A brief account of some of the proceedings at the 20th ESS Conference held
in Ghent, Belgium from 7-9 July 1997. The theme of the meeting was "The
Sociobiology of Ingroup/Outgroup Behaviour Part II", a sequel to the 1985
ESS meeting in Oxford where the evolutionary dimensions of nationalism,
ethnocentrism and xenophobia were discussed.
The conference was opportune both in time and place. The ten years since publication of "The Sociobiology of Ethnocentrism" have been marked by the ending of the world-wide cold war and the upsurge in Europe, Asia and Africa of local and civil struggles of a cruelty and violence which no one could have expected in the post-cold war euphoria. That the conference was being held in Belgium was also opportune, given the paradox of the sharp division of the country between French and Dutch-speaking areas and the role of Brussels as the centre of the emerging European federal state intended to appease and finally to end the nationalist conflicts which for centuries have racked the continent.
I confine my remarks to presentations most directly relatable to the main theme, that is: Rushton on genetic similarity and ethnocentrism, MacDonald on ethnic groups' attitude to immigration policies, Avramov and Cliquet on the factors underlying the flare up of ethnic hatreds in former Yugoslavia, Daulans' firsthand account of the process by which ethnocentric attitudes there were intensified, Marina Butovskaya on rather similar ethnic conflict in the former Soviet Union, and Alves on competing Marxist and Darwinian accounts of nationalism.
Pierre van den Berghe opened the meeting with a wide-ranging paper "Racism, Ethnocentrism and Xenophobia: In our genes or in our memes?" from which I would pick out the following: ethnicity (or `race') is defined by common descent, maintained by endogamy and is simply kinship writ large. A nation is a self-conscious politicised ethny. A race is a group using somatic markers; an ethny uses cultural markers (language etc); ethnies are `imagined communities', anchored in the reality of socially perceived biological descent. Ethnicity is universal, rooted in both genes and memes. We have a genetic propensity to favour kin and have found it beneficial to form many groups of increasing size and complexity. The innate nepotism extends from the nuclear family, to the extended family, to the lineage to the clan, to the ethny, to the nation. Racism appears when long-distance migration puts in contact visibly different populations in situations of competition for resources or of domination by one group over another. In such circumstances skin colour becomes a better marker than language. Xenophobia is not a necessary concomitant of ethnocentrism, because of the potential benefits of reciprocity.; stereotypes (such as of young blacks in the United States) are not categorical xenophobia but may be a cautious avoidance strategy, crude probabilistic devices to minimise risk from the behaviour of unknown others. We use ethnic markers (e.g. language and somatic differences) to minimise information costs and maximise reliability and validity. Nationalism is not a modern phenomenon created by literate elites; states have failed in the attempt to form nations out of multi-ethnic groupings; many examples of this can be found in post-colonial situations in Africa and elsewhere. Going much further back, van den Berghe observed that Belgium is no closer to being a nation than in 1830; the Flemings and Walloons are still almost exactly where Julius Caesar left them after De Bello Gallico!
Rushton presented an interesting paper on genetic similarity and the apparent ability to recognise this in others, supported by extensive statistical correlations, developing and complementing material in chapter 4 of his book Race, Evolution and Behavior (1997).
To rephrase the theory in my own simple terms, we like other people be cause they are like us. This happens as a straightforward consequence of kinship selection theory, that we should show altruism towards persons who apparently may share relatively more genes with us than others. Because there can be no direct way of sensing the degree of relationship, kinship selection has to operate in terms of probabilities. The more aspects of a person's appearance or behaviour or psychology that are similar to our own, the greater the probability that there is a higher degree of genetic similarity and thus the greater the evolutionary justification for altruism towards that person. This offers a plausible biologically-based explanation for the prevalence of many social features, from assortative mating to the formation of ethnic groups, patriotism, friendship and possibly ideological and similar preferences.
MacDonald gave a historical account of debate about immigration policy in the United States up to 1965 showing how ethnic groups pressed for immigration policies which would strengthen the representation within the society of their own ethnic group and shift gene frequencies within the population in their own direction. Both those arguing for restriction on immigration and those arguing against it could be seen as in fact pursuing a biologically comprehensible objective, to strengthen the position within the community of their own genetically based groupings, with restriction serving the purposes of already substantially established groups and anti-restriction serving the purposes of groups seeking to strengthen their positions.
Avramov and Cliquet (presented by Cliquet) discussed the resurgence of ingroup-outgroup antagonisms with the collapse of communist regimes in multi-ethnic states of Eastern Europe. A number of circumstances in the former Yugoslavia worked together to cause this: the historical dividing lines and divisions between the populations, the bringing together in one state of ethnically and socially diverse populations in the settlements following the two World Wars, the genocidal events during the 2nd world war (expediently blamed by the Communist regime not on the actual perpetrators but on the Nazis). The outbreak was the result of socio-economic failure plus ill- judged outside intervention and collapse of the integrating ideology and power, the final precipitating factor being premature recognition as state boundaries of administrative boundaries covering multiethnic populations. The conclusion was that deeply-seated ingroup-outgroup drives can easily flare up under societal stress. Daulans' anecdotal description of underlying feelings of individual participants in Bosnia complemented this: for young Serbs (who did not remember wartime inter-ethnic atrocities) what came to drive them was a revived awareness of key features of Serb history over the centuries, notably the crushing defeat at Kosovo. The change from friendship to tolerance to enmity was the immediate result of individual experience, deaths or injury of relations etc, but this was then systematised in terms of the historical identity of the Serb nation. Butovskaya's analysis of the rise of violence after the collapse of the Soviet Union paralleled at many points developments in the former Yugoslavia; the outbreak of conflicts resulted from manipulation by post-Soviet political elites of xenophobia and ethnocentrism. To both situations one could apply the contrast Alves drew between Marxist and Darwinian accounts; Marxism underestimated the power of the subconscious and emotional sense of kinship that lies at the heart of national ism; nationalism, following Darwin, can be better interpreted from an evolutionary standpoint.
Reflecting on the papers presented at this meeting, what might one conclude? For a systematic account one should turn to van der Dennen's "Ethnocentrism and ingroup/outgroup differentiation" (in: Reynolds, Falger & Vine, 1987) and his paper for the conference ("Of badges, bonds and boundaries: Ethnocentrism, xenophobia, and ingroup/outgroup differentiation revisited") in which he presented an inventory and review of the recent theoretical literature on ethnocentrism and xenophobia (from his book on the origin of war shortly to be published in the United States). My own reaction to the ESS meeting was that current and recent manifestations of ethnocentrism are matters requiring urgent attention in sociobiological terms. As van den Berghe commented, one can only hope to deal with these things if one under stands them. Are wars created by states or influential elites fanning xenophobia or are they the product of social breakdown and severe competition for resources or territory? Recent history - the failures of assimilation, of post colonial nation creation in Africa, the recrudescence in the former Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia of ancient international and intertribal divisions - suggest that perhaps one should draw a sharp distinction be tween, on the one hand, the major international wars of the 19th and 20th centuries and, on the other, the intensely bitter civil and intertribal wars of the postwar world. To understand the latter maybe one needs to look much further down the group structures of society e.g. to the clashes between football hooligans in Holland described by Adang, to the biker gang warfare in Scandinavian countries, and beyond the group down to evolutionary traits at the individual level, of the resentments felt by individuals in supermarkets, road rage, bus queues, railway compartments (Lorenz). Combine these aspects of individual evolutionary psychology with `groupism', the tendency for the individual to internalise a group identity, and one has the foundation for acute inter-ethnic conflict. History (the memories of historical enmities) by itself then may not be the source of wars but can be recruited as an integrating factor to consolidate groups when interests or territories clash.
A final comment on what was to some extent a subtheme of the meeting: the line between scientific and political approaches to the topics being discussed. As human evolutionary biology, sociobiology, or evolutionary psychology approaches situations and behaviours that are at the centre of current struggles and ideological differences in many societies, the temperature or pressure increases. It becomes increasingly difficult but also increasingly important to draw the line between the scientific and the political. The flyer for the conference stated that, given the scientific nature of the meeting, "implicit or explicit political statements are excluded", reflecting the wording of Article 2 of the ESS statutes forbidding the "use and abuse of knowledge" for political purposes. It can be no part of a scientific study, the aim of which is accumulate, aggregate and analyse information, to draw conclusions which are framed as recommendations for social policy. On the other hand, even though the scientific findings may seem to point to policy conclusions, this is no justification for suppressing the publication or commentary on the findings or for preventing further research along the same lines. Drawing this fine line is easy enough in theory but very delicate in practice. There should be little or no difficulty about avoiding "explicit" political statements; the trouble seems to arise with the concept of "implicit" political statements. "Implicit" involves a judgment - but whose judgment? That of the researcher presenting the findings or of other ESS members - all of them or only a few? It is only possible for a society such as the European Sociobiological Society to function effectively and amicably if participants can have confidence in each other's intentions and at the same time avoid adverse and unavoidably subjective interpretations of what the approach and objectives of each other's work may be.
