This essay appeared in CHOICE MAGAZINE (September, 1998)
Posted at <> with permission
Toward the "New Synthesis": Evolution, Human Nature,
and the Social Sciences



Over the past 20 years, an infusion of Darwinian evolutionary theory has begun to transform the behavioral and social sciences, especially psychology, sociology, economics, and political science. This "new synthesis" has been marked by a proliferation of biological explanations for behaviors traditionally thought to be the product of human culture. As evolutionary notions spread throughout these sciences, new areas of research have challenged traditional paradigms. This essay will examine some of the more recent literature associated with these new evolutionarily based behavioral and social sciences.

But first, it is important to acknowledge two limiting factors influencing the structure of this project. To begin with, the infusion of evolutionary theory tends to "reduce" the traditional behavioral and social sciences to biological methodology, principles, and metaphors. As these disciplines become "biologized" the traditional lines between them disappear. Hence, the new disciplinary headings utilized in this bibliographical essay (evolutionary psychology, evolutionary epistemology, evolutionary ethics, evolutionary economics, and evolu-tionary politics) turn out to be rather arbitrary, and many of the books discussed could be categorized under multiple headings. Moreover, since the late 1970s, a ponderous number of books have been published under the general topic of "evolution." In this essay, discussion is limited to the most recent and significant works within the behavioral and social sciences that are also comprehensible to college under-graduates. Unfortunately, this required the omission of many worthy recent scholarly works and some of the genre's significant older works.

Early Sociobiology and Its Critics

In the 1970s, biologists Edward 0. Wilson and Richard Dawkins launched the evolutionary discipline known as "sociobiology." They did not invent it. Much of the conceptual framework had already been established in the 1960s by earlier scientists such as George Williams, William Hamilton, John Maynard Smith, Konrad Lorenz, and others. However, two popular works by Wilson, Sociobiology and On Human Nature, brought disparate elements into a single coherent theory that he dubbed "sociobiology." Wilson, a world authority on ant societies, persuasively advanced ethologists' long-held view that the social behavior of all organisms, including that of human beings, is predominantly the product of genetics and natural selection. He described "sociobiology" as a branch of evolutionary biology and modern population biology devoted to "the systematic study of the biological basis of all social behavior." In 1976, Richard Dawkins published The Selfish Gene, in which he hypothesized that evolution occurs at the genetic level and that all individual organisms are "survival machines." His popular book, which focused primarily on the evolutionary basis of altruism, cautioned that one may expect little help from biology if one hopes to build a society in which individuals generously and unselfishly cooperate toward a common good. Dawkins went on to argue that, although our genes instruct us to be selfish, human beings can sometimes "upset their designs" by passing down ideas (or memes) through culture. "Memetics," Dawkins's proposed research program, remains the starting point of much recent discussion on evolutionary epistemology and the evolution of culture (see evolutionary epistemology discussed below).

Wilson and Dawkins not only provided much of the scientific groundwork for sociobiology, they also contributed substantially to a growing tradition of popular science writing. Indeed, many of the subsequent writers within the evolutionary genre have followed them in abandoning the dry, pedantic writing style of academe in favor of the more palatable prose of science journalism. Publishing companies followed suit by marketing these works to popular audiences. Harvard University Press, for example, vigorously advertised Wilson's Sociobiology with full-page ads in The New York Times, an unusual strategy for promoting a science book at that time. This crossover from the scholarly to the popular market greatly expanded the scale of sociobiology's reception, which in turn precipitated a much wider range of criticism.

 There were three main reasons for the decidedly hostile welcome these works received. First, the final chapter of Wilson's Sociobiology, "Man: From Sociobiology to Sociology," predicted that biology would eventually subsume, or "biologize," both the humanities and the social sciences. Indeed, the opening chapter of On Human Nature reiterated that controversial prediction. "Biology," he wrote, "is the key to human nature, and social scientists cannot afford to ignore its rapidly tightening principles. But the social sciences are potentially far richer in content. Eventually they will absorb the relevant ideas of biology and go on to beggar them." Both works also threatened to usurp philosophy and theology's longstanding reign over ethics. Hence, Wilson's seemingly arrogant prediction of a forthcoming "new synthesis" inspired organized political resistance from anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists, political scientists, economists, and philosophers, who sought to defend their disciplines from the new Darwinian threat. Secondly, as John William Neuhaus points out in his excellent contribution to the "new synthesis," Toward a Biocritical Sociology, the behavioral sciences, especially sociology, have had a long history of methodological isolation from biology. Emile Durkheim, an early pioneer of that discipline, had insisted that sociology must have a "qualitatively distinct" method of structuring reality, based on the analysis of cultural traditions. Under the weight of Durkheim's prodigious influence, subsequent sociologists were dissuaded from conducting biosocial analysis. In sociology, this perpetuated the kind of methodological dualism that Wilson sought to eliminate. Thirdly, in the eyes of many of its critics, sociobiology's emphasis on "nature" rather than "nurture," which suggested limits to the malleability of human behavior, always seemed to support a conservative laissez-faire political agenda. This united a cadre of opposing liberals bent on political reform. It was, in fact, widely acknowledged that many of the early scientific critics of sociobiology harbored left-wing or Marxist political leanings, including Richard Lewontin and Steven J. Gould, two of Wilson's most vocal critics at Harvard.

