [des Gelbspötters]
    Placzek, B. (1881). Beobachtungen an einer Spötter-Hecke. Kosmos 10, 141-144: 141.

    survival of the fittest The differential and greater success of the best adapted genotypes.

    Lincoln, R.J., Boxshall, G.A. & Clark, P.F. (1982). A Dictionary of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics: 240.

    survival of the fitter
    Sober, E. (1984). The Nature of Selection: 176.

Paul, D.B. (1988). The selection of the “survival of the fittest”. J. Hist. Biol. 21, 411-424.

Claeys, G. (2000). The „survival of the fittest“ and the origins of social darwinism. Journal of the History of Ideas 61, 223-240.

Schmieder, F. (2011). On the introduction and early discussions of the metaphor survival of the fittest. Contributions to the History of Concepts 6, 53-68.