- Paperback: 304 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books; 1 edition (April 1, 1998)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0140264450
- ISBN-13: 978-0140264456
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 7.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 68 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #75,545 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation 1st Edition
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Human life, scientific journalist Matt Ridley suggests, is a complex balancing act: we behave with self-interest foremost in mind, but also in ways that do not harm, and sometimes even benefit, others. This behavior, in a strange way, makes us good. It also makes us unique in the animal world, where self-interest is far more pronounced. "The essential virtuousness of human beings is proved not by parallels in the animal kingdom, but by the very lack of convincing animal parallels," Ridley writes. How we got to be so virtuous over millions of years of evolution is the theme of this entertaining book of popular science, which will be of interest to any student of human nature. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
Relying heavily on game theory, zoologist and science writer Ridley focuses on how cooperation evolved in the generally selfish world of humankind. The result is a fascinating tale incorporating studies in theoretical and evolutionary biology, ecology, economics, ethology, sociology, and anthropology. Ridley details many complex behaviors, such as altruism in animals and humans, and reviews many anthropological investigations to show how these behaviors manifest themselves in differing groups. He also develops some absorbing ideas regarding extinct civilizations. Unfortunately, his conclusions are sometimes at odds with his claim that individual property rights are the key to conservation and that environmentalists are misguided. His criticisms of conservation efforts and of the concept of the "noble savage" can be one-sided, and his sources are limited. Still, the material will captivate a wide audience, including scholars who appreciate the original literature cited. Highly recommended.?Constance A. Rinaldo, Dartmouth Coll. Biomedical Lib., Hanover, N.H.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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I dismissed Wright's book - not because it failed to explain Darwinism (it does so very well) - but because it failed to provide any moral insight from the Modern Synthesis. Ridley does not make this mistake: He takes homo sapiens as we are, both one with Nature, yet tellingly distinct and unique as a social and rational species. Ridley does this by using a broader armamentarium from which to analyze the origins of human virtue. Consequently, Ridley accomplishes far more than Wright in half the space and time..
Ridley's territory is too sophisticated and nuanced to be summarized into several single propositions. But he leaves no stone unturned, examining a plethora of human dynamics, i.e., the innate characteristics with which we are born, the usual pattern of development after our birth, and what is factual about the real, rather than the metaphysical, world. Suffice it to say that reciprocal altruism, kin selection, unit cohesion, symbiotic collaboration, ostracism, imitation, contextualism, emotion, trade, personal property, and mutual trust all dovetail along with reason to produce a distinctive human reality.
While homo sapiens may be grounded in nature and motivated by self-interest, accepting these facts does not condemn us to a Hobbesian state of affairs. As Ridley poignantly observes, individual and collective interests break apart only when we are coercively removed from our finer instincts. We are not a blank slate, after all, but born and nurtured to do remarkably virtuous things. Ridley advocates no particular ethical theory, but shows what a theory must provide in order for it to be commensurate with our being human and to be compatible with our original innate predispositions. Wright [supra.] advocates a utilitarian ethic, not because of some intrinsic feature of utilitarianism, but, well, just because. It's no surprise then that the ethical theory Ridley most respects is the theory of moral sentiments espoused by David Hume, Adam Smith, and Francis Hutcheson in the eighteenth century. The link could not be more obvious: The theory of moral sentiments reflects on our empirical selves and how we are disposed to act towards others based on our own self-interests with benevolence.
Just because humans are genetically, physically, and biologically predisposed to act one way rather than another doesn't make such a predisposition ethically normative. Ridley avoids the naturalistic fallacy. His interdisciplinary account is intellectually and emotionally satisfying, because it draws on a plurality of disciplines to sort out our ethical origins and intuitions. Even though one does not get a complete ethical, political, or economic theory from Ridley, the implications are clear. For a fuller explication of his ideas, the reader will need to consult David Hume's "Treatise on Human Nature," Part III, or his "Enquiry into the Principles of Morals;" or Adam Smith's "Theory of Moral Sentiments;" or else Francis Hutchinson's numerous ethical essays. The political and economic implications of Ridley's account favors the writings of F.A. Hayek's "Constitution of Liberty," and other classical liberals.
At least Ridley opens the door between the Modern Synthesis and ethical, political, and economic theories. He does not have an overriding agenda (as in the Sociobiology debates), but clearly and articulately examines human nature from manifold perspectives - all grounded in empirical evidence. The result if refreshingly honest and candid; now it's up to us to decide what to do with this evidence. Highly recommended.
It's true that he does allude to political anarchism, or perhaps mini-anarchism, which I do not agree with (and which he does not make a particularly good case for anyway). But he does lay out a good case for free markets, which some of us strongly agree with.
Warning, if your political/philosophical leanings are at all left/socialist, you probably won't like this book very well....