We examine in detail how epidemiological feedbacks combine with costs and benefits to determine the evolution of resistance by systematically analysing continuously stable strategies (CSS) for different host–parasite frameworks. The mode of resistance (innate versus acquired), the nature of the host (i.e. life-history and immunological memory) and the nature of the disease (effects on fertility or mortality) all impact on the feedbacks that are critical to the evolution of resistance. By identifying relationships between CSS investment and the underlying epidemiological feedback for each mode of resistance in each framework, we distil complex feedbacks into simple combinations of selection pressures. When the parasite does not affect fertility, CSS investment reflects only the benefit of resistance and we explain why this is markedly different for innate and acquired resistance. If infection has no effect on host fertility, CSS investment in acquired immunity increases with the square of disease prevalence. While in contrast for evolving innate resistance, CSS investment is greatest at intermediate prevalence. When disease impacts fertility, only a fraction of the host population reproduce, and this introduces new ecological feedbacks to both the cost of resistance and the damage from infection. The multiple feedbacks in this case lead to the alternative result that the higher the abundance of infecteds, the higher the investment in innate resistance. A key insight is that maximal investment occurs at intermediate lifespans in a range of different host–parasite interactions, but for disparate reasons which can only be understood by a detailed analysis of the feedbacks. We discuss the extension of our approach to structured host populations and parasite community dynamics.