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Darwinism and Human Affairs Paperback – April, 1982

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 317 pages
  • Publisher: Univ of Washington Pr (April 1982)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0295959010
  • ISBN-13: 978-0295959016
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,263,939 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Luc REYNAERT on August 22, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The great biologist G.C. Williams said that `natural selection, albeit stupid, is a story of unending arms races, slaughter and suffering. Its immorality has to be accepted and, at least, to be thought about'. R. Alexander thought about it, and more specifically how evolution can be used as an explanatory principle of human behaviour: selfish individuals maximizing survival by reproduction of their genes.

Evolution is based on natural selection and survival of the fittest. The selection happens on the individual level, on the differences between individual phenotypes.
The author refutes the philosophical argument that Darwinism cannot be tested, and the creationist argument that macro- and micro-evolution are different processes.

Culture and evolution
Culture is a vehicle of the genes. Culture is the cumulative effect of inclusive-fitness-maximizing behaviour of all the deceased and living human beings, where `inclusive' means that any genetic relative socially available (offspring and others) is a potential avenue of genetic reproduction.
Cultural and organic evolutions are interdependent. The coupling between them is induced by the `hostile forces', which differentially favour variations and adjustments in human social behaviour in order to maximize reproductive success.

Cultural patterns of human sociality
Variations in cultural patterns are the result of reproductive strivings of competing and cooperating individuals living in different circumstances.
All societies operate as kinship systems with parental care, social learning and nepotism and where individuals are (and act as) maximally effective nepotists. Sociality is a consequence of individuals pursuing their genetic interests.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Richard Alexander describes with rare precision and scientific consequence the roots of our human moral system. The illustration is in a way fundamental and precise that we easily recignize it in all diffrent ways in our daily life. This book is recommendable not only for biologists but also for psychologists and all those who deal with socially and politically acitve people.
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This book was published in 1979. The contents represent what we would now call sociobiology. Unfortunately, this is the bad kind of sociobiology that tries to trace everything back to DNA genes.
The book offers a perspective similar to that of E.O. Wilson - who published similar works at around the same time.

I read it mainly in order to understand Richard's perspective on human culture from that era.

The book predates our modern understanding of cultural evolution and instead presents a view of culture based on DNA genes.

In a section titled: A comparison of organic and cultural evolution, Richard breaks cultural evolution down into inheritance, mutation, selection, drift and isolation. He then reviews existing literature relating to the modern perspective on cultural evolution citing the views of Dawkins, Durham, Cloak, Cavalii-Sforza, Feldman, Richerson and Boyd on the topic. This might all sound good. However, the section then goes on to dismiss this material, saying:

"regularity of learning situations or environmental consistency is the link between genetic instructions and cultural instructions which makes the latter not a replicator at all, but in historical terms a vehicle of the genetic replicators."

Having thus dismissed the Darwinian view of culture which does so much useful work in modern times, Richard offers in its place the idea that cultural information is a persistent part of the environment that is influenced and manipulated by genes. This is true - as far as it goes.
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