Two early books critical of sociobiology's ambitious agenda are especially noteworthy. R.C. Lewontin, Steven Rose, and Leon J. Kamins's Not in Our Genes is a detailed critique of biological determinism and its inherently con-servative political agenda. They contend that many of sociobiology's claims are based on insect and animal studies, and that there is little empirical evidence to show that human behavior is similarly determined by these so-called "selfish genes." Philip Kitcher's Vaulting Ambition also points to sociobiology's numerous scientific flaws and political dangers. There are many older works that provide valuable background on the early debate over sociobiology. For a useful collection of some of the earliest essays on the scientific, philosophical, and ethical debate over sociobiology, one should see The Sociobiology Debate, edited by Arthur Caplan. Many early scientific essays can be found in the journal Ethology and Sociobiology (recently renamed Evolution and Human Behavior).

Historical Perspective

There have been few book-length attempts to put the sociobiological movement and its critics into historical perspective. The Selfish Gene was probably the first historical study of the scientific and philosophical ideas associated with sociobiology. As an intellectual historian, Dawkins focused primarily on the internal debate between scientists. He did not provide biographical data on Wilson or himself, nor did he analyze the social and intellectual climate of the 1970s and 1980s. In 1994, Wilson published his memoir, Naturalist, which included two chapters covering some of the key events in the history of sociobiology. Although one would be hard-pressed to call this a work of historical analysis, it does provide much insight. Wilson's account of his relationship with Lewontin and Gould at Harvard is especially interesting. Carl N. Degler's In Search of Human Nature is still the best full-blown historical study of sociobiology. He documents the 19th-century rise of biological determinism, its early 20th-century repudiation, and its recent resurgence in the wake of sociobiology.

Although its focus is on the history of the "idea of progress" in biology and evolutionary theory since the 19th century, Michael Ruse's Monad to Man provides an essential backdrop for understanding both the evolutionary concept and the social and cultural structures that have supported it. His observation that Wilson's concept of evolution is contaminated with the old pre-Darwinian notion of "progress" is important both historically and philosophically. Many other recent works incorporate at least some historical perspective. Robert Wright's The Moral Animal combines his exposition of evolutionary psychology with a biographical account of Charles Darwin's own thoughts, emotions, and behavior.

Other historical works have been much less sympathetic to sociobiology. The sexist drift of science, biology, and sociobiology has been the focus of several critical works by Donna J. Haraway. By combining a constructivist history of science with feminist-socialist political thought, Haraway has developed a matchless critique of biological science as it perpetuates structural hierarchy, patriarchy, and domination. In Simians, Cyborgs, and Women (1991), Haraway traces basic sociobiological principles to external developments in both communications science (cybernetics) and investment management (market capitalism). It is important to note that over the years the term "sociobiology" has become largely a historical artifact, rarely encountered in recent evolutionary literature. This is partly due to its early association with politically sensitive topics including selfishness, sexism, aggression, elitism, and ethnocentrism. Nevertheless, its basic principles remain well preserved in the newly forged evolutionarily based human sciences and disciplines of evolutionary psychology, evolutionary epistemology, evolutionary economics, evolutionary ethics, and evolutionary politics.

Evolutionary Psychology

According to its critics, the behavioral and social sciences have long been plagued by the problem of "conceptual disintegration." That is, their various branches—especially psychology, sociology, and economics—posit theories, concepts, and conclusions incompatible with one another, and they often ignore and/or contradict fundamental biological principles. In the wake of this criticism, many recent scientists have attempted to carry forth Wilson's vision of a "new synthesis" by unifying these sciences under the banner of "evolutionary psychology." The leading premise of evolutionary psychology is that the Darwinian forces of variation and natural selection have shaped both the human mind and human behavior. So, if human beings are indeed selfish "survival machines," as Wilson and Dawkins insist, and if the primary aim of all adaptation is to increase the frequency and distribution of selfish genes into the future, then evolutionary biology may hold the key to universal human nature. This promise of universality permeates evolutionary psychology.

Neuhaus's Toward a Biocritical Sociology points out that traditional sociology, based on the analysis of social and cultural tradition, tends to overemphasize the differences between human beings. A more "biocritical" approach, he argues, can lead to a greater understanding of human similarities. Jerome H. Barkow, Leda Cosmides, and John Tooby, in the introduction to their excellent collection of essays The Adapted Mind, echo their conviction that there exists a universal human nature underlying psychological mechanisms. These mechanisms are identical to those of the hunters and gatherers of the Pleistocene period of two million years ago. But although the modern mind has been programmed by millions of years of evolution, it may not be particularly well adapted to cope with the problems of postindustrial society. Indeed, this rift between our genetic predisposition and the exigencies of modern life is a common theme among evolutionary psychologists. Because of its focus on "adaptation" and "inclusive fitness," much of the research in evolutionary psychology has been on what Dawkins describes as the "bearing" and "caring" of offspring. Simply stated, evolutionary psychology says that the mental life of modern males is the same as that of the polygynous Pleistocene warriors and hunters, and the mental life of females is that of (mostly) monogamous Pleistocene mothers and nurses. Human reproduction entails bringing together these two "selfish survival machines" long enough to engage in sexual intercourse and to nurture their offspring long enough to insure that these selfish genes get passed on to the next generation. Consequently, much of the research in human evolutionary psychology has focused on politically sensitive issues such as sex roles, dating behavior, child-rearing, and homosexuality.