The papers presented during the Annual Meeting of the European
Sociobiological Society, University of Ghent, July 7-9, 1997:
* Adang, O.M.J.: Systematic observations of violent interactions between
* Allott, R.: Religion and science, sex and society: forms and processes of cohesion.
* Alves, L.F.: Marxism, Darwinism and nationalism.
* Avramov, D. & R. Cliquet: The flaring-up of the ingroup-outgroup syndrome in Eastern Europe: the example of former Yugoslavia.
* Bereczkei, T.: Kinship network and fertility in a Hungarian ethnic group, the Gipsies.
* Butovskaya, M.L. & V.S.E. Falger: The rise of ethnocentrism in the former Soviet Union as a reflection of ingroup/outgroup kin selection paradigm.
* Cashdan, E.: Diversity and boundedness of ethnic groups: ecological perspectives.
* Constable, J.: Cultural objects and display: verse form.
* Draulans, D.: Biology and warfare.
* Elworthy, C.: Creating predictive models of ingroup-outgroup behavior through evolutionary psychology and situational determinism.
* Euler, H.A.; S. Hoier & B. Weitzel: Grandparent-parent relations, or why do daughters-in-law often lose out?.
* Khrennikov, O.V.; V.S. Krilov & A.R. Kadyrov: The problem of interethnic conflicts.
* Kitchin, W.: Ingroup and outgroup language: a preliminary analysis of U.S. presidents.
* Knight, C.: Speech/ritual co-evolution: an ingroup/outgroup model.
* Kozintsev, A.: Russian ethnic humor: xenophobia or consolidation?
* MacDonald, K.: The intellectual construction of immigration policy: an evolutionary perspective.
* Power, C.: Deceptive sexual signalling as a preadaptation to ritual: a mechanism for establishing ingroup/outgroup boundaries.
* Rushton, J.P.: Genetic Similarity Theory and the genetic basis of ethnocentrism.
* Smillie, D.: The evolution of sociocultural systems.
* Squires, A.M.: Evolutionary hypotheses ("disciplined speculation"): origins of male ingroup behaviors.
* Tennov, D.: Science and policy.
* Thienpont, K.: An explanation for the socio-psychological underpinnings of intergroup behaviour: the context of Pleistocene hominid evolution.
* Tullberg, J.: Separatism or unity: a model for solving ethnic conflicts.
* Van den Berghe, P.: Racism, ethnocentrism and xenophobia: in our genes or in our memes?
* Van der Dennen, J.M.G.: Of badges, bonds and boundaries: ingroup/out group differentiation and ethnocentrism revisited.
* Verhaegen, M. Human evolution: savannah vs. aquatic theory.
* Vining, D.: On racism
by Prof. MARINA BUTOVSKAYA, Institute of Cultural
Russian State University for the Humanities, Miusskaya Pl. 6, Moscow
125267, Russia, Fax (7-095) 250-5109, e-mail: Marina@carabus.msk.ru
The conference will focus on the general factors underlying rituals and group
identity in animals and humans. It is expected that both social scientists and
biologists will take part in the meeting and an attempt will be made to reach
some sort of compromise between biological and social approaches to human
In animals, group identity is signalled by ritual postures, facial expression, vocal and olfactory communication. In man, an important role is played by clothing, tattooing, manners of behaviour, and language. Ritualization per se has a long phylogenetic history and is inherent in all human societies without exception. Rituals are an important means of demonstrating group identity and coherence.
The main problem to be addressed at the conference is one of the most disputed in sociobiology: the evolutionary roots of ritual and the universals of group identity. Over the recent years, much was said about the basic mechanisms in the evolution of human psychology and the selection favouring a more complex social ceremonies. Rituals are the favourite theme of ethological and sociobiological studies. The nature of mating rituals in fishes, birds, and mammals was analyzed in classical works of Lorenz, Tinbergen, and von Frisch. Rituals and ceremonies in human society have become quite popular not only among cultural anthropologists but among ethologists as well (works by Eibl-Eibesfeldt, Schiefenhoevel, and others). A striking similarity of rituals marking group identity in man and animals is suggestive of general evolutionary regularities underlying proximate and ultimate causes of this phenomenon.
The conference will be held - most probably during the third week of June - at the Russian State University for the Humanities (RSUH), Moscow, Russia, a top-ranking academic institution having a long history.
In the recent past, due to political reasons, sociobiology was rather unpopular in this country. At present, however, more and more specialists feel that the only way to understand the human phenomenon is to integrate the efforts of social and natural scientists. Human ethology and sociobiology are now being taught at the Institute of Cultural Anthropology which belongs to RSUH.
One of the objectives of the European Sociobiological Society is to stimulate studies into the role of biological factors in animal and human behaviour with special regard to the evolutionary continuity and universality of basic behavioural forms such as emotions, structuring of social relationships at the within-group and between-group level, social intelligence, sexual selection, etc. It is emphasized that results of such studies should not be used for political purposes.
We welcome papers addressing evolutionary aspects of group identity and the origins of rituals and ceremonies in animal and human societies. Following the tradition of ESS, there will be a free paper session. Those who wish to present a paper at the conference should send an abstract and a registration form to the author's address (see above). The deadline for the submissions of abstracts is 10 May 1998.
by TIMOTHY CRIPPEN, Department of Sociology and
Washington College, Fredericksburg, VA 22401-5358, USA.
Kevin MacDonald has penned a provocative volume in which he argues that
key cultural characteristics of Judaism constitute a "group evolutionary
strategy." He claims that Judaism developed and thrived as a strategy center
ed upon the production of an ideology that encouraged behaviors resulting in
"(1) the segregation of the Jewish gene pool from surrounding gentile genes;
(2) resource and reproductive competition between Jews and gentiles; (3)
high levels of within-group cooperation and altruism among Jews; and (4)
eugenic efforts directed at producing high intelligence, high-investment
parenting, and commitment to group, rather than individual, goals" (p.
The book is provocative in at least two senses. First, MacDonald's thesis and supporting evidence are thought-provoking. He carefully mines the rich literature on Jewish history, and he conveys his understanding of these materials with considerable skill. Among the valuable features of the book are MacDonald's extensive coverage of the literature on Jewish customs, laws, demographic patterns, and political struggles; his documentation of patterns of genetic and cultural separatism characteristic of many Jewish communities in relation to various "host societies"; and his discussion of periodic episodes of virulent anti-Semitism that have influenced the development of "main stream Jewish Diaspora culture" (an issue that he addresses in a companion volume, Separation and Its Discontents: Toward an Evolutionary Theory of Anti-Semitism, that I have not had occasion to read). In short, MacDonald synthesizes a sizeable literature on the history of Judaism and conveys his appreciation of that history with compassion and sympathy. The accomplishment is impressive.
Second, MacDonald's argument provokes inasmuch as it is based on the suspicious logic of group-selectionism. He intends to demonstrate that, under the pressure of specific sociocultural conditions, Jewish elites forged an ideology that motivated all community members to subordinate their self-interest to the interests of the entire group. He argues that Jewish culture, at least in distinct geographical and historical settings, inclines individuals to sacrifice their material self-interest in ways that result in material benefits (including fitness benefits) for the larger community. This theoretical premise, and the conceptual confusion that accompanies it, detracts from an otherwise capable review of Jewish historical development. Thus, despite several noteworthy aspects of A People That Shall Dwell Alone, the core argument is likely to disappoint an informed evolutionist.
It is unnecessary in this forum to rehearse the well-known criticisms of the group selection thesis. Suffice to say that a few scholars remain unconvinced that the thesis may be abandoned, at least in efforts to explain human behavior. MacDonald falls into this latter camp. Specifically, his argument is based on the following claims: human societies comprise of a variety of cooperating and competing groups; within this societal ecosystem, groups may adopt different strategies for earning a living (e.g., "producer," "predator," and so forth); strategies adopted by contending groups may vary in terms of the degree to which they emphasize individualism versus altruism; where such groups compete, "individuals within altruistic groups may... have higher biological fitness on average (i.e., leave more offspring) than individuals in individualistic groups"; and, lastly, the consequence of such competition "is natural selection between groups" (p. 3).
MacDonald bases these claims on appeals to human sociocultural uniqueness. In his assessment, "humans, perhaps uniquely among animals, are able to create and maintain groups that impose high levels of altruism on their members" by relying on "abilities to monitor and enforce group goals, to prevent defection, and to create ideological structures that rationalize group aims" (p. 3). He goes even so far as to suggest that "the limits of human social organization are defined only by the limits of the human imagination" (p. 3, emphasis added). Hence, MacDonald views ideology as the chief mechanism underlying the process of group selection in human societies. In advancing this claim, he asserts that ideologies are traits of human groups, not of distinct individuals. "To the extent that an ideology characterizes an entire group, it becomes insensitive to individual self-interest, and to the extent that it is reinforced by social controls, it is possible that individuals who do not benefit from adopting the ideology will be socialized to do so" (p. 5). Although aspects of this argument may be meritorious, it remains questionable whether the principle of group selection illuminates these issues beyond what can be derived from the theories of kin selection and reciprocity.
