In the years leading up to the Second World War the ethologists Konrad Lorenz and Nikolaas Tinbergen, created the tradition of rigorous, Darwinian research on animal behavior that developed into modern behavioral ecology. At first glance, research on specifically human behavior seems to exhibit greater discontinuity that research on animal behavior in general. The 'human ethology' of the 1960s appears to have been replaced in the early 1970s by a new approach called ‘sociobiology’. Sociobiology in its turn appears (...) to have been replaced by an approach calling itself Evolutionary Psychology. Closer examination, however, reveals a great deal of continuity between these schools. At present, whilst Evolutionary Psychology is the most visible form of evolutionary psychology, empirical and theoretical research on the evolution of mind and behavior is marked by a diversity of ideas and approaches and it is far from clear which direction(s) the field will take in future. (shrink)
The second word in the subtitle of this article is crucial. For there can be no doubt but that the possibility of sociobiology below the human level has already been abundantly realized in, for instance, the main body of E. O. Wilson's enormous and encyclopedic treatise Sociobiology: The New Synthesis. What may more reasonably be doubted, and what is in fact questioned here, is whether, as Wilson and others hope and believe, there is much room, or indeed any, (...) for a sociobiology of our own notoriously wayward and idiosyncratic species. In proposing this particular project Wilson and his colleagues have seen themselves as promoting a climactic conquest for evolutionary biology. For surely, they seem to have thought, now, more than a century after Darwin, it is high time and past time to launch the final assault upon the last citadel. But, as we shall proceed to argue, there are reasonsreasons which were available at least in outline even to Darwin himselfwhy the ideas which have been so triumphantly successful in explaining The Origin of Species cannot properly be applied to what is in truth a fundamentally different task. They cannot, that is to say, properly be transferred to explain developments either within or out of the particular problem species of which the author of that book, along with both all the authors and all the readers of all other books, have been themselves members. (shrink)
The term 'sociobiology' was introduced in E. O. Wilson's Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (1975) as the application of evolutionary theory to social behavior. Sociobiologists claim that many social behaviors have been shaped by natural selection for reproductive success, and they attempt to reconstruct the evolutionary histories of particular behaviors or behavioral strategies. This survey attempts to clarify and evaluate the aim of sociobiology. Given that a neutral account is impossible, this entry does the next best thing. It (...) takes sociobiology as well as its critics seriously. On the one hand, by demonstrating that current studies of evolution and human behavior are based on Darwin's arguments for evolution (properly updated), we gain a strong rationale for thinking that something closer to sociobiology than to disconnectionism is needed to properly understand human sociality. Nevertheless, this survey reconstructs sociobiology in its best light, according to its aims. Consequently, criticism of sociobiology as it is actually practiced is not ignored or dismissed. This approach reveals what is best about sociobiology, while remaining sensitive to many of the problems it has generated. (shrink)
Edward O. Wilson's forays into human sociobiology have been the target of persistent, vehement attack by his Harvard colleague in evolutionary biology, Richard C. Lewontin. Through examination of existing documents in the case, together with in-depth personal interviews of Wilson, Lewontin, and other biologists, the reasons for Wilson's stance and Lewontin's criticisms are uncovered. It is argued that the dispute is not primarily personally or politically motivated, but involves a conflict between long-term scientific-cum-moral agendas, with the reductionist program as (...) a key issue. It is concluded that it is in the interest of both disputants to keep the controversy alive. (shrink)
This article examines the belief among the cultural elites that 'people' should be protected from dangerous knowledge, 'dangerous' in the sense that there are factual statements which may have negative moral and political consequences to society. Such a belief in the negative consequences of dangerous - that is, politically suspicious - knowledge represents an intellectual tradition that goes back to Plato and his famous state-utopian work Republic. This article analyses moral interpretations of statements regarding matters of fact (so-called moral reading), (...) and draws conclusions about the reasons why knowledge can be considered dangerous to 'the people' or to some specific groups in the population, such as children, mothers, students, the sick and dying and the working class. The so-called sociobiology debate, a controversy that started with the publication of the zoologist E.O. Wilson's Sociobiology in 1975, is discussed in this article as a 'case study' of dangerous knowledge. (shrink)
