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Why We Cooperate (Boston Review Books) Hardcover – August 28, 2009
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"The work of Tomasello and his colleagues provides the best and most exciting point of entry into a literature that will certainly shape philosophical debates for the years to come." -- Mattia Gallotti, Cambridge University Press
"... the fascinating approach to the question of what makes us human renders this a singularly worthwhile read." -- Publishers Weekly
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Tomasello has been a major contributor to this line of research. His study of how chimpanzees and human teach and learn led him to a model in which, for humans, there is a "shared intentionality" consisting of a tripartite cognition of the form teacher/-learner/object of knowledge, whereas for chimpanzees, there are only a set of dualities, skilled individual-object, unskilled individual-object, skilled individual-unskilled individual. Naturally, without the tripartite episteme, true leaning by imitation cannot occur, and indeed, that is a major conclusion in the literature. See, for instance, Michael Tomasello, Susan Savage-Rumbaugh, and A. C. Kruger (1993) Imitative learning of actions on objects by children, chimpanzees, and enculturated chimpanzees. Child Development 64:1688-1705.Read more ›
As to the book, the first half is a short essay by Tomasello while the second half consists of critiques by Joan B. Silk (How Humans Evolved (Fifth Edition)), Carol S. Dweck (Mindset: The New Psychology of Success), Brian Skyrms (Evolution of the Social Contract) and Elizabeth S. Spelke. I thought all the contributions were good, but I was most drawn to Tomasello's compelling observation that, "The remarkable human capacity for cooperation therefore seems to have evolved mainly for interactions within the local group. Such group-mindedness in cooperation is, perhaps ironically, a major cause of strife and suffering in the world today. The solution - more easily described than attained - is to find new ways to define the group.Read more ›
In all, a delightful read. Definitely recommended for someone with an interest in evolutionary psychology, developmental psychology, cognitive psychology, evolutionary anthropology, or related fields. Not particularly technical, so accessible to a lay reader, but some knowledge in the field would be helpful in getting more out of it.
I also watch a lot of NOVA specials, and frequently the Max Planck institute for social research is featured with some amazing experiment regarding chimpanzees and/or toddlers. This is the institute that Tomasello works for.
Having been piqued by his research I picked up Why We Cooperate which, in only 100 pages, sets out to develop an interesting thesis. He begins with the question: was Hobbes or Rousseau right? Are we born nasty, and brutish, and hardly concerned with others, or are we born angelic and since fallen from grace due to the evolution of civilization? Tomasello is not as radical as Rousseau, he won't damn all of civilization, but he's convinced that we are born mostly altruistic, cooperative, and empathetic (i.e., he sides with Rousseau). He highlights about a dozen studies that reveal just how compassionate and innately concerned children are. He doesn't speculate much on why humans lose their ability to be altruistic, but he does show nearly conclusively that altruism is innate, and not learned. If anything is learned over time, it's how NOT to be altruistic. Society deprives us of our angelic nature. There is one study that really highlights this.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Gives a new perspective to community and how we interact. an easy read for complex thoughts.Published 10 months ago by book chic
The psychological and social benefits of cooperation are well known, so this book only rates 4 stars. Yet it is clearly written, well researched, and logical in presentation.Published on October 28, 2013 by J. M. Leighton
I've been study Tomasello for more than 13 years and now have my own students read his work. A great text that succinctly synthesizes the work in this area. Read morePublished on September 6, 2013 by Sacha
Author is seeking a direction others have said better.Not to take away authors experience . I find that Covariation has a lot more to it than author indicates and author seems to... Read morePublished on August 15, 2011 by Scabbard