MacDonald labors assiduously in his opening chapter to demonstrate that his perspective - presumably in contrast with more conventional evolutionary explanations - is "non-deterministic," thereby allowing him to examine "the origin and maintenance of Judaism as an evolutionary ideology... but with no implication that Judaism is in some sense ecologically or genetically determined or that it is necessarily adaptive for Jews at any stage of their history" (p. 6). He further notes that "[a]n evolutionary group strategy... may be conceived... as an `experiment in living,' rather than as a determinate outcome of natural selection acting on human populations or the result of ecological contingencies acting on universal human genetic propensities" (p. 7). Thus, "humans... are viewed as having sophisticated cognitive abilities that enable them to develop strategies in pursuit of evolutionary ends... Within this perspective, the evolved goals of humans have been genetically influenced by our evolutionary past, but there are no constraints at all on how humans attempt to achieve these goals" (p. 7, emphasis added).
These "group evolutionary strategies" are said to possess twelve features. They include: (1) the presence of an identifiable number of individuals separated from other discrete groups; (2) the maintenance of separation from other groups by reliance on coercive or non-coercive strategies; (3) the maintenance of strict cultural, but not necessarily genetic, segregation; (4) high levels of within-group altruism, at times, but not necessarily, based on kinship bonds; (5) social controls that promote "conformity to group interests"; (6) social controls that "effectively limit the extent of within-group altruism"; (7) mechanisms for limiting within-group conflict; (8) heightened commitment to group interest in response to external threats; (9) reliance on psychological mechanisms that encourage members to adopt group interests; (10) socialization mechanisms that encourage members to adopt group goals; (11) the absence of any necessary connection between within-group commitment and hostile attitudes toward out-groups; and (12) behavioral elements that may optimize success in constrained ecological niches, or that may be more generalist in orientation (see pp. 10-18).
This conceptualization of a "group evolutionary strategy" - a peculiar mix of analytical and descriptive elements - invites confusion in its application. Presumably these are strategies that are adopted by identifiable groups which maintain some degree of at least cultural isolation from other human groups. Thereafter, things get rather tangled in unspecified contingencies. For example, group evolutionary strategies may, or may not, incline members to pursue genetic isolation. The inclination to enter into relations of close co operation and even self-sacrifice may, or may not, be grounded in ties of close kinship. Such strategies encourage high levels of within-group altruism, but not too much altruism. They involve socialization mechanisms that commit members to group goals, thereby limiting conflict, and that heighten this commitment at times of external threat, but they are not necessarily connected with attitudes of hostility toward out-groups. Finally, they may, or may not, be well-designed to serve group interests in specialized ecological niches. Given the lack of specificity (along with the occasional redundancy), it is difficult to envision an actual or hypothetical strategy employed by human groups that does not fulfil these conditions. Thus, it would seem that all human groups adopt "group evolutionary strategies."
More fundamentally confusing is MacDonald's use of the term "altruism." The concept is essential to his argument, inasmuch as he claims that "Judaism for much of its history has been characterized by the development of a highly competent elite who acted in the interests of the entire group and whose wealth came ultimately not from exploiting other Jews, but as a result of economic transactions with the gentile community" (p. 14, emphasis added). And yet, the acts that he labels "altruistic" perhaps are better classified as nepotistic or reciprocal. Indeed, his data generally support the claim that Judaism, as a set of ideas and behavioral structures, organizes the behavior of members into complex relations of asymmetric reciprocity, cooperative behaviors that greatly benefit some much more so than others. However keen the level of cooperation, and whatsoever its implication for levels of Jewish community success in relation to competitors, MacDonald presents very little, if any, evidence of genuine self-sacrifice.
As noted, the evidence presented in support of group-selectionist claims may be explained cogently by reference to the principles of kin selection and reciprocity. Much of this evidence concerns the degree of differentiation within Jewish communities and the corresponding unequal access to power, privilege, and prestige, inequalities that have both direct and indirect bearing on individual access to reproductive resources. Space constraints preclude a systematic review of the evidence, but consider merely the following items.
MacDonald persuasively argues that the principal elements of mainstream Jewish customs and practices emerged as a result of priestly teachings during the period of the Babylonian exile. Religious elites developed ideas that supported the notion that privileged positions should be reserved for those who could demonstrate "pure genealogy." MacDonald's intent on this score is to lay the groundwork for his argument that Judaism developed as an ideology that supported both cultural and genetic separatism from gentiles. All well and good. Nevertheless, his evidence also supports the claim that elites employed their privileged positions to carve out an ideological apparatus that served their own, and their close kin's, material and reproductive interests, not necessarily the interests of the entire community.
Embedded in these teachings are various injunctions that spell out the legitimately privileged status of priests and attending perquisites. Elite polygyny - and accompanying instances of intense male-male and female-female competition for access to reproductively valuable mates (e.g., pp. 37-38, 242, 251) - is perhaps the most direct indication of the evolutionary benefits that such ideological devices offered to Jews of high status. MacDonald goes on to demonstrate how this ideology, dating from the Babylonian exile, has been translated into an ideology that accords special privilege to those with high accomplishment in the area of traditional learning. Scholars, thereby, emerge as the dominant members of many Jewish communities, a dominance that exhibits itself in terms of a range of special privileges and rewards. For example, MacDonald notes that such elites are commonly relieved of any substantial tax liability, they are accorded special access to mates, they are frequently allowed - contrary to Jewish custom - to maintain trade monopolies, they are accorded special burial sites, they are given special consideration in seating arrangements in the temple, and they are well-positioned to offer competitive advantages to their offspring and other close kin.
Such elite privileges sharply contrast with the disadvantages and maltreatment accorded to Jews of lower rank within the community, especially to the `am ha-ares. Harshly taxed, often subjected to labor exploitation by the privileged, such individuals are ridiculed and are frequently thwarted in efforts to serve their reproductive interests. Indeed, the case of the `am ha-ares raises difficulties for MacDonald's thesis, difficulties that even he recognizes: "From an evolutionary perspective, the exclusionary behavior and economic disabilities imposed on the `am ha-ares by the haberim are absolutely incompatible with supposing that both of these groups were at that time members of the same evolutionary strategy. Quite clearly there is the indication of maximal divergence of interest here, rather than the impression of a unified, corporate type of Judaism in which there were high levels of within-group altruism and the consequent strong group cohesion" (p. 183). MacDonald suggests that the circumstance is anomalous in contrast to much of the other data that he reviews, but I remain unpersuaded of the claim. It seems to me that much, if not all, of the evidence that he offers is better explained by reference to an alternative hypothesis. Interestingly, the basic aspects of this alternative are embedded in MacDonald's own account.
One plausibly may argue that Jewish customs and practices are closely linked to the ideology elaborated by religious elites during the Babylonian exile, an ideology that encourages community members to focus on particular phenotypic cues (e.g., names, patterns of dress, dietary habits, areas of residence, etc. - all of which are noted by MacDonald [e.g., p. 58]) as indicators of membership in the same kin group (real or fictive). Indeed, as MacDonald notes, this emphasis on kinship is central to Jewish conceptions of identity and was explicitly developed by elites. "For the Israelites, there was really only one purpose for God - to represent the idea of kinship, ingroup membership, and separateness from others... In a very real sense, one may say that the Jewish god is really neither more nor less than Ezra's `holy seed' _ the genetic material of the upper-class Israelites who were exiled to Babylon" (p. 45, emphasis added; see also, pp. 12, 213). In light of this interpretation, is it mere coincidence that Jewish customs and practices, as MacDonald repeatedly notes, more directly serve the material and reproductive interests of high-status members of the community? I think not. More persuasive is the claim that, within communities that were becoming highly stratified, the Jewish ideology of "commitment to communal welfare" serves as a mechanism - and a very effective one, to be sure - whereby elites encourage subordinates to adopt beliefs and values that apparently serve the interests of the entire community but that, in practice, actually serve the material and reproductive interests of the dominant. Thereby, Jewish tradition is viewed not as a mechanism for eliciting widespread acts of altruism by all members of the community; instead it is viewed as one that fosters the development a complex system of asymmetric reciprocities, complex relations of mutual, but not equal, benefit.
There can be little doubt that Jewish culture encourages a strong inclination toward devotion to the in-group. And, in fairness, MacDonald does an exceptionally good job of documenting how this inclination is instilled and maintained in many communities. One should not dismiss the genuine emotional attachments that Jews may have toward other members of their communities. Such sentiments of love and charity are real and profound; and they have unquestioned evolutionary significance. Nevertheless, to suggest that such inclinations emerge and persist in human populations as a result of selection pressures that operate on the level of the entire group fails to persuade. Keen attention must be paid to the variable cost-benefit ratios that attend such acts of intense cooperation and charity across status groups in Jewish communities, and MacDonald chooses not to pursue systematically this line of reasoning. Had he done so, the evolutionary logic that undergirds an otherwise fascinating account of Judaism would have been more sharply focused and convincing.