The fundamental unit of assessment in the sociobiology debate is neither a field nor a theory, but a framework of group commitments. Recourse to the framework concept is motivated, in general, by post-Kuhnian philosophy of scientific change and, in particular, by the dispute between E. O. Wilson and R. C. Lewontin. The framework concept is explicated in terms of commitments about problems, domain, disciplinary relations, exemplars, and performance evaluations. One upshot is that debate over such charges as genetic determinism, (...) reductionism, adaptationism, and the biologization of human nature has been vexed. It has lost sight of human sociobiology's central problem, namely to help show that the modern synthesis is complete. (shrink)
Modern socialist economic reforms which center on the establishment of a commodity based economic system, demand a reconsideration of human nature. Marxism and human sociobiology give different answers to questions about human nature, but neither is complete in itself. It seems timely, therefore, to suggest that a combination of biological understanding with a Marxist-based social understanding would produce a more adequate notion of human nature, thereby helping us to resolve a number of problems posed by reforms currently taking place (...) in socialist countries. We might also hope to face new challenges posed in the future. (shrink)
Is sociobiology a new paradigm? A number of people have claimed that it is. I argue that, sociologically speaking, it may well be. But epistemologically, it is not. The case rests on one's interpretation of the major Darwinian evolutionary mechanism, natural selection. In this note, it is shown that sociobiology relies on an orthodox understanding of selection. Thus, in crucial epistemological respects, sociobiology is continuous with the rest of Darwinian evolutionary theory.
This paper discusses the reception of Darwinian evolutionary theory and sociobiology in Japan. Darwinism was introduced into Japan in the late 19th century and Japanese people readily accepted the concept of evolution because, lacking Christianity, there was no religious opposition. However, the theory of evolution was treated as a kind of social scientific tool, i.e., social Spencerism and eugenics. Although evolutionary biology was developed during the late 19th and the early 20th century, orthodox Darwinian theory was neglected for a (...) long time. In the mid 1980s, sociobiology was introduced but it was ignored and criticized by a large part of the ecologist-evolutionist community in Japan. This hostile attitude was due to the absence of Darwinism among these scientists. Compared with the reception of sociobiology in English-speaking countries, there were both similarities and differences in Japan. (shrink)
Recent deconstructive developments in ecology (doubts about the existence of unified communities and ecosystems, the diversity-stability hypothesis, and a natural homeostasis or “balance of nature”; and an emphasis on “chaos,” “perturbation,” and directionless change in living nature) and the advent of sociobiology (selfish genes) may seem to undermine the scientific foundations of environmental ethics, especially the Leopold land ethic. A reassessment of the Leopold land ethic in light of these developments (and vice versa) indicates that the land ethic is (...) still a viable environmental ethic, if judiciously updated and revised. (shrink)
Sociobiology has not been well received in Eastern Europe. Reasons for this are listed and discussed. It is suggested that times are changing and that sociobiology will have more success in the future.
Abstract This paper turns the tables on the criticisms of sociobiology that stem from a sociological perspective; many of those criticisms lack cogency and coherence in such measure as to demand, in their turn, a psycho?sociological explanation rather than a rational justification. This thesis, after a brief exposition of the main ideas of sociobiology, is argued in terms of four of the most prominent complaints made against it. Far from embodying tired prejudices about the psychological and sociological implications (...) of biology, sociobiology actually reverses a number of naive assumptions about the consequences of natural selection. I surmise that what really provokes the critics of sociobiology is a certain philosophical relevance of sociobiology both in the broad sense (the application of natural selection principles to behaviour) and in the narrow sense (the insistence on the centrality of certain mechanisms, such as gene selection). In both cases, taking biology seriously affects our philosophical vision of the nature of human beings. At the deepest level, however, the distinction between the level at which rational criteria apply and those where we must have recourse to psycho?social explanations probably breaks down. (shrink)
The term ‘sociobiology’ was introduced in E. O. Wilson's Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (1975) as the application of evolutionary theory to social behavior. Sociobiologists claim that many social behaviors have been shaped by natural selection for reproductive success, and they attempt to reconstruct the evolutionary histories of particular behaviors or behavioral strategies.