The first book on the evolution of human sexuality, based on com-prehensive anthropological evidence, was Donald Symons's The Evolution of Human Sexuality. Drawing from a broad cross-section of both Eastern and Western cultures, Symons found anthropological evidence suggesting that human females tend to be more selective in their choice of sex partners than males; that males are inclined toward polygyny, while females may be equally content with either monogamy or polyandry; and that males are primarily attracted to youthful physical attributes of females, while females are attracted primarily to a male's economic and political acumen. As one might expect, most of the books dealing with the evolutionary basis of sexuality are written by science journalists, target the popular market, and therefore read well in the classroom. Typical of the genre is Matt Ridley's The Red Queen, which continues the search for universal human nature and finds it in sexual selection. Although much of the ground covered is familiar, the chapter "The Intellectual Chess Game" makes the interesting argument that human intelligence, like the peacock's tail, is primarily an "ornament for sexual display." David M. Buss's The Evolution of Desire, based on an international survey of 10,047 persons, explores how mates are selected by various cultures. He found that in the pursuit of sexual goals, both men and women "derogate their rivals, deceive members of the opposite sex, and even subvert their own mates." Glenn Wilson's The Great Sex Divide examines not only the fundamentally different mating strategies employed by polygynous men and monogamous women, but also the disproportionate distribution of talent, perversion, and criminality in favor of males. Using an evolutionary perspective unique to the genre, Jared Diamond's Why Is Sex Fun? focuses on several other interesting aspects of human sexuality, especially female menopause, having sex for fun in private (and not solely for procreative purposes), and puzzles involving lactation and male and female breasts. Although it is rife with evolutionary science, students will enjoy reading it! Similarly, Sam Kash Kachigan's The Sexual Matrix: Boy Meets Girl on the Evolutionary Scale offers a most readable account of a slightly different selection of gender-based behaviors, such as hair grooming and the uses of cosmetics, jewelry, and clothing. Although stylishly written, Kachigan's book is not particularly well referenced.

Many feminist works take issue with sociobiology's traditional portrayal of women as Pleistocene nurses and mothers. Sarah Blaffer Hrdy's The Woman That Never Evolved agrees that "sexual asymmetry" may have a genetic basis; however, much of that research (conducted by males) has focused on manifestations of dominance and assertiveness of males while neglecting the existence of those same traits in women. Hardy argues that the competitive forces of natural selection have also shaped the female mind, perhaps even more significantly than that of the male mind. Helen E. Fisher's Anatomy of Love covers a wide variety of evolutionary issues including courtship, infatuation, pair bonding, adultery, divorce, and sex differences. Especially interesting is the author's claim that as we continue to move away from our ancestral agricultural traditions, we seem to be returning to our hunter-gatherer past, as evidenced by our mobile lifestyles, temporary marriages, and working women. Fisher suggests that these trends signal a return to "traditions of love and marriage that are compatible with our ancient human spirit." Ruth Hubbard's The Politics of Women's Biology looks at the historical and philosophical underpinnings of male-dominated biological science, especially sociobiology, and its influence on human procreation. The third and final section of the book discusses how these forces have shaped our attitudes toward reproductive technology. The large collection of essays Feminism and Evolutionary Biology, edited by Patricia Adair Gowaty, covers the gamut of feminist issues raised by sociobiology.

One of the major puzzles in the evolution of human sexuality is the persistence of apparently nonadaptive sexual behaviors among both men and women, especially homosexuality. If evolution tends to favor genetic traits that propel selfish genes into future generations, how can nonreproductive sexual appetites, such as homosexuality, survive millions of years of natural selection? Of course, homosexuality has always been subjected to the "nature versus nurture" debate, and many conservatives still argue that gay men and lesbians simply make perverse choices and that homosexuality is nurtured by subculture, not genes. However, most recent evolution-based research sides more with nature. Michael Ruse's Homosexuality offers an excellent overview of the various scientific and philosophical views on homosexuality. He also asks whether homosexuality is a "pernicious form of sexual orientation and behavior" and/or whether it is a "disease" or "moral failure." Ruse concludes that it is neither and suggests that homophobia is more about unexamined emotional response to homosexuality than it is about reasoned moral judgment. He also addresses some of the public policy questions, including affirmative action for homosexuals. Simon LeVay's The Sexual Brain makes the case for a biological explanation of homo-sexuality based on differences in brain physiology. LeVay's more recent book, Queer Science, is probably the most rigorous historical and thematic examination of the scientific study of homosexuality. It concludes with three chapters on public policy. Dean Hamer and Peter Copeland's The Science of Desire is the story behind the authors’ research discovery of a genetic link to homosexuality, and Jim McKnight's Straight Science sheds light on both the "physical evolution" and the "social evolution" of male homosexuality. McKnight's conclusion is that homosexuality is adaptive in the sense that heterosexual males benefit from homosexual behavior because it reduces competition for females.