This review was published earlier in the Journal of Social
and Evolutionary Systems, 1997, Vol. 20,
#2. © JAI Press.
by HAL J. DANIEL III, Department of Biology, East Carolina
Greenville, NC 27858-4353, U.S.A.
This is a useful paperback. Summarizing the evolutionary biology of human
sexual pursuit and bonding, the author begins his discussion of human
mating behavior by presenting the universality of various human mating
strategies. From a Darwinian sexual selection model, Professor Buss
emphasizes that mate preference and competition for a mate underlies all
mating behavior, independent of culture. He wastes no time exposing
traditional psychological wisdom or mate selection by stating "men desire
and physical attractiveness" and "women desire status and economic security"
(p. 4). These "desires" have been and continue to be selected as they
respectively benefit the human species. In chapter 2, "What women want",
Buss accurately presents human female "choosiness" as this behavior
increases their chances of obtaining resources, commitment and protection, all
of which subsequently increase her chances of getting her own offspring to
be reproductively successful. Chapter 3, "Men want something else" gives
reasons why human males are more prone to promiscuity and why men in
all cultures place a great premium on youth and physical attractiveness as
they are significant cues to fertility. Buss quotes his own research stating that
men's greater preference for physically attractive women is the most
consistently documented psychological sex difference. Buss gives some
examples of the qualities both men and women desire in their mates in order
to "show off" their own status. Men frequently acquire "trophy" wives as
this type of wife is indicative of his high status; women frequently seek such
attributes as ambition, status, intelligence and age as these attributes may
reveal a man's potential to provide resources. Buss does an admirable job in
explaining cryptic ovulation and how it conceals a woman's reproductive
status. He fails, however, to discus the co-evolution of human female
concealed ovulation, the gaining of orgasm and the reduction of male
philandering behavior. He could have also mentioned how these co-evolving
selected for kinship bonding and subsequent survival of offspring. In chapter
4, "Casual sex", Buss does present a nice overview of testes size and sperm
competition, sperm production and mate separation, orgasm and sperm
retention. He also reviews the pros and cons of casual sex which,
interestingly, gives us all something to ponder. Chapter 5 summarizes the
needed to successfully attract a partner from a co-evolutionary point of view.
mechanisms evolve in one sex to solve the adaptive problem imposed by
the other sex. Just as the successful fisherman uses the lure that most
closely resembles food that fits the fish's evolved preferences, so the
successful competitor employs psychological tactics that most closely fit the
evolved desires of the opposite sex (p.97).
In this partner attraction chapter, Buss discusses the evolution of male
strategies for accruing and displaying resources, how they display
physical prowess, bravado and self-confidence. He also states that just as
men's successful tactics for attracting women depend on women's desires in
mate, women's attraction tactics depend on men's preferences. Women who
embody physical and behavioral cues that signal their youth and physical
attractiveness are usually successful in attracting a mate. Buss exposes the
cosmetic industry for what it really is - an industry, for the most part,
focused on highlighting female sexual enhancement. Buss cites the 1993
Cashdan study of "cads and dads" reporting that women who pursued
casual sex often wear revealing clothes as opposed to women who are
seeking long term commitment, who tend to dress more conservatively.
6, "Staying together", is an instructive chapter as it discusses the evolutionary
significance of sexual jealousy and its consequences. Male sexual jealousy
underlies the majority of men's acts of violence against their mates as well as
each other. The material covered in this section should be required reading
for all who can do so and should be taught (somehow) to all those who can
not. "Sexual conflict", chapter 7, reviews the author's own research on the
topic of conflict between the sexes. As men and women have different sexual
strategies, they frequently differ in which events arouse negative emotion and
conflict. For example, men seeking sexual gratification without commitment
are problematic to most women; women who withhold sex even after
commitment can be troublesome to most men. Buss discusses sexual
emotional commitment, investment of resources, deception, abuse, harassment
and rape as they individually relate to sexual conflict. In chapter 8,
"Breaking up", the author neatly summarizes the implications for a lasting
To preserve a marriage couples should remain faithful; produce children
together; have ample economic resources; be kind, generous, and under
standing; and never refuse or neglect a mate sexually. These actions do not
guarantee a successful marriage, but they increase the odds substantially (
In chapter 9, "Changes over time", the author discusses how human mating behavior changes over a lifetime. The changes in a woman's worth, the changes in a man's worth, the loss of desire, lowered commitments, changes in frequency of extramarital affairs, menopause, the earlier death of men, the marriage squeeze and the prospect for lifetime mating are all presented and adequately summarized. Professor Buss states: "To the extent that the central ingredient of a woman's desirability is her reproductive value and of a man's his resource capacity, men and women of comparable age are not typically comparable in desirability". But the chapter concludes with some interesting and instructive new data from the author's international study. "... as men and women age, they place less value on physical appearance in a mate and more value on enduring qualities such as dependability and having a pleasing disposition - qualities important for the success of a marriage and critical for the investment in children" (p.208).
In the final chapter, "Harmony between the sexes", Buss attempt to appease those taking a grim view of evolutionary biological explanations for mating behavior (e.g. the feminists, the social scientists, etc.) by stating that humans are "not conscripted slaves to sex roles dictated by evolution. Knowledge of the conditions that favor each mating strategy give us the possibility of choosing which to activate and which to leave dormant". Of special inter est to this reviewer was the "Notes and Bibliography". This section gives the student of human sexual behavior a thorough, comprehensive overview of the literature. I found it especially helpful.
While the paperback is good value and a nice addition to my collection on the subject, there are a few problems. The book is mistitled. It doesn't really present a phylogenetic overview of the evolution of desire but rather the evolution of human mating behavior. The subtitle Strategies of Human Mating perhaps is an attempt to clarify this shortcoming. I find it problematic that Buss never really gives an operational definition of desire but assumes, rather anthropocentrically, that we all understand what he means by the word "desire".
Desire to Madonna might be different than desire felt by a Catholic Nun. Mick Jagger and the Unibomber may have differing perceptions about desire as well. And What about desire in fish? in frogs? lizards? ducks? gerbils? No mention is made of homologies and/or analogies across species. Perhaps a better title would have been Strategies of Human Mating Behavior: Their Origins and Implications. From this context, the book simply is another description of sexual signalling and reception in another species, Homo sapiens. The book, useful as it is, is not earthshaking to anyone familiar with the animal behavior literature. Sperm is cheap; eggs are expensive. Female choice dictates that sex is simply one big experiment controlled by females at the expense of males. Human females are judicious, prudent and discerning but if males obtain territory and resources, get their signals correct, then they usually get the best of all possible inseminations. The same for fish, frogs, lizards, ducks and gerbils. So what's new?
A final problem - the book is male biased. It's probably impossible to write a book of this nature without being somewhat sexist but the author frequently gives one-sided perceptions of some of the behaviors and strategies. For example, when discussing the shift in attraction following orgasm, Buss only presents a male perspective. My wife of 12 years informs me the same feelings and attitudes occur in females post copulation (She really didn't have to inform me). Her theory is that women get "turned off" and "chilly" to their partners after intercourse as doing so protects an egg possibly implanted. Makes sense. It would be interesting to read Meredith F. Small's similar treatment of human mating. I wonder if her What's Love Got To Do With It? The Evolution of Human Mating is female biased?
by HAL J. DANIEL III, Department of Biology, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC 27858-4353, U.S.A.
As soon as I opened this little paperback, I got the answer to the question
posed in the title. Small acknowledges Tim, her significant other, "because
love has something to do with it." Before reading another page I wondered if
a womans perception of the evolution of human mating varied as a
of whether or not she pair-bonded with a significant other or a husband. It
appears my query indeed was, and probably still is, relevant. More on this
The "Introduction" begins with the author telling a story of a Thanksgiving dinner party in which the topic of discussion was concealed ovulation. Do women and their partners know when the woman ovulates? Small relates how everyone at the dinner party was fascinated with the topic and uses this fascination as the hook for her books main purpose. Its "about human mating, or sex, because were all captivated by the subject and yet totally confused about its origins" (p. xiii). She goes on to explain that sexual imagery is everywhere, yet we dont really understand our sexual biology. We need to place sexuality in its proper context, according to Small, not just in the context of popular culture. She explains that she intends to write about human sexuality in the context of primatology (obviously her academic area) and how similar, or different, we are to our primate cousins. Her efforts are "an attempt to bring the study of sex out of the closet and off the academic pedestal and integrate it among other behavioral patterns that make up the totality of the human experience." (p. xv).