I offer some proposals for how human sociobiology might be transformed from a collection of unsupported claims into a rigorous successor discipline. The achievement of behavioral ecology in providing functional descriptions of animal behavior suggest that the goal of human sociobiology ought to be to give functional characterizations of human behavior. Much traditional human sociobiology tries to be more ambitious, attempting to build grand theories of human nature. I argue that these ventures fail, and that pursuit of (...) the more modest task of achieving functional descriptions will require that human sociobiologists undergo a four-stage process. The four stages involve: (1) the liberalization of evolutionary theory, (2) the construction of precise models and the development of systematic data, (3) the recognition of the effects of cultural transmission, and (4) the integration of evolutionary ideas with considerations about proximate and developmental mechanisms. Only the first two stages are treated in any detail. (shrink)
I claim that explanations of human behaviour by Edward O. Wilsonand Charles Lumsden are constituted by a religiously functioningmetaphysics: emergent materialism. The constitutive effects areidentified using six criteria, beginning with a metaphorical re-description of dissimilarities between levels of organization interms of the lower level, and consist of conceptual andexplanatory reductions (CER). Wilson and Lumsden practice CER,even though CER is not required by emergent materialism. Theypreconceive this practice by a re-description which conflates thelevels of organization and explain failure of CER in (...) terms oftechnical, not ontological or epistemological reasons. Iinterpret these three practices as a reaction of Wilson againsthis early Christian religious beliefs. Statements by Wilsonindicate this reaction ultimately constitutes his explanations ofsocial, moral and religious behaviour.Tested knowledge about matter at the lower level functions as ametaphysical belief when applied to the higher level becausethere it is untested. I offer twelve criteria for the diagnosisof religious functions of this metaphysical materialism, five ofwhich are satisfied. I show that the constitutive effects of thismaterialism in sociobiology are due to its religious functions,are beneficial for science and do not destroy its public nature. (shrink)
The semantic view of scientific theories has been defended as more adequate than the "received" view, especially with respect to biological theories. However, the semantic view has not been evaluated on its own terms. In this paper it is first shown how the theory of sociobiology propounded by E.O. Wilson can be understood on the semantic approach. The criticism that Wilson's theory is beset by the problem of unreliable generalizations is discussed. It is suggested that this problem results from (...) the use of the model-building strategy in theory construction. The author concludes that the problem is pressing enough to impugn the semantic view as an adequate account of sociobiological theory. (shrink)
This essay views Christian doctrines of the atonement in the light of evolution and sociobiology. It argues that most of the doctrines are false because they use a false premise, the historicity of Adam and the Fall. However, two doctrines are not false on those grounds: Abelard’s idea that Jesus’ life is an example and Athanasius’s concept that the atonement changes human nature. Employing evolution’s and sociobiology’s concepts of the egocentric and ethnocentric nature of humanity and the synergy (...) between genes and environments to produce a "nature," this essay shows that these two doctrines can be amalgamated to make sense of the atonement in the late twentieth century. (shrink)
Lifelines by Steven Rose is supposed to present a new perspective on biology replacing an emphasis on genes with one on organisms. However, much of the book is a highly biased critique of sociobiology and behavior genetics. Some of the flaws in Rose's description and depiction of these fields are presented and refuted. Also, it would appear that these aspects of the book and many others are, in fact, related more to Rose's perennial concern for the ideology, social origins (...) or social consequences of behavioral biology. These concerns are, I believe based, in part, upon Rose's misunderstandings and misinterpretations of genetics, behavior genetics, and sociobiology. (shrink)
Abstract Terminology within the biological sciences gets its import not just from semantic meaning, but also from the way it functions within the rhetorics of the various disciplinary practices. The ?sociobiology? of human behavior inherits three distinct rhetorics from the genetic disciplines. Sociobiologists use population genetic, biometrical genetic, and molecular genetic rhetorics, without acknowledging the conceptual and experimental constraints that are assumed by geneticists. The eclectic blending of these three rhetorics obscures important differences of context and meaning. Sociobiologists use (...) foundational terms in genetics, such as ?gene?, ?fitness?, ?evolution?, ?heritability?, ?trait? and ?polygenic inheritance?, in starkly different ways from geneticists, while basing their analysis of human behavior on the implied authority of genetics. As a free?floating ?gene talk? moves across different disciplinary contexts, and before different audiences, it takes the form of an over?simplified and misleading arch?determinism. The result is widespread application of vague, incomplete, and distorted biological theory. If most sociobiologists, do not deliberately promote biological determinism, still less a political agenda, there is ample evidence that they misconstrue the implications of the genetic language that they borrow. (shrink)
