The Altruism Equation traces the history of this debate from Darwin to the present through an extraordinary cast of characters-from the Russian prince Petr Kropotkin, who wanted to base society on altruism, to the brilliant biologist George Price, who fell into poverty and succumbed to suicide as he obsessed over the problem. In a final surprising turn, William Hamilton, the scientist who came up with the equation that reduced altruism to the cold language of natural selection, desperately hoped that his theory did not apply to humans.
Hamilton's Rule, which states that relatives are worth helping in direct proportion to their blood relatedness, is as fundamental to evolutionary biology as Newton's laws of motion are to physics. But even today, decades after its formulation, Hamilton's Rule is still hotly debated among those who cannot accept that goodness can be explained by a simple mathematical formula. For the first time, Lee Alan Dugatkin brings to life the people, the issues, and the passions that have surrounded the altruism debate. Readers will be swept along by this fast-paced tale of history, biography, and scientific discovery.
Set against the sweeping tale of 150 years of scientific attempts to explain kindness, The Price of Altruism tells for the first time the moving story of the eccentric American genius George Price (1922–1975), as he strives to answer evolution's greatest riddle. An original and penetrating picture of twentieth century thought, it is also a deeply personal journey. From the heights of the Manhattan Project to the inspired equation that explains altruism to the depths of homelessness and despair, Price's life embodies the paradoxes of Darwin’s enigma. His tragic suicide in a squatter’s flat, among the vagabonds to whom he gave all his possessions, provides the ultimate contemplation on the possibility of genuine benevolence.
These two traditions, Hale shows, developed in a context of mutual hostility, debate, and refutation. Participants disagreed not only about evolutionary processes but also on broader questions regarding the kind of creature our evolution had made us and in what kind of society we ought therefore to live. Significantly, and in spite of Darwin’s acknowledgement that natural selection was “the doctrine of Malthus, applied to the whole animal and vegetable kingdoms,” both sides of the debate claimed to be the more correctly “Darwinian.” By exploring the full spectrum of scientific and political issues at stake, Political Descent offers a novel approach to the relationship between evolution and political thought in the Victorian and Edwardian eras.
The key to understanding the existence of altruism, Wilson argues, is by understanding the role it plays in the social organization of groups. Groups that function like organisms indubitably exist, and organisms evolved from groups. Evolutionists largely agree on how functionally organized groups evolve, ending decades of controversy, but the resolution casts altruism in a new light: altruism exists but shouldn’t necessarily occupy center stage in our understanding of social behavior.
After laying a general theoretical foundation, Wilson surveys altruism and group-level functional organization in our own species—in religion, in economics, and in the rest of everyday life. He shows that altruism is not categorically good and can have pathological consequences. Finally, he shows how a social theory that goes beyond altruism by focusing on group function can help to improve the human condition in a practical sense.
Does Altruism Exist? puts old controversies to rest and will become the center of debate for decades to come.
Although Darwin was not the first to propose evolutionary views, he initiated a rapid paradigm shift. Within twelve years after publication of his On Origin of the Species in 1859, evolution became the predominant explanation by most mainstream Western intellectuals for how living organisms got here.
Many scholars believe that evolution, in any recognizable form, only emerged in the eighteenth century associated with a broader philosophy of progress, and it continued to be strongly associated with that philosophy and ideology until the middle of the twentieth century. Even today, remnants of that association still survive.
Evolution has always been culturally and ideologically linked. This linkage is so strong that evolution has been used in this work as a model to make a point that science is a social enterprise directly influenced by its cultural milieu. Such analysis rejects the more popular view that science is, or can be, merely a dispassionate search for the truth, detached from any cultural norm or ideology.
Evolution