Chapter 1 "The Sexual Animal" summarizes the evolutionary history of human sexual behavior, beginning with a brief presentation of a modern cultures (the red light district of Amsterdam) flippancy about the place of sex within that particular citys confines. Small writes... "the place of sex in red light districts in cities mimics the place in our culture" (p. 3) and continues by stating... "sex has become something not part of our selves, or our biology, but some disconnected feature not wholly human" (p. 4). The author suggests "we turn our backs to the red light districts, toss out the advertisements with the suggestive naked women, peel off those layers of culture, and look to our past for clues to our sexuality" (p. 4). Small lets us know what she thinks about monogamy straight-away within this first chapter stating that human females can be sexual anytime during their cycle and suggests that they are not designed for monogamy. Using the decrease in hominid sexual dimorphism over time as an example, she quotes Blaffer-Hrdy by writing that "humans are a mildly polygynous species that has evolved from a highly polygynous species" (p. 19). Small writes that society forces monogamy on us but we humans are biologically designed for polygamy. She states that economics, politics and morals are responsible for monogamy, not biology. (She should be aware that their are some of us who feel biology is responsible for economics, politics and morals.) The chapter, however, does give a nice review of cryptic ovulation in human females and how it and the lack of estrus present a problem and an opportunity for human males. Small writes that human females have "sexual flexibility" and males have the potential to have sex quite frequently, but dont due to low sperm counts and long refractory periods.
In chapter 2 "The Essential Urge", Small brings us to the present writing that humans have disconnected sex from reproduction. She points out that sexual pleasure is a physical reaction that evolved to make the genitals sensitive and the body able to orgasm. The sex drive is both endogenous and exogenous, according to Small, who reviews how various sensory stimuli (sight, smell, taste and touch) along with sex steroids stimulate "sweating vaginas and stiffening penises". Her bottom line for this chapter is that sexual arousal is not just a function of our hormones or nerve impulses in the central nervous system but a combination of mind, body and outside influences. This point of view continues to bolster up her feminist philosophy that women are more promiscuous than once believed and that the revolution in sex science will continue to liberate women from their from their hum-drum cultural responsibilities. "There you are sitting in a cafe, sipping expresso, reading the morning paper, and suddenly you feel a surge of sexual desire" (p. 42). What yuppie freedom! It was at this point in the book that it came apparent the author is obviously not raising children and that her views on sexuality are framed and focused by the carefree freedom of new age yuppie irresponsibility. As my wife says, "Dont give me any of your feminist rhetoric unless youve raised children!"
In chapters 3 and 4, "The Female of the Species" and "Men at Work", respectively, Small covers the sexual biology of women and men. I found the chapters better than their respective titles-the implication being that women are merely "presented" while men "work" for their presentation. As for presentations, its here that Small really exerts her sexual politics. She states that "recent approaches to the way we think about female reproductive biology, in particular, are changing the traditional ideas of female sexuality. New ideas on the function of how fertilization occurs, the purpose of menstruation and the function of the menstrual cycle, and the role of the female orgasm are bound to alter the traditional idea of females as passive participants in human sexuality" (p. 65). While the author presents some of the recent data on the evolutionary significance of cycling, menstruation and orgasm (the Hoover theory was especially interesting), I failed to glean anything new or earthshaking about her predicted "revolution". So how is sperm-egg communication and the fact that follicular fluid pulls sperm to the egg going to change anything other than rhetoric? Sex has always been one big experiment, controlled by the female at the expense of the male. So what if women control whose sperm goes where with their orgasms? So what if menstruation is an anti-pathogen response? What is important to know is that human females are healthier if they have intercourse once a week (not masturbation) as doing so keeps their cycle regular and subsequently improves their overall health.
Smalls chapter on "Men at Work" presents a fine summary of male sperm production and deposition, the male orgasm and sperm competition. She also gives an interesting and informative overview of "comparative sperm" and the evolutionary significance of male masturbation. Aside from the confusing data on the sperm counts produced with each ejaculation ("2 million sperm released by a man during sex" p. 92 and... "men usually ejaculate about 250 million with each orgasm" p. 101) the chapter is pretty good until the end where Small once again rants about male dominance. "Perhaps by telling women over and over they dont like sex and restricting their sexuality, men have been able to culturally control what they cant restrain biologically- female sexual assertiveness" (p. 123).
"Mate Choice", chapter 5, covers the two basic theories to mate selection- the biological versus the cultural, stating both merit consideration. Her section on the biological theory is similar to the work by David Buss described earlier (Men desire females who will have healthy babies; females desire men who will provide for them and their babies). The social or cultural theory is simply cultural explanations for the underlying biological urges or desires. Small suggests reconciliation between the evolutionary and socio-cultural constructs to mate choice by asserting "given our genetic urges and the cultural pressures put upon us, our mate choice and reproductive decisions dont always fit into a nice neat package that can be quantified and analyzed by scientists" (p. 132). Shes correct on this point.
Her chapter "The Natural History of Homosexuality" is very good and a thorough summary of the recent ideas on the psychology, biology and genetics of homosexuality. If one hasnt kept up with the recent Science work by Simon LeVay and Dean Hamer, this chapter is an outstanding summarization of their exciting work. I think this is the best and most proper chapter in the entire paperback and I certainly agree with her bottom line and conclusion. She writes "If research on the biology of homosexuality helps us understand the biology of all sexuality, then I am interested in the possibilities" (p. 188).
Small concludes with "Sex Beyond the Twenty First century" (chapter 7) by discussing our future sexuality in light of the specter and sociology of AIDS, the future of reproduction including in vitro fertilization (this reviewer does nt care much for reading about "cum in a cup" daddies), sexual cyberspace, electronic sex, and virtual sex (all too hip and high-tech for this reviewing misoneist). She answers her title question in this final chapter by stating:
Sex, in that sense, can be a significant part of a long relationship. It isnt a necessary part, but it does add to the richness of life. And so love is not necessarily a part of sex, but often, sex is a part of love. (p. 209)
The book contains a complete bibliography and is fairly easy reading. It would pair up nicely with Buss paperback as inexpensive texts for an undergrad course on the evolution of human sexuality. My major criticism are the unnecessary feminist rhetoric and the lack of treatment of the ontogeny of human sexual behavior. The book is obviously written by someone who is not actively raising children and is extremely free to have plenty of time to think and fantasize about human sexuality. Her ideas are new age, hip and hot, but, alas, depict the behavior in only one dimension of time. No mention is made of the changes in human sexual drive, desire and motivation from adolescence to advanced adulthood. She also fails to mention the important new comparative findings on sexual behavior and parasites (Species that are more burdened with parasites are comparatively more sexual as the parasites literally drive the host to frequently copulate in order to in crease the chances of genome survival). Maybe human females are becoming more and more burdened with parasites. She also makes a mistake on page 45. Humans do not have the biggest brains of all mammals but this error could have been an editorial oversight. Perhaps she meant "primates". But with the problems in mind, I do recommend the book as a side-by-side compendium with Buss Evolution of Desire. Both books now sit on my shelf and continue to howl, scratch and claw their respective gender biases on this complicated, sensitive topic. I often look up at the books and fantasize about the two authors side-by-side.
by RON DARE, Department of Natural Science, Western New
University, Silver City, NM 88062, U.S.A.
Unless you are a specialist in the philosophy of science, or a masochist, you
probably will not want to wade into this book. It's a bit like quicksand -
minus the fun: You may extricate yourself, but there is no exciting story to
tell afterwards. Here's a sample paragraph of average length
Repetitive reading not recommended):
The central question raised by Putnam's analysis is how the nominal, or stereotypic, kinds of ordinary language are to be correlated with the natural kinds discovered by science. Or conversely, granted that there are these real, empirically discoverable natural kinds, how do we know which to assign to a particular term? Putnam answers this question by appealing to a previously unnoticed indexical component of meaning. This consists in the reference, in using a natural kind term, to whatever natural kind paradigmatic instances of the extension of the term "in our world" belong to [sic]. Such a paradigm may be identified either ostensively, or operationally through the stereotype. Once the paradigmatic exemplar has been identified, the kind is then defined as consisting of all those individuals that bear an appropriate "sameness relation" to this individual. The sameness relation is Putnam's analogue of Locke's real essence [p.24].
The author, an associate professor of philosophy at Stanford University, erects an elitist and intransigent straw monster (his version of science and its foundations), then proceeds to attack it straw by straw. Depending on one's epistemological orientation (i.e., how one defines "knowledge," and the criteria one relies on to seek it), this is either an imaginative and intellectually challenging critique of modern science (what Dupré disparagingly refers to as "scientism"), or a virtuoso display of pedantry verging on mental masturbation.
To be fair, it should be noted that one of the few things on which modern philosophers of science seem to agree is that they "continue to disagree not only about the nature of science but also about the aims and methods of philosophy of science itself" (Kourany 1987:ix). Dupré, however, claims that his book goes far beyond merely epistemological considerations, and that, "as its title declares, [it] is intended to be metaphysical through and through" (p.8).
Metaphysical foundations: Since "metaphysics" is philosophical concern with "the way the world really is" (Solomon 1985:52), Dupré seems to believe that any "disunity" in the dialogue of science - including philosophy of science _ represents actual disunity in the world. He refers to this belief in ontological (pertaining to existence) disunity as "pluralistic," or "promiscuous," realism. Furthermore, his argument consists of
two interwoven theses...: first... the denial that science constitutes, or
could ever come to constitute, a single unified project... Second... a
[metaphysical] thesis about how the world is... There are countless kinds
of things... subject each to its own characteristic behavior and interactions. In
addition,... the second [thesis] shows the inevitability of the first
The latter premise certainly appears acceptable. If, indeed, the world is not a
coherent entity, but consists of an infinite ("countless" [ibid.]) number
disparate things ("The Disorder of Things"), one should never expect
a unified scientific explanation of such reality. Dupré musters a
array of arguments and examples to bolster his theses. His presentation is
organized and intricate. It is also often tedious, obscure, and wrong.