Sociobiology has always had a strong relationship with classical psychometrics, and with intelligence testing in particular. The major ideological impact of Eugenics prior to 1940 led many psychometricians to adopt a sociobiological perspective, but when this turned out, in the 1960's, to be controversial many of the procedures of classical psychometrics were abandoned. Their place was taken by functional psychometrics, based on criterion reference testing, where the content of test items was related directly to very specific skills which may (...) be required in the work place or other setting, and the use of intervening psychological traits such as intelligence was eliminated. It is demonstrated here that much of the theory of traits can be derived directly from functional psychometrics, without the need to make any sociobiological presuppositions. (shrink)
Almost all of the themes contained in E.O.Wilson's sociobiological writing on war and human aggression were prefigured in Anglo-American bio-social discourse, c. 1880–1919. Instinct theory – stemming from animal psychology and the genetics revolution – encouraged the belief that pugnacity had been programmed into the ancient part of the human brain as a result of evolutionary pressures dating from prehistory. War was seen to be instinct-driven, and genocidal fighting postulated as a eugenic force in early human evolution. War was explained (...) in distinctly modern sociobiological terms as adaptive behaviour springing from territorial urges, crowding, competition for resources and reproductive advantage, ethnocentrism and pseudo-speciation. (shrink)
In the past 150 years there have been many attempts to draw parallels between cultural and biological evolution. Most of these attempts were flawed due to lack of knowledge and false ideas about evolution. In recent decades these shortcomings have been cleared away, thus triggering a renewed interest in the subject. This paper offers a critical survey of the main issues and arguments in that discussion. The paper starts with an explication of the Darwinian algorithm of evolution. It is argued (...) that this ‘formula’ is substrate-neutral, which means that biological evolution might not be the only Darwinian process. Other dynamic systems could evolve as well provided that certain conditions are met. In the case of human culture this seems to be the case. The paper then focuses on the notion of niche construction. It is argued that niche construction plays a crucial role in human evolution because it has altered the sources of natural selection and thus the path of evolution. Next two approaches to cultural evolution are discussed: sociobiology and memetics. I will argue that both approaches have flaws because they either underestimate the influence of culture or they stretch analogies too far. Finally two common objections against the idea of cultural evolution are addressed: Lamarckian inheritance and the issue of guided variation. I will argue that although cultural evolution differs from biological evolution in several respects, these discrepancies do not jeopardize the claim that cultural evolution is essentially Darwinian. (shrink)
Kim Sterelny and Paul Griffiths (Sterelny 1992, Sterelny and Griffiths 1999) have argued that sociobiology is unworkable because it requires that human behaviors can be adaptations; however, behaviors produced by a functionalist psychology do not meet Lewontin's quasi-independence criterion and therefore cannot be adaptations. Consequently, an evolutionary psychologywhich regards psychological mechanisms as adaptationsshould replace sociobiology. I address two interpretations of their argument. I argue that the strong interpretation fails because functionalist psychology need not prevent behaviors from evolving independently, (...) and it relies on too strong an interpretation of the quasi-independence criterion. The weaker interpretation does not undermine sociobiology, and evolutionary psychology would be vulnerable to the same criticism. Finally, I offer reasons to think that both mental mechanisms and behaviors can be adaptations. (shrink)
Most research in the natural sciences passes through repeated cycles of a analytic reduction to the next lower level of organization, then resynthesis to the original level, then new analyticareduction, and so on. A residue of unexplained phenomena at the original level appears at first to require a holistic description independent of the lower level, but the residue shrinks as knowledge increases.This principle is well illustrated by recent studies from the social organization of insects, several examples of which are cited (...) here. In theory it should also apply to human social organization. Culture is biological: meaning in culture can be approached as the outcome of mechanism-based causation, because culture stems from individual cognition, which has a biological basis. It would seem to follow that the most effective way to study culture is across all levels of organization from gene to society, passing repetitively through a cycle of reduction and synthesis in the manner of the natural sciences. Reductionistic analysis is favored by the tendency of semantic memory and culture to occur in discrete units that are arranged hierarchically. (shrink)
Mealey argued that sociopathy is an evolutionary stable strategy subject to frequency-dependent selection – high levels of sociopathy being advantageous to the individual if population-wide frequencies of it are low, and vice versa. I argue that at least one alternative hypothesis exists that explains her data equally well. Alternative hypotheses must be formulated and tested before any theory can be validated.