There are many works in evolutionary psychology that deal with some of the more controversial aspects of human sexuality. Pedophilia, edited by Jay R. Feierman, examines the biological and evolutionary basis for sexual activity between adults and children among primates and human beings; it concludes that the roots of this behavior pattern "are imbedded in the phylogenetic, i.e., evolutionary, past of all humans." The biological roots of both ethnocentrism and human violence have also been popular and controversial themes among evolutionary writers. The Sociobiology of Ethnocentrism, edited by Vernon Reynolds, Vincent Falger, and Ian Vine, was one of the first books to apply sociobiological principles to the study of negative perceptions of members of other ethnic groups. The editors conclude that groups that are more closely related genetically are more likely to exhibit altruism and cooperation. However, they also acknowledge that the sociobiology of cooperative and hostile groups turns out to be enormously complex. The seminal work in the sociobiology of human violence, Martin Daly and Margo Wilson's Homicide, contends that evolutionary psychology sheds much explanatory light on a variety of instances of human killing, especially infanticide, parricide, and spousal homicide. They also explain in evolutionary terms the preponderance of male murderers. Richard Wrangham and Dale Peterson's Demonic Males points out that other animals are nowhere nearly as violent as chimpanzees and humans. The reason for this violent chimp-human disposition, they say, is that we share a common evolutionary trait: "male-bonded, patrilineal kin groups." The authors express hope that our intelligence and wisdom may eventually subdue that "demonic male temperament." Many works in evolutionary psychology are based on the scientific study of other primates. Jared Diamond's The Third Chimpanzee expounds on the fact that, genetically speaking, human beings are 98 percent chimpanzee. Diamond, therefore, attempts to explain how that two percent resulted in "our great leap forward" and includes early chapters on sexuality, language, art, race, and agriculture. The latter third of the book, on genocide, is especially noteworthy. Richard M. Lerner's Final Solutions examines the relationship between Nazi biological ideology and the Holocaust. Two of the seven chapters specifically target sociobiology and its alleged conceptual links to racism and sexism.

Two recent scholarly works by philosophers have evaluated the scientific status of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology. The most rigorous appraisal of the scientific status of sociobiology can be found in Harmon R. Holcomb's Sociobiology, Sex, and Science. As a scientific realist, he argues that at least some scientific theories elucidate our understanding of the natural world. However, sociobiology, says Holcomb, is "protoscience" situated midway between what he calls the "just so stories" that emerge out of constructivist pseudo-science and the legitimate "research programs" that characterize realist science in progress. Darwin's Dangerous Idea, by Daniel C. Denneft, explores some of the recent philosophical and scientific puzzles associated with evolution, especially sociobiology, in the later chapters. Particularly interesting is his use of two metaphors, "cranes" and "skyhooks," to characterize the difference between real science and conceptual fictions. Says Denneft, "Skyhooks are miraculous lifters unsupported and insupportable. Cranes are no less excellent as lifters, and they have the decided advantage of being real." Properly understood, Darwinian natural selection is a "crane," while its detractors, including Stephen J. Gould and even some of the overzealous sociobiologists, employ "skyhooks."

There are many journals that publish scholarly articles on issues relating to evolutionary psychology. Evolution and Human Behavior (formerly known as Ethology and Sociobiology) is probably the basic publication along with Journal of Social and Evolutionary Systems. Adaptive Behavior is an international, multidisciplinary journal on adaptive behavior in animals and artificial systems. The Skeptics Society's Skeptic Magazine has several issues devoted to evolutionary topics; for a listing see the magazine's Web site <>. Readers may wish to examine the issue devoted to evolutionary psychology, "Are We Slaves to Our Evolutionary Past?"

There are, of course, many interesting Web sites on evolutionary psychology. Three good places to start are the Psychology, Culture & Evolution home page < ~acheyne/>; the Human Behavior & Evolution Society HBE Homepage <>; and Principia Cybernetica Web <http://>. For a scholarly study of a wide range of issues on human behavior and evolution, one might examine Agner Fog's online book Cultural Selection <http:// agner/cultsel>.

Evolutionary Epistemology

Scientists and philosophers have long entertained the possibility that evolutionary theory might somehow help to elucidate the nature of human thought and culture. Although some of the basic elements of evolutionary epistemology can be traced to 19th-century investigators like Darwin, Huxley, and Spencer, the discipline is usually attributed to its 20th-century pioneers Konrad Lorenz, Jean Piaget, Stephen Toulman, Karl Popper, and Donald T. Campbell. Franz M. Wuketits points out in his excellent introductory work, Evolutionary Epistemology and Its Implications for Humankind, that there have been two conceptually related, yet distinct, research programs in evolutionary epistemology. The first follows the ethological tradition of Konrad Lorenz, which uses evolutionary theory to account biologically for the cognitive (or psychological) mechanisms present in animals and humans. This line of research has been absorbed by evolutionary psychologists. The second program uses evolutionary theory to explain human culture, especially the rise of ideas and scientific theories. In this latter tradition, the pioneering works of Campbell and Popper are still worth reading. Psychologist Donald T. Campbell has probably contributed more to the inter-disciplinary development of evolutionary epistemology than any other investigator. Even the term "evolutionary epistemology" was introduced by Campbell in reference to the evolutio-narily based theory of knowledge that he and Popper developed. Campbell's scholarly contributions have been published primarily in peer-reviewed journals. Karl Popper developed most of the philosophical structure for the evolution of scientific knowledge. In several classic works, including Objective Knowledge, Popper argued that science is a historical series of "conjectures and refutations" and that hypotheses (conjectures) must be open to empirical falsification (refutation). Hence, the growth of human knowledge follows a process closely resembling variation and natural selection. Certainly much of the debate over the evolutionary basis of human knowledge has focused on biological reductionism. Charles J. Lumsden and Edward 0. Wilson's Genes, Mind, and Culture departs from Wilson's earlier attempt to directly link genes to social phenomena. Hence, they now argue that cultural evolution is constrained by genetically conditioned cognitive mechanisms via "epigenetic rules." In Coevolution, William H. Durham also contends that genes and culture are "co-partners in shaping human diversity" and attempts to show how all cultural systems are related by descent from earlier forms, not unlike the way gene pools are descended from earlier periods in human history. This line of reasoning suggests historical continuity with Richard Dawkins's memetic theory.