The aforementioned straw monster consists of three major constituents which Dupré insists represent the underlying metaphysical assumptions of science and, by extension, of the scientific unity supposition. These are the doctrines of determinism, essentialism, and reductionism. Since these are classical topics in philosophy they also provide what seems to be no end of literature citations, cross references, footnotes and name-dropping.
That the monster is largely straw (in the sense of logical fallacy) derives from the author's many selectively chosen and narrowly construed examples, occasional snide allusions, and often politically motivated passages. He glibly characterizes science (which he admits he can't satisfactorily define) as mired in fundamental simplistic assumptions. Then, if he does mention alternative, or more sophisticated developments in scientific thought (e.g., probability, quantum mechanics, chaos theory) he seems intent on forcing them, and their advocates, back into the simplistic assumptions he demands.
Determinism: For example, with regard to causation and determinism, he claims that "one particularly notorious founding metaphor of modern science [is] the idea that the universe should be considered as a gigantic machine. Traditionally... a clock... naturally associated with a clockmaker, as in William Paley's famous argument for the existence of God" (p.2).
Just how Dupré manages to incorporate Paley's anti-scientific metaphysics into a "metaphor of modern science" brings to mind how some conservative Christians declare that "secular humanism" (look up "secular") - or, for that matter, "science" - are forms of "religion." Nevertheless, it somehow leads him to accuse Richard Dawkins (1986) of being one of those notorious "latter-day mechanists [who] have deprived the clockmaker of no more than his sight" (p.2).
You needn't be a sociobiologist to understand how thoroughly Dupré has screwed up Dawkins' metaphor. But it is more than metaphors which are misunderstood or misstated. The author discusses at length (Chaps. 3-4) the conception of "cause(s)" underlying determinism. However, Bertrand Russell, a significant figure in philosophy of science, long ago dismissed scientific dependence on a metaphysics of determinism by suggesting that causes, "though useful to daily life and in the infancy of a science, tend to be displaced by quite different laws as soon as a science is successful" (Russell, 1917:194). Therefore, whether or not one subscribes to Russell's conclusion, it would nevertheless seem that Dupré's insistence on determinism as a fundamental metaphysical requirement of scientific thinking is not axiomatic.
Essentialism: To counter what he considers is scientific dependence on the doctrine of essentialism - the existence of natural kinds defined by real essences (Chaps. 1-3) - Dupré's "thesis is that there are countless legitimate, objectively grounded ways of classifying objects in the world. And these may cross-classify one another in indefinitely complex ways... [fitting] into a metaphysics of radical ontological pluralism" (p.18).
In the first place, this seems to describe epistemological, or even psychological, much more than ontological, pluralism. The fact that we can concentrate on a limited number of concepts (sometimes only one) at a time, or that we typically communicate ideas in a discrete linear fashion (language), does not necessarily mean that the world literally exists as countless, discontinuous entities.
Dupré appears to be putting the metalinguistic cart before the metaphysical horse. It would seem that what exists has much more to do with determining how we think and, consequently, what knowledge is, than the other way around. If ontological pluralism were really the case then there should be actual (natural) divisions of reality represented by exactly that which the author insists does not exist: "an orderly, unique... arrangement of the things that exist... [in which] the ultimate distinctions would be completely sharp... [and] must, in some sense, be discovered rather than merely invented" (p.17).
More to the point, he claims that science requires just such a distinct arrangement and, ultimately, depends on a metaphysics of real essences. "It is still widely believed that science is, among other things, the search for fundamental kinds defined by real essences" (p.60). It may be "widely believed" in some circles. That doesn't necessarily make it so.
Reductionism: Dupré accuses science of relying on a strategy of reductionism which he defines as "the view that the ultimate scientific understanding of a range of phenomena is to be gained exclusively [my emphasis] from looking at the constituents of those phenomena and their properties... [and that] the endpoint of this program will reveal the whole of science to have been derived from nothing but [my emphasis] the laws of the lowest level" (p.88).
He claims that this idea underlies attempts to unify science, and that it "also has strong affinities and connections with determinism" (p.4). In opposition, he argues that "a central purpose of the ontological pluralism [he has] been defending is to imply that there are genuinely causal entities at many different levels of organization. And this is enough to show that causal completeness [deterministic explanation - pp.99-100] at one particular level is wholly incredible" (p.101).
To begin with, insisting that science (and scientists) do not also subscribe to a similar view seems unwarranted (cf., feedback phenomena) - except for Dupré's obsession with "ontological pluralism." This really appears to be conceptual, or epistemological, pluralism again: If paths of causation do not exist continuously (ontological unity) throughout what might be considered a hyperdimensional maze of causation (even if only probabilistic) there certainly could not be any "genuinely causal entities at many levels of organization... [rather than] at one particular level" (ibid.). What seems pluralistic is simply a product of one's perspective.
In addition, Dupré's simplistic version of reductionism is not, as he suggests, essential to scientific unity. For example, the social behavior of an animal deme may be understood in ecological terms - i.e., how the members interact with each other and with the rest of their environment to survive and reproduce. Nevertheless, such an explanation had better be understandable in terms of, or at least not contradict (scientific unification), what biochemistry and physics inform us about the processes of sensory perception, locomotion, reproductive physiology, and extracting/converting the energy arriving from a nearby star.
In fact, the more profoundly we understand the underlying mechanisms, the more clues and directions are available for understanding the bigger picture. But this is not to say that understanding micromechanisms alone can somehow automatically generate useful explanations of macrophenomena without observing the macro processes themselves. Two very famous quotes regarding science (so famous I couldn't find their mythical origins) are appropriate here: "Seek simplicity and distrust it" (Alfred North Whitehead), and "Everything should be as simple as possible, but no simpler" (Albert Einstein).
Dupré's straw man fallacy this time is assuming that science is somehow committed only to simplistic, reductionistic explanations. If this were true, Dupré might have a legitimate complaint. It isn't. He doesn't.
Political philosophy: More than a few of the author's statements suggest that personal beliefs or political motivations tend to fuel his arguments: "Perhaps overarching theories of sociology, human psychology, or meteorology will eventually be accepted. But I see no a priori reason to anticipate or even welcome such developments" (p.241). No surprise here. "Such developments" would overturn most of the author's central thesis about the "disunity of science."
Dupré worries: "If the program [seeking correlations between perinatal hormonal conditions and subsequent behaviors] were to be fully successful it would show no role for the choices of anybody, male or female, in the display of any of the behavior explained by such research" (p.257). Obviously, such an outcome would not be politically acceptable to him, let alone desirable.
Apart from an apparent fallacy of false alternatives ("no role" the only possible consequent?) this hypothetical proposition contributes nothing useful regarding the epistemology or metaphysical foundations of science. Rather, it brings to mind the proper Victorian lady's attitude regarding Darwin's theory: "My dear, let us hope that it is not true, but if it is, let us pray that it will not become generally known" (BSCS 1974:61). This subjectivist fallacy is sometimes called wishful thinking. It says much more about the author's agenda than it does about any purported flaws in a scientific view of reality.
What science is: The most that Dupré can say about science - and the closest to defining it - is that science is "the set of knowledge-claiming practices that are accorded that title" (p.242), and that it "means little more than whatever are our currently most successful, or even just influential [my emphasis], ways of finding out about particular ranges of phenomena" (p.167).
This does raise some questions: If a majority of the population (or even an influential contingent of, for example, celebrities) relies on the "Psychic Friends Network" or the daily horoscope for "finding out about particular ranges of phenomena," are they practicing science? And if "creation science" is "accorded that title," (particularly if that title is accorded by [creation] "scientists"), does that make it science, as well?
On the one hand, Dupré actually claims that a solution for distinguishing science from nonscience "is unlikely to be forthcoming" (p.243). On the other hand, he expresses some "prejudices against astrology, theology, and even alchemy" (p.10), while nevertheless claiming that "there are surely paths to knowledge very different from those currently sanctioned by the leading scientific academies" (p.10). If these "paths" include personal "prejudices" for or against such theories as "even alchemy," how can science possibly compete?
Perhaps the problem here is suggested by Dupré's implication that the path to "knowledge" should at least lead to "true belief" (p. 245). At first glance this might seem an admirable goal, but there is an even more admirable and rigorous standard: true, justified belief. And it is the justification aspect that distinguishes science from many other paths to belief, even when those beliefs may be fortuitously true - or result from "believing the right thing for the wrong reason" (Hanson 1971:ix). While there may be different "paths to knowledge," a critical question remains: Which is the most reliable?
