Top critical review
2 people found this helpful
Well-presented arguement for group selection
on June 13, 2014
Group selection has been shunned since the 1960s as a means to explain group dynamics and individual behavior such as altruism. It was replaced by selfish-gene, kin selection, egotism, and hedonism explanations, none of which (in and of itself) totally and successfully explains altruistic behavior. Elliot Sober presents a well-reasoned treatise for reconsidering group selection as one of several explanations for both evolutionary altruism and psychological altruism. "We think that multilevel selection theory provides the beginning of a unified framework within which the legitimate claims of individual-level functionalism, group-level functionalism and antifunctionalism can each be given their due."
I can appreciate that humans are complex and we rarely understand our deepest motivation for our actions, multiple needs may conflict, and culture can dictate how one responds. In other words, a pluralistic approach would be more reliable for truly explaining the evolution and continuation of unselfish behavior. Within a group, altruistic individuals may not fare well against selfish individuals, but groups with a minimal number of altruistic individuals are shown to do better competing against groups heavily weighed towards the selfish.
The first half of the book is heavy on population genetics. The few courses I took in genetics I remember population genetics being everyone's least favorite subject. While I got the hang of it by the second semester, I am not well-versed enough to say any more than the mathematics seemed reasonable and well-presented. While explanations in layman's terms help explain the basic concepts,a background in science would probably be helpful for lay readers. The second half delves into logical analysis of psychological altruism. Again, though the points are explained for lay people, I could only say it seemed reasonable. I am not well-versed enough in logic to critique the actual logic used. I did get the impression that Sober presented a detailed and thorough argument.
I understand from my husband that this book and its theory were criticized by scientists who claimed that kin selection would cover the same points, and since kin selection is a simpler explanation (Occam's Razor) there is no need to reintroduce group section. I feel the arguments used for a multiple system approach makes more sense and am inclined to believe the detractors are still immersed in the 1960s mindset.