"Memetics," as introduced in The Selfish Gene, claims that although the basic unit of selection in biology is "genes," the basic unit of knowledge and culture is "memes," and that ideas themselves spread through society like an infection. Daniel C. Dennett has been one of the leading proponents of contemporary memetic theory. His Consciousness Explained uses memetics theory and an analogy of between the "brain" and "computer software" to explain mental life. Henry Plotkin's Darwin Machines and the Nature of Knowledge suggests that the human capacity to gain and impart knowledge is, itself, an adaptation or set of adaptations, and that they make human beings special. Richard Brodie's Virus of the Mind, written for a popular audience, is an excellent "first-read" in contemporary memetics. Brodie argues that future developments in memetic theory will surely have a major impact on our lives. The book includes the interesting chapters "How We Get Programmed" and "How to Start a Religious Cult." Aaron B. Lynch's Thought Contagion explains the memetic puzzle of how "ideas acquire people" and is also a good introduction. He discusses how cultural orientations exert force in shaping our ideas about family life, sexuality, cults, health, and conflict. The main journal for the new science of memetics is the Journal of Memetics <>, free on the Web! Home base for memetics on the Internet is Richard Brodie's Meme Central <http://>.

There are several good collections of essays that deal with evolutionary epistemology. Among the older anthologies, Sociobiology and Epistemology, edited by James H. Fetzer, focuses on conceptual, theoretical, and epistemological issues raised primarily by Wilson's approach to the genetic evolution of human behavior. Issues in Evolutionary Epistemology, a large collection edited by Kai Hahlweg and C.A. Hooker, includes initial essays by the editors that outline the recent intellectual history of the discipline. The SUNY Series in Philosophy and Biology contains many excellent works that explore this amorphous border between evolution and philosophy <http://,and_biology.html>.

Many scholarly journals in philosophy, biology, and psychology include articles on evolutionary psychology and evolutionary epistemology. Two of the main ones are The Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution's Evolution and Cognition and Biology and Philosophy, edited by Michael Ruse <http:// 0169-3867>. Donald T. Campbell has compiled several bibliographical resources. See Campbell and Gary A. Cziko's "Comprehensive Evolutionary Epistemology Bibliogra-phy" in a 1990 issue of The Journal of Social and Biological Structures. The Web version is kept up to date as Selection Theory Bibliography <http:// facstaff/gcziko/stb/>.

Evolutionary Ethics

Much of the early philosophical criticism of sociobiology stemmed not only from questions concerning its scientific status, biological determinism, and reductionism, but also from its association with evolutionary ethics. Although Darwin contemplated the possibility that morality might have evolved, the research program is usually traced back to Herbert Spencer. But in the early 20th century, widespread philosophical interest in evolutionary ethics was thwarted both by its association with social Darwinism and by the influence of its early critics, especially Thomas Huxley and G.E. Moore. Moore persuasively argued that evolutionary ethics failed to uphold David Hume's distinction between a factual "is" and a moral "ought" and therefore committed the "naturalistic fallacy." Until recently, this argument was regarded by most philosophers as definitive, and evolutionary ethics lay dormant until it was revived by Wilson and his prediction that sociobiology would gradually "biologize" the study of morality.

The first extensive ethical debate fueled by sociobiology focused on the genetic basis of altruism. Most moral philosophers today agree that morality requires a certain degree of "other-regarding" behavior. But if it is true that living organisms are genetically programmed, self-centered "survival machines," as Wilson and Dawkins suggested, then natural selection would seem to favor ruthless acts of selfishness over selfless acts of altruism. Therefore, one of the primary goals of evolutionary ethics has always been to explain the persistence of apparently "altruistic behavior" among "selfish" social animals, especially birds, primates, and human beings. Evolutionary ethics offered three genetically based explanations for altruism. The first evolutionary explanations for altruism followed Darwin's original concept of "group selection," which held that altruistic behaviors evolved because of the benefits bestowed upon the group to which these individuals belong. V.C. Wynne-Edwards's Evolution through Group Selection provided the first systematic formulation of this point of view. However, this tradition was quickly overshadowed by two versions of the "selfish gene theory." The first "selfish" theory was "kin selection" as described by Richard D. Alexander in his book The Biology of Moral Systems. He noted that other-regarding behavior occurs primarily among individuals genetically related to one another and that altruism tends to advance the survival of the altruist's genetic relatives, offspring, siblings, cousins, etc. A second kind of selfish or individualistic theory was outlined by Robert Trivers in Social Evolution, in which he stated that "reciprocal altruism" might also evolve in conjunction with the expectation that the favor would be returned. In The Evolution of Cooperation, Robert Axelrod used "game theory" (in particular, the so-called "prisoner's dilemma") to calculate the probability of the emergence of altruistic strategies within various populations.

In recent years, a number of authors have tried to broaden the "selfish" groundwork of evolutionary ethics by suggesting that we might also possess "altruistic" genes. Matt Ridley, in his The Origins of Virtue, argues that human beings possess instincts for both self-interest and altruism. Instinctive cooperation, he insists, is the "very hallmark of humanity." Social issues discussed include violence and war, private property and trade, and ecology and environmentalism. Overall, Ridley concludes that the best way to promote social virtue is to "reduce the power and scope of the state." Larry Arnhart's Darwinian Natural Right identifies 20 "natural desires" rooted in human biology that serve as the basis for both a universal concept of goodness (Aristotle) and human equality (Kant). He includes interesting discussions of psycho-pathology and why slavery is wrong. In recent years, primatologist Frans de Waal has emerged as one of the leading defenders of genetic altruism. In several works, he describes how the study of primate behavior reveals a common genetic foundation for human morality and social life. In Good Natured, de Waal says that "moral decency may appear to fly in the face of natural selection yet still be one of its many products."

