David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
Learn more about PhilPapers
Philosophy 54 (210):439 (1979)
Genes cannot be selfish or unselfish, any more than atoms can be jealous, elephants abstract or biscuits teleological. This should not need mentioning, but Richard Dawkins's book The Selfish Gene has succeeded in confusing a number of people about it, including Mr J. L. Mackie. What Mackie welcomes in Dawkins is a new, biological-looking kind of support for philosophic egoism. If this support came from Dawkins's producing important new facts, or good new interpretations of old facts, about animal life, this could be very interesting. Dawkins, however, simply has a weakness for the old game of Brocken-spectre moralizing—the one where the player strikes attitudes on a peak at sunrise, gazes awe-struck at his gigantic shadow on the clouds, and reports his observations as cosmic truths. He is an uncritical philosophic egoist in the first place, and merely feeds the egoist assumption into his a priori biological speculations, only rarely glancing at the relevant facts of animal behaviour and genetics, and ignoring their failure to support him. There is nothing empirical about Dawkins. Critics have repeatedly pointed out that his notions of genetics are unworkable. I shall come to this point later, but I shall not begin with it, because, damning though it is, it may seem to some people irrelevant to his main contention. It is natural for a reader to suppose that his over-simplified drama about genes is just a convenient stylistic device, because it seems obvious that the personification of them must be just a metaphor. Indeed he himself sometimes says that it is so. But in fact this personification, in its literal sense, is essential for his whole contention; without it he is bankrupt. His central point is that the emotional nature of man is exclusively self-interested, and he argues this by claiming that all emotional nature is so. Since the emotional nature of animals clearly is not exclusively selfinterested, nor based on any long-term calculation at all, he resorts to arguing from speculations about the emotional nature of genes, which he treats as the source and archetype of all emotional nature. This strange convoluted drama must be untwisted before the full force of the objections from genetics can be understood
|Keywords||No keywords specified (fix it)|
|Categories||categorize this paper)|
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
|Through your library|
References found in this work BETA
No references found.
Citations of this work BETA
Daniel C. Dennett (1983). Intentional Systems in Cognitive Ethology: The 'Panglossian Paradigm' Defended. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 6 (3):343-90.
Richard C. Lewontin (1983). Elementary Errors About Evolution. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 6 (3):367.
Michael T. Ghiselin (1983). Lloyd Morgan's Canon in Evolutionary Context. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 6 (3):362.
Arthur C. Danto (1983). Science as an International System. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 6 (3):359.
B. F. Skinner (1983). A Better Way to Deal with Selection. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 6 (3):377.
Similar books and articles
Jesse J. Prinz (2007). The Emotional Construction of Morals. Oxford University Press.
C. Kenneth Waters (1994). Genes Made Molecular. Philosophy of Science 61 (2):163-185.
Thomas A. C. Reydon (2009). Gene Names as Proper Names of Individuals: An Assessment. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 60 (2):409-432.
Peter J. Beurton, Raphael Falk & Hans-Jörg Rheinberger (eds.) (2000). The Concept of the Gene in Development and Evolution: Historical and Epistemological Perspectives. Cambridge University Press.
Steven P. R. Rose (1998). Lifelines: Biology Beyond Determinism. Oxford University Press.
Mary Midgley (1983). Selfish Genes and Social Darwinism. Philosophy 58 (225):365.
Nicholas Agar (1996). Teleogy and Genes. Biology and Philosophy 11 (3):289-300.
Added to index2010-08-10
Total downloads45 ( #74,595 of 1,725,833 )
Recent downloads (6 months)1 ( #348,700 of 1,725,833 )
How can I increase my downloads?