The group selection controversy largely focuses on altruism (e.g., Wilson 1983; Lloyd 2001; Shavit 2004; Okasha 2006, 173ff; Borrello 2010; Leigh 2010; Rosas 2010; Hamilton and Dimond in press). Multilevel selection theory is a resolution of this controversy. Whereas kin selection partitions inclusive fitness into direct and indirect components (via influencing the replication of copies of genes in other individuals), multilevel selection considers within-group and between-group components of fitness (Gardner et al. 2011; Lion et al. 2011). Two scenarios of multilevel (...) selection are often distinguished (Damuth and Heisler 1988; Okasha 2006; Pigliucci 2010): (1) group structure only divides individual fitnesses into within- and between-group components (MLS1); and, (2) groups get their own component of fitness and also, in most definitions, a group-level adaptation (MLS2). (shrink)
The development of modern evolutionary ethics began shortly after the publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection. Early discussions were plagued by several problems. First, evolutionary ethical explanations were dependent on group-selection accounts of social behavior (especially the explanation of altruism). Second, they seem to violate the philosophical principle that “ought” statements cannot be derived from “is” statements alone (values cannot be derivedfrom facts alone). Third, evolutionary ethics appeared to be biologically deterministic, deemed incompatible with (...) the free will required for ethics to be possible. Fourth, social policies based on evolutionary theory (for example, eugenics in the early part of this century) seemed patently unethical. Sociobiology (which coalesced as a field of study with Edward O. Wilson's Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, 1975) addressed several of these problems and provided a rich framework and a new impetus for evolutionary ethics. The lingering problems were the philosophical is-ought barrier and biological determinism. After tracing the early and more recent development of evolutionary ethics, I argue that the remaining problems can be surmounted and an incipient evolutionary ethics can be defended. Thoroughgoing evolutionaryethics must await theoretical developments in neurobiology and cognitive science. (shrink)
Is it possible to be a socio-biologist and a feminist? Socio-biology has been accused of being a macho ideological arsenal, which seems to exclude in advance any possibility of amending it. However that was the project of several female researchers (in particular S. B. Hrdy and P. A. Gowaty), who suggested adopting the science’s theoretical framework in order to change it from within. This has been expressed in a change of focus: an appeal to take account of female strategies and (...) their evolution as well as the "sex war" at work in process of reproduction. This opening out of socio-biology’s theoretical framework has not been undertaken in the name of the privilege of a "female perspective" but it has without a doubt been nourished by the researchers’ marginal position in their discipline as well as their political involvement. "Male" contributions, such as W. G. Eberhard’s work on the "female’s cryptic choice", are also part of this movement though they do not claim allegiance to it. Similarly, a critical study has been carried out on the vocabulary of socio-biology: not in order to exercise a "politically correct" ideological tyranny but to improve the efficiency of the conceptual tools introduced by the science. Today some feminists think feminism should incorporate socio-biology’s results but resistance still remains strong. Though many feminists think feminism has more to bring to biology than the reverse, many biologists consider that feminism is just an ideology that should remain apart from scientific work. (shrink)
Sociobiologists explain human social behavior as genetically adapative. The intervention of cultural learning into the processes of the acquisition and transmission of human behavior makes such explanation prima facie unjustified. William Durham has developed a theory of coevolution which claims that although the processes of genetic evolution and cultural evolution are independent, the results of the two processes are "functionally complementary." In this paper I characterize the conditions necessary for giving an explanation by adaptation of human behavior and argue that (...) Durham's defense of functional complementarity cannot be justified until further evidence of the causal background conditions of cultural transmission and selection are presented. (shrink)