Although scientists like Dawkins and de Waal have done much of the research on evolutionary ethics, several philosophers have also contributed significantly to the debate. Michael Ruse, for example, has long been one of the most ardent philosophical defenders of contemporary versions of evolutionary ethics. His early work Taking Darwin Seriously is a philosophical classic in the genre. Two older philosophical books are also worth mentioning: Peter Singer's The Expanding Circle and Robert J. Richards's Darwin and the Emergence of Evolutionary Theories of Mind and Behavior. Paul Lawrence Farber's The Temptations of Evolutionary Ethics is a historical analysis of evolutionary ethics since the 19th century. He focuses, however, on the philosophical attempt to establish a foundation for ethics, and most of his book deals with the period before 1975. The chapter "Evolutionary Ethics Since 1975" is good, but rather thin. The Secret Chain, by Michael Bradie, explores the intriguing con-ceptual relationship between evolutionary epistemology and evolutionary ethics.

One of the more unsettling consequences of Darwinism has been the revelation that human beings are animals, a principle that has been enthusiastically embraced by sociobiologists, ethologists, animal rights advocates, and many environmentalists. Evolution, of course, raises interesting questions in regard to the grounding of traditional ethical theories, which place human beings on a higher plane than animals. James Rachels's Created from Animals combines a good historical account of both evolutionary ethics from Darwin to Wilson, and the animal rights movement up to Peter Singer and Tom Regan. Although Rachels is skeptical of Wilson's claim that sociobiology will eventually usurp ethics from the philosophers and theologians, he does embrace the evolutionary paradigm and insists that the gradual acceptance of evolutionary science "must lead to a new ethic, in which species membership is seen as relatively unimportant." The essays in Biology, Ethics, and the Origins of Life, edited by Holmes Rolston, investigate ethics and origins in interaction with biology. Wilson's recent collection of essays, In Search of Nature, argues that in order to secure our future here on Earth, it is necessary to understand both nature and the destructive forces of human nature.

One of the great puzzles of international politics has always been the quest for common moral ground between nations. Mary Maxwell's Morality among Nations starts out by examining some of the traditional philosophical arguments for and against the prospects of an international morality. She suggests that our biological nature may provide the basis for this universality. Although any proposed universal morality will conflict with the moral systems of particular groups, she concludes that "moral rules must apply to all human transactions whether the actors be individuals or states."

There is an important subgenre of works dealing with the evolution of the human legal system and its biological roots. Margaret Gruter's Law and the Mind, based on modern evolutionary theory and ethology, argues that although some human behaviors are "programmed" by our genes, lawmakers can use the law to counteract these tendencies. Part 2 examines family law and environmental law. The Sense of Justice, edited by Roger D. Masters and Margaret Gruter, is a good collection of essays on law and the natural basis of justice.

There are several excellent collections of essays on evolutionary ethics. The multidisciplinary collection Investigating the Biological Foundations of Human Morality, edited by James P. Hurd, focuses on the question "To what extent is evolutionary biology a necessary and sufficient explanation for human morality?" Issues in Evolutionary Ethics, edited by Paul Thompson, has an especially illuminating introductory essay that clearly lays out the main issues. Most of the contributing essays are post-1975. Evolutionary Ethics, edited by Matthew H. Nitecki and Doris V. Nitecki, is also a useful collection of both older essays (by Huxley and Dewey) and many newer ones (by Ruse, Richards, Alexander, and others). There are no scholarly journals devoted exclusively to evolutionary ethics. However, Zygion: Journal of Religion and Science has published many important essays on evolutionary ethics and the relationship between science and values; the Web site is <http://>. There are many Web sites that contain at least some links on evolutionary ethics. A good starting point is Bruno Caudana's site Evolution and Ethics <http://>.

Evolutionary Economics

Like the other social and behavioral sciences, economics has also been accused of falling prey to the problem of "conceptual disintegration." The "classical" tradition, outlined by Adam Smith in the 18th century, holds that human beings are rational, self-interested, profit-max-imizing individuals who voluntarily exchange resources with one another. Theoretically, human economic activity is explained and predicted on the basis of a set of universal, mathematical, and mechanistic laws (e.g., the "laws of supply and demand"), which, if left unimpeded, produce a natural state of "equilibrium." These laws are thought to apply in all cultures, at all times, and in all places, regardless of social or cultural variation. Because classical economics is committed to these "Newtonian" timeless principles, it is also ahistorical in the sense that economic change over time is treated as a side effect of the workings of these laws rather than as a natural attribute of human economic activity itself. Although classical economics remains the dominant paradigm for Western economic thought, the Darwinian revolution raised serious questions. In the 19th century, Thorsten Veblen first applied evolutionary principles to economics. In the 1920s, Veblen's evolutionary ideas were revived by Waltron Hamilton and others in their concept of "institutionalism." This tradition reflects a common belief that "institutions," or the habits and customs of a group, change over time, and that this fact is theoretically significant. Economic change over time, institutionalists argue, cannot be explained apart from a biological and/or social context. Hence, economic change must be developmental (Darwinian) and not mechanical (Newtonian). Today there are still a substantial number of "economic institutionalists" representing this Veblen tradition.

