7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Fascinating and thought-provoking,
This review is from: The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation (Paperback)
Ridley says that our behavior is the result of natural selection -- that we behave the way we do because it's been the most successful strategy for passing along our genes. He then tries to apply certain lessons he believes we can learn from that process to social structures. A lot of it is very speculative, but it's quite interesting.
He may be right in his general approach, but I don't share his near-mystical trust in mutation and natural selection. He assumes, for example, that if a creature is better off by adopting behavioral pattern A, then mutation will create and natural selection will prefer pattern A -- no matter what it is. But who says that all possible behavioral patterns can be expressed in our genes?
ISTM that his view of ethics could be compared to Euthyphro's "advantage of the stronger," and may be subject to similar criticisms. Also, I don't see how a high school kid could be convinced to change his behavior on the basis of Ridley-an ethics. "So you're telling me," the kid will say, "that I should do such and so because it was to the selective advantage of hunter-gatherers in the Pleistocene? Give me a break! Your entire scheme is based on one imperative -- that we should do what's most efficient for passing along our genes. I don't care if my genes stop with me, so your system has no moral traction. But thank you for debunking the notion that values and ethics are transcendant. Now that I know the source, I can ignore my conscience with impunity."
A population of youths trained by Ridley would be a scary proposition, IMO. Ridley means well. He wants to establish a solid basis for ethics. But his system can't do it.
Later, Ridley gets away from biology and starts talking about trade and economics. Many of the other reviewers believe this is the weakest part of the book. I disagree. It's the best part! I recommend the whole book, but if you just have time for the important stuff, read from chapter 10 to the end of the book.