An essential weakness of this book is that the author minutely examines an enormously complex and historically rich human enterprise ("science is a human practice" [p.244]), and finds it flawed. Hello! Can we get real for a moment? "Human" enterprise, remember? The description of democracy commonly attributed to Winston Churchill could well apply to science as a strategy for seeking knowledge: "It's the worst possible system - except for all the others." Dupré does not provide us with anything as good, let alone better.
Lamenting perceived "androcentric and ethnocentric biases of much science" (p.11) may be an admirable exercise in the history and sociology of science. It may also tell us something about the human frailties of scientists. It does not necessarily tell us much about the intrinsic nature of science itself.
A final long footnote praises Haraway's (1989) "brilliant account of [science]... having much relevance to [these] present aims" (p.289). At the risk of appearing overly immodest, my comments on that book now seem equally relevant here: "The antidote to sexist/racist/colonialist nonsense masquerading as science is neither the `deconstruction' of science nor the imposition of politically `correct' or `feminist' metaphors masquerading as hypotheses. It is, rather, the acknowledgment that any belief is only as `good' as the testable reasons for accepting it. This is the basic epistemology of science" (Dare 1990:122). And whatever the "metaphysical foundations of science" turn out to be, they are ultimately determined by this fundamental - and unique - way of thinking.
This review was published earlier in the Journal of Social
and Evolutionary Systems, 1997, Vol. 20,
#2. © JAI Press.
BSCS (Biological Sciences Curriculum Study) (1974). An Inquiry into the
of Man: Science and Religion. Boulder, CO: Science and Mankind,
Dare, Ron (1990). `Review of Haraway ,' Science Books & Films. 25,3:121- 122.
Dawkins, Richard (1986). The Blind Watchmaker. New York: W.W. Norton.
Haraway, Donna (1989). Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science. New York: Routledge, Chapman & Hall.
Hanson, N.R. (1971). Observation and Explanation: A Guide to Philosophy of Science. New York: Harper & Row.
Kourany, Janet A. (1987). Scientific Knowledge: Basic Issues in the Philosophy of Science. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company.
Russell, Bertrand (1917). `On the Notion of Cause,' Mysticism and Logic. London: Allen & Unwin.
Solomon, Robert C. (1985).Introducing Philosophy: A Text with Readings, Third Edition. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers.
by MATT RIDLEY, Boston House, Blagdon, Seaton Burn,
Newcastle-upon-Tyne, NE13 6DB, England.
Roger Masters is, among many other things, a wide-ranging philosopher: an
expert on Rousseau, Machiavelli and serotonin. He has thought more
profoundly than anybody else about the implications of the study of human
nature for philosophy - and indeed is perhaps the premier philosopher of
sociobiology. This is therefore a work of monumental importance for our
self-understanding as a species.
At the heart of Masters's argument is an attack on the dichotomy between fact and value, the `naturalistic fallacy'. For Masters, the argument that you cannot argue from fact to value, from `is' to `ought', is itself a fallacy. He suggests that the tradition of modern philosophy and science originating with Locke, Hume, Galileo and Newton, which has tried so hard to separate the project of understanding the world from telling people how to live their lives, has largely run its course. Instead we need to return to a more ancient tradition, the `naturalistic' tradition of Thales, Plato and Aristotle in which we learn about the world precisely because it sheds light on how we should live our lives.
It is a very subtle and delicately constructed argument, because Masters has no truck with post-modernism or deconstructionism. Not for him the nihilistic project of saying that there is no such thing as factual knowledge, just subjective views of the world. The moon is not made of cheese, however hard you might wish to believe that it is. Relativism, for Masters, is an understandable reaction to the disappointments of science delivering us into a nuclear world, but it is not an appropriate one.
`The problems confronting our civilisation seem related to the triumph of modern science, yet we are told scientific knowledge cannot be the foundation of our goals and values,' writes Masters. For example, he blames the increase in divorce on the refrigerator, arguing that divorce was impractical for both a typical man and a typical woman, however great the desire, in an age when keeping house was a full time job for one of them. Now that convenient machines and convenience foods make keeping house an easier task, couples can split and each can manage on his or her own. Therefore, physics, in the shape of the electricity supply, has profound moral implications for families. Why must physics and biology be outlawed from addressing those implications?
In a clever passage, Masters catches the relativist philosopher Arnold Brecht committing the naturalistic fallacy even as he argues against it: `The logical reasoning in arithmetic is strictly analytic, and it is for this reason that it can and must be accepted as absolutely true,' writes Brecht. But the argument is circular: analytic argument is defined as a fact rather than a value judgment and then used to prove the difference. Brecht's use of the word `must' neatly bridges the gap between `is' and `ought'.
`Paradoxically,' says Masters, `one ought to accept the fact-value dichotomy because it is effective, useful or powerful in the natural sciences. Again, however, the practice of the scientist, especially the social scientist, seems to belie the argument supposedly used to define the scientific method.'
When dealing with the question as a philosopher, Masters has an advantage most others who deal with the question have lacked. He is fantastically well read, knowing not just Locke, Hume, Rousseau and Kant like the back of his hand, but Plato, Rorty and Brecht, too. Only Adam Smith is surprisingly omitted. Even as he demolishes one of these men's arguments Masters does it gently and respectfully and with powerful, detailed ammunition from his voracious reading. It is a joy for the reader.
But what has all this to do with sociobiology? Robert Wright has also argued in his book `The Moral Animal' that the naturalistic fallacy is not such a watertight defence for sociobiologists as they usually assume. If you point out to people that they vote for punishment of offenders largely out of an evolved instinct for revenge, then you may alter their behaviour for better or for worse. Likewise, the economist Robert Frank has shown that economics students are more likely to defect in prisoner's dilemma games than astronomy students, because they have been taught that people are basically self-interested and they therefore think they OUGHT to be self-interested.
Masters believes that the demolition of the dichotomy between nature and nurture by (for instance) the discovery of neurotransmitters which affect behaviour and are in turn affected by both genetics and social status, and the other discoveries of behavioural ecology, have driven a coach and horses through the naturalistic fallacy. But sociobiology is not alone in this. Quantum mechanics and chaos theory have also brought to a close the era in which the scientist can pretend to view nature from a lofty and objective viewpoint.
Yet to argue that there can be no such thing as a value-free science is not to say that all science must be bad or good. As Masters points out, both biological determinists (through Hitler) and environmental determinists (through Stalin) have played their part in terrible atrocities. Yet it is wrong to blame either. Eugenics and Lysenkoism were the excuses used to justify existing prejudices, not the causes of those prejudices. Masters is a political scientist, which means that unlike most of that name he does real experiments. In one such experiment he showed that people have instinctively negative reactions to the body language of foreign politicians, even when the sound is turned down and they do not know they are watching foreign politicians.
Yet this example seems to me to illustrate a small flaw in Masters's argument. It leads to the conclusion that prejudice is more of a fact than a value, a part of human nature. While I applaud and bow to most of Masters's argument, I do not feel the need to embrace the naturalistic fallacy altogether. It seems to me that the fact that science does have relevance to human value judgments does not mean that there cannot be a value-free scientific fact, any more than there cannot be an objective fact. Masters is right to attack the absolutism of much of the modern fact-value dichotomy, but he must not let his readers conclude that the reverse absolutism is true: that all science is equally value laden. I know Masters does not believe such a thing, but some body could misinterpret him as saying so.
There is no doubt that this is a brilliant book, and that practitioners of sociobiology should turn to it for the best of reasons: not to change the way they practise, but to understand better the project on which they are engaged.
by MICHAEL RUSE, Department of History and Philosophy,
Guelph, Guelph, Ontario N1G 2W1, Canada.
When I was an undergraduate some thirty or more years ago, we junior
philosophers were taught that there are some subjects which are not simply
false, but as it were, positively unclean. The sort of thing that no
self-respecting professional could possibly ever be seen taking seriously. High
on this list
was the topic of evolutionary ethics. That is to say, the attempt to show that
in some way our understanding of morality, both the foundations and the
prescriptions, can be related to the fact that we humans are the products of
an evolutionary process: more specifically the end results of a long slow
painful path of evolution through natural selection as fuelled by the struggle
If it were not enough that the famous analytic philosopher G.E. Moore, in his seminal Principia Ethica (1903), had shown just how fallacious were the arguments of the nineteenth century philosopher and sociologist Herbert Spencer, then more recently we had the dreadful example of Julian Huxley (the grandson of "Darwin's Bulldog" Thomas Henry Huxley) who had been pushing evolutionary ideas in the 1940s and was refuted (Huxley and Huxley 1947) - very effectively refuted in the eyes of most contemporary philosophers - by the student of Moore, C.D. Broad (1949). Evolutionary ethics we learned commits that most famous of all fallacies, the so-called "naturalistic fallacy" or as David Hume (1978) had said in his Treatise some two centuries before, it makes the fallacious move from claims of fact, to claims of value (in other words, it violates the "is/ought" distinction).