In the early 1980s, a growing number of economists began to question both the early-20th-century "neo-classical" paradigm and the "old institu-tionalism." Advocates of "evolutionary economics" (sometimes called "new institutional economists") share the institutionalist view that economic explanations and predictions must take previous historical facts into account. However, these new economists follow Joseph A. Schumpeter's early-20th-century lead and focus primarily on the processes by which institutions evolve.

The seminal work for contemporary "evolutionary economics" is Richard R. Nelson and Sidney G. Winter's An Evolutionary Theory of Economic Change, which provides a rigorous mathematical basis for the theory. Unfortunately, most undergraduates will not be able to make much sense of it. There are, however, several books that do provide students with palatable introductions to both evolutionary economic traditions. One of the most comprehensible of these works is David Hamilton's Evolutionary Economics: A Study of Change in Economic Thought. But because this is a reprint of an older work that dealt with the history of old institutional economics up until about the 1960s, it has the obvious disadvantage of falling short of most of the recent debate generated by Nelson and Winter. Geoffrey M. Hodgson's Economics and Evolution is a good overall introductory resource for both graduate and undergraduate students in economics. Hodgson provides a rigorous philosophical, historical, and economic introduction to the genre. There are two books that explore evolutionary economics' historical and conceptual connection with Schumpeter. Esben Sloth Andersen's Evolutionary Economics introduces some of the analytical tools developed by recent evolutionary economists, which in turn shed new light on some of Schumpeter's earlier insights. A collection edited by Lars Magnusson, Evolutionary and Neo-Schumpeterian Approaches to Economics, consists of many comprehensible historical essays sharing the conviction that Schumpeter is the "adopted progenitor" of contemporary evolutionary economics. For graduate students, Jack J. Women's Economic Evolution provides a rigorous survey of much of the literature on new institution economics.

There are many collections of essays on various themes in evolutionary economics. Economics and Biology, a large anthology edited by Geoffrey M. Hodgson, covers much of the history and many of the conceptual issues facing evolutionary economics. Evolutionary Concepts in Contemporary Economics, edited by Richard W. England, collects essays presented at the 1992 meeting of the American Economic Association. The essays themselves reflect the editor's overall desire to take history more seriously. As England states, "if economics is to be both properly scientific and also practically useful, then ahistorical models of economies gliding along frictionless orbits are not good enough. We shall have to face the mysteries of time and wrestle with their consequences." The collection includes essays on the history of economic theory, economic methodology, social institutions, the firm, and the environment. Evolutionary Economics, edited by Ulrich Witt, is still probably the largest and most diverse collection of scholarly essays on the topic.

Technological change has always been a puzzle for classical economists. Although the elements of human culture obviously "change" over time, technology seems to actually "advance." Moreover, technological change not only affects the "fitness" of firms and industries but also influences and is influenced by culture. But neoclassical economics, which focuses on "equilibrium" and stability, cannot explain or predict cultural or technological change. Hence, evolutionary economics sees technological change as an explanatory and predictive challenge. Pier Paolo Saviotti's Technological Evolution, Variety, and the Economy is a useful introduction to evolutionary economics and the puzzles of technology. In recent years, evolutionary economists, especially those who study technology, have explored this larger question of whether economic change is predictable and "gradual" or unpredictable and "revolutionary." This larger debate between advocates of "gradualism" and "punctuated equilibrium" in the natural and social sciences is detailed in The Dynamics of Evolution, a collection of essays edited by Albert Somit and Steven A. Peterson.

The "environmental crisis" has led to a diverse body of scholarly literature highly critical of classical economics. Some environmentalists think that evolutionary economics offers a "green alternative." John M. Gowdy's Co-evolutionary Economics argues that neoclassical economical theory alone cannot address the environmental crisis and that more variety in economic theory is needed. Gowdy concludes that theoretical change, especially an infusion of evolutionary principles, is needed in order to reverse the damage that unsustainable economic growth has inflicted on our environment.

There are several scholarly journals dedicated to evolutionary economics. Veblen's "institutional" tradition is carried on by the Association of Evolutionary Economics and their publication JEI: The Journal of Economic Issues. Schumpeter's "evolutionary" tradition is represented by the International Joseph A. Schumpeter Society's The Journal of Evolutionary Economics. To access some of the more significant Web sites on evolutionary economics one may want to visit Esben Sloth Andersen's Elements of Evolutionary Economics < welcome.html>.

Evolutionary Politics

A growing number of political scientists and philosophers have explored the biological and evolutionary basis for political institutions, an area of research sometimes referred to as "biopolitics." Roger D. Masters's The Nature of Politics provides a good initial exposure to this genre. He argues that knowledge of our genetic heritage can have an impact on our understanding of the origins and functioning of human social and political institutions. He suggests that an evolutionary approach to politics "offers a reasonable basis for judging the rightness or justice of political institutions." The book includes discussions of human nature, social behavior, politics, and political philosophy. Albert Somit and Steven A. Peterson's Darwinism, Dominance, and Democracy explores the "unpopular thesis," which says that, among human beings, authoritarian regimes "are notable by their presence and persistence, and democracies by their infrequency and impermanence." Hence, human beings, like other primates, are biologically predisposed for hierarchical social and political structures and that democracy is a cultural phenomenon that only occasionally interrupts the march of authoritarianism. The authors contend that if democracy is to survive over the long run, it must be supported by a more rigorous system of "civic indoctrination."

