The Limits of ESS Methodology
In this paper we show that there are certain limits as to what applications of Maynard Smith’s concept of evolutionarily stable strategy (ESS) can tell us about evolutionary processes. We shall argue that ESS is very similar in spirit to a particular branch of rational choice game theory, namely, the literature on refinements of Nash equilibrium. In the first place, ESS can also be viewed as a Nash equilibrium refinement. At a deeper level, ESS shares a common structure with other rational choice equilibrium refinements. An equilibrium is evaluated according to whether it persists under specific kinds of perturbations. In the case of ESS, these perturbations are mutations. However, from a dynamical point of view, focusing exclusively on perturbations of equilibria provides only a partial account of the system under consideration. We will show that this has important consequences when it comes to analyzing game-theoretic models of evolutionary processes. In particular, there are non-ESS states which are significant for evolutionary dynamics.