The descent of Darwinism ( a philosophical critique of sociobiology)

The following thesis offers a philosophical critique of sociobiology, which is identified as a recent attempt to produce a general theory of animal behaviour, encompassing an account of human nature. The first chapter examines the empirical and theoretical foundations of sociobiology, highlighting some of the philosophical topics regarding the relation of the natural and social sciences, and the attempt to offer an account of human nature within a largely mathematical and mechanistic theoretical framework. Chapter two looks at the major specific areas of human behaviour featured in sociobiological accounts. A close examination of empirical evidence, underlying theoretical assumptions, behavioural categories and definitions, and finally deduced conclusions reveals several weaknesses and examples of fallacious reasoning. The third chapter continues to examine the account of human nature in relation to the broadest and most abstract features of social structures and interactions. The political dimension of sociobiology is examined - both in terms of its account of political behaviour, and in the theoretical opposition between sociobiology and left wing ideologies. The sociobiological account of religious behaviour is rejected in favour of one couched in terms of social rather than genetically heritable dispositions. Chapter four evaluates the attempt to respond to early criticisms of sociobiology. It is argued that the main theoretical stance regarding human behaviour remains little changed, and that the new theoretical models create even more conceptual problems, thus failing to provide a framework for an account of human nature. The final chapter applies some ideas from evolutionary theory to specific areas of philosophical controversy: the relation of mind to language; the ascription of mental life to other species; functionalist and epiphenomenaiist accounts of consciousness. It is argued that empirical and theoretical considerations from the natural sciences may thus inform traditional areas of philosophical debate, creating useful interdisciplinary dialogues
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