My goodness! How things do change, which is perhaps just as well or we would all die of boredom. Today, the whole topic of evolution and ethics is one of the most discussed in certain circles, and not just those of professional philosophers of biology. And there is a positive stream of articles and books devoted to showing that in fact it really does make a difference that we humans are modified monkeys, and not the products of a good God on the Sixth Day of Creation. Thanks particularly to the work of certain biologists, notably the Harvard sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson, (1975, 1978) people from all areas are now arguing not only that evolution and ethics can be brought together from the point of view of prescription ("what should I do?") but also from the point of view of foundations or metaethics ("Why should I do that which I should do?").
It is certainly not the case that everybody enthusiastically endorses the evolutionary ethical program; but, even the very criticism show how things have moved forward. At least now it is recognized we have ideas which are worth criticizing. Speaking personally as one of the most ardent of today's evolutionary ethicists, I can report that several people have asked me to write contributions to anthologies of various sorts. It may be that I am just being used as a dreadful example to the young, but my experience is that there is no better way of converting the young than by showing them what their seniors and betters think of fallacious arguments!
The book under review, The Secret Chain: Evolution and Ethics, by the American philosopher Michael Bradie is especially to be welcomed. This is not so much a work of advocacy, but rather one which tries (in my opinion) extremely successfully to put the whole debate in historical context. Bradie is concerned to show that evolutionary ethics, particularly as practised and endorsed today, is not something which in fact came out of nowhere. Indeed, it was not even something which came primarily from the evolutionists, including the most famous, namely Charles Darwin and the already-mentioned Herbert Spencer. In fact, evolutionary ethics at least as it is purveyed today, is something with a long standing lineage - particularly in empiricist approaches to ethical thinking, most particularly to that which can be found in Anglo-Saxon philosophy since the Reformation. If anything, Bradie is probably critical rather than endorsing of evolutionary ethics today. How ever, it is his opinion, one which is amply justified and born out by his work, that full understanding of the idea - strengths and weaknesses - can come only when it is put in a historical context (a perfectly good position for an evolutionist to take!) And as I have said, it is this which his book sets out successfully to achieve.
The Secret Chain starts out with a useful discussion of the conceptual geography, as it were, showing what the problems of ethics are and how one might set about bringing evolution to bear on the problems. As I have noted already, the main questions are those of prescription, that is the things that one ought to do, and then following on this, questions of foundation: the justification or justifications for the things that one ought to do. In my opinion, everyone could read this introduction by Bradie with a great deal of profit, whether or not one is going to end up positively or negatively on the final issues.
Following this, one plunges straight into the basic historical material, and one is led through an extremely detailed discussion of ethics and foundations as endorsed and developed by British empiricists of the seventeenth and eighteenth century. In my opinion, this is simply one of the best parts of the book, and one which everyone can read with much value. Certainly, in my opinion, Bradie establishes beyond doubt that the thinking today is well grounded in the kind of philosophy of morality started by people like Thomas Hobbes in the seventeenth century. One area where I wish Bradie had been a little fuller is in his discussion of the great Scottish philosopher of the eighteen century, David Hume. Perhaps, with some reason, he would respond that there is already a mass of material on Hume (including incidentally, material which is pertinent to the evolutionary ethical discussion by the late J.L. Mackie 1977, 1979), but nevertheless, I think the discussion could have been a little fuller here.
After this one plunges into the nineteenth century and the issues that are raised particularly by Charles Darwin's On The Origin of Species. Bradie is however fully aware that Darwin, in certain respects from the evolutionary ethical perspective, is if anything a secondary player besides that of Herbert Spencer. It is not so much that we think that Spencer was a better biologist than Darwin, in fact he clearly was not, but rather that the thinking he ex pounded and endorsed speaks more directly to evolutionary ethical issues than does much in Darwin. Nevertheless, Bradie does have detailed and important discussion of Darwinian ideas, particularly as they are to be found in Darwin's second great work The Descent of Man.
Following on this we move forward into an interesting discussion of human nature. I was glad to see that there was some important discussion of the pragmatists. Also, it is interesting that Bradie like others, sees that perhaps Aristotle (who is these days a particularly trendy philosopher) may well have had things of value to say. It is obviously not so much the case that Aristotle was an evolutionist. In fact, if anybody was responsible for the failure of evolution to flourish before the eighteenth century, it was probably Aristotle (challenged only by Plato). Rather Bradie sees that the kind of naturalistic approach that Aristotle takes to philosophical issues, including philosophical issues of morality, may well be pertinent to the highly naturalistic approach to ethics that evolutionary ethicists obviously take.
Then we move on to discussion of contemporary approaches to evolutionary ethics. Since I am one of the objects of Bradie's critique, you will hardly expect that I will endorse enthusiastically all of his claims. To be honest, my feeling is that evolutionary ethics can succeed so long as one stops asking the traditional questions of evolutionary ethicists, asked from Herbert Spencer on, namely about how can one find a justification for ethics in evolution. (I agree fully with the critics from Moore to Broad, that this leads one into fallacious argumentation.) I would say rather that the fact of evolution shows that the whole attempt at justification is itself misconceived. In other words, what I would argue (and I make a claim of no originality here, for I follow Mackie in this) is that, strictly speaking, evolutionary ethics points one to wards some form of moral scepticism. Not so much a scepticism about what one ought to do (any evolutionary ethicist including myself, recognizes that one ought not beat up little babies) but rather with respect to justification. Indeed, as I have said elsewhere, in my opinion ethics is simply an illusion or rather a collective illusion hoisted upon us by our genes to make us social- cooperators (Ruse 1986a, 1986b, 1989, 1990, 1995.) Bradie is critical of this and I will simply invite you to look at his arguments which are counter to mine. As I have said, I am not at all convinced that he makes his case, but then of course you would hardly expect that I would be convinced! What I will say is that I and other evolutionary ethicists writing today get a fair and dispassionate treatment of our positions, even if the author thinks he can then refute us.
Finally, and I confess that this is somewhat disappointing to me, Bradie turns to some practical implications of evolution and ethics and he deals with the question status of animals. I am disappointed perhaps because although I think the whole question of cruelty to animals is an important issue, some how the issue of the matter of the moral status of animals seems to me to be fairly low down the scale of pressing moral projects that we have before us. Particularly in a world where literally billions of human children go to bed hungry; to my way of thinking, concern for animals is all a little bit Anglo- Saxon and middle class. However, I realize that I am virtually a minority of one on this and so perhaps everyone else who reads The Secret Chain will applaud Bradie for turning to issues to do with animal rights. To be perfectly honest, I am not sure that Bradie argues, at least very effectively, that being an evolutionary ethicist carries one forward a great deal on this matter. But then I am not sure that any argument would succeed anyway. To parody W.S. Gilbert, just as every little child that is born into this world alive, is either a little Liberal or a little Conservative, so it seems that every little child that is born into this world alive, is either a little animal rights supporter or believes that the best place for animals is on one's plate with mint sauce.
A final brief conclusion leads into an extensive bibliography. I doubt very much that this is a book which will set the world on fire. Indeed it is not written in such a way. It is much more a scholarly exercise trying to show background and historical connections and tease apart positions that people hold today. Certainly Bradie does not come across as one with his own burning position which he wants to present. But within the context that the book is framed, I simply cannot recommend it too highly. It seems to me essential reading for anyone who would write or think on evolutionary ethics today. Unless you do so, you will be likely to commit all the follies of the past, but with Bradie behind you perhaps you will be in a position to push forth in a rather more adventuresome manner than he. This book is incidentally one of a series published by SUNY Press under the editorship of David Edward Shaner. It is a great credit to the Press, the series and the editor.
This review was published earlier in the Journal of Social
and Evolutionary Systems, 1997, Vol. 20,
#2. © JAI Press.
Broad, C. D. 1949. Review of Julian S. Huxley's "Evolutionary Ethics".
Readings in Philosophical Analysis. Editors H. Feigel, and Sellars W,
York: Apple-Century-Crofts (Originally published in "Mind", (1944) 53).
Hume, D. 1978. A Treatise of Human Nature. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Huxley, T. H., and J.S. Huxley. 1947. Evolution and Ethics 1893- 1943. London: Pilot.
Mackie, J. 1977. Ethics. Harmondsworth, Mddx.: Penguin.
-----. 1979. Hume's Moral Theory. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Moore, G. E. 1903. Principia Ethica. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Ruse, M. 1986a. Taking Darwin Seriously. Oxford: Blackwell.
-----. 1986b. Evolutionary ethics: a phoenix arisen. Zygon 21: 95- 112.
-----. 1989. The Darwinian Paradigm: Essays on its History, Philosophy and Religious Implications. London: Routledge.
-----. 1990. Evolutionary ethics and the search for predecessors: Kant, Hume, and all the way back to Aristotle? Social Philosophy and Policy 8 (1): 59-87.
-----. 1995. Evolutionary Naturalism: Selected Essays. London: Routledge.
Ruse, M., and E. O. Wilson. 1986. Moral philosophy as applied science. Philosophy 61: 173-92.
Wilson, E. O. 1975. Sociobiology: The New Synthesis. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
-----. 1978. On Human Nature. Cambridge, Mass.: Cambridge University Press.