Primatology has contributed significantly to the development of evolutionary politics. Two important works by Frans de Waal examine how social and political relationships function within various communities of primates. In Chimpanzee Politics, de Waal argues that, despite the fact that dominance and hierarchy permeate chimpanzee political structures, they are not permanently fixed and are often compromised by personal interactions between group members. Hierarchy, de Waal argues, is not a political evil but merely a coercive factor that limits both competition and conflict among all primates. De Waal's Peacemaking among Primates is a detailed study of reconciliation among primates, including chimpanzees, rhesus monkeys, stump-tailed monkeys, bonobos, and humans. What is interesting here is that, although hierarchy invariably breeds conflict within any group, primates have developed various coping mechanisms for restoring peace within the group. Although human beings may be similarly predisposed toward violence and aggression, we are also genetically and culturally endowed with mechanisms that enable us to restore peace. Primate Politics, edited by Glendon Schubert and Roger D. Masters, is a good collection bridging the gap between primate and human politics.

Evolutionary politics often attempts to alter political reality based on scientific knowledge. However, ever since the 19th-century foray into social Darwinism, the relationship between evolution and social planning has been a point of contention. So how does one go about translating factual knowledge about human behavior into political action? John H. Beckstrom's Darwinism Applied distinguishes between social goals, which are based on "personal values and tastes," and factual guides, which provide the means of achieving these goals. Evolutionary science, says Beckstrom, can help achieve social goals but cannot justify them. In the book he explains how evolutionary science can help achieve goals such as reducing rape, child abuse, and street crime and distributing the property of the deceased. Ever since the debate over social Darwinism, the study of human intelligence has been a politically sensitive topic.

Three controversial books published in the 1990s have rekindled the old debate over the evolutionary basis of human intelligence and its political consequences. Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray's The Bell Curve was clearly one of the most politically incendiary books to come out of the evolutionary genre since the 1970s. It presents arguments based on evolutionary evidence, suggesting that general human intelligence, as measured by IQ, varies significantly not only between individuals but also between races. This "fact," according to the authors, accounts for the rise of a white "cognitive elite" in the United States. They concluded that this inherited intellectual disparity along racial lines is the major cause of social and economic inequality, and that the rising rate of poverty in the United States can be attributed to genetically programmed lower intelligence and higher fertility rates among blacks and Latinos. In the final analysis, the authors argue that biology supports a conservative, libertarian political agenda. J. Philippe Rushton's Race, Evolution and Behavior describes the racial profiles of orientals, whites, and blacks as defined by approximately 60 anatomical structures and social variables, under six categories: brain size, intelligence, maturation rate, personality, social organization, and reproductive effort. Rushton finds that due to environmental and evolutionary factors, African populations (hot climate) employ an "R evolutionary strategy" and therefore tend to mature more rapidly, reproduce at a younger age, and invest less time and fewer resources in child-rearing. On the other end of the spectrum, east Asian populations (cold climate) employ a "K evolutionary strategy" and mature later, reproduce later, and invest more time and resources on fewer offspring. K strategy offspring, says Rushton, tend to develop higher intelligence. White Europeans fall somewhere between these two evolutionary strategies. He concludes that, even if all these groups were treated the same, most racial differences would not disappear. Unlike Herrnstein and Murray, Rushton says that no specific political policies flow from race research and that his research is compatible with a wide range of political strategies including social segregation, laissez-faire government, or social programs for the disadvantaged. The Decline of Intelligence in America is the most recent of three books by Seymour W. Itzkoff warning of the impending crises that will result from our continued failure to base social and political policies on racial science. There are several excellent anthologies covering the intelligence issues, including The Bell Curve Wars: Race, Intelligence, and the Future of America, edited by Steven Fraser, and Intelligence, Political Inequality, and Public Policy, edited by Elliott White. Also recommended is the Skeptic Magazine interview with Robert Sternberg on The Bell Curve, found at the Skeptic Society's Web page <http://www. skeptic. com/> where, under the Skeptic Magazine, vol. 3, no. 3, 1995, there is an informative interview with this leading psychologist on the nature of intelligence, intelligence testing, and the "Bell Curve."

The publicity afforded racial science does not do justice to the diversity of research in evolutionary politics. But only a few works survey the gamut of issues in evolutionary politics. JAI Press has five volumes in print in its ongoing serial Research in Biopolitics. Volume 2, Biopolitics and the Mainstream, edited by Albert Somit and Steven A. Peterson, contains essays highly representative of the genre; the JAI Press Web site is located at <>. The main international journal on evolutionary politics, Politics and the Life Sciences, published by the Association for Politics and the Life Sciences, contains a wide variety of research topics. The publishers Web site <> also provides a good starting point for surfing the Net on both evolution and political science.


As Edward 0. Wilson's vision of a "new synthesis" in the behavioral and social sciences continues to unfold, the question of whether it will revolutionize and unify the study of human nature remains to be seen. However, given the explosion of books, journals, and Web sites dedicated to the project, the optimism of its visionaries seems justified.

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Association for Politics and the Life Sciences

Blackwell Publisher Showcase--Journals

Cultural Selection

Elements of Evolutionary Economics

Evolution and Ethics

Human Behavior & Evolution Society

Information about JoM-EMIT

JAI Press.

Meme Central

Principia Cybernetica Web

Psychology, Culture & Evolution

Selection Theory Bibliography

Skeptic Magazine

SUNY Series in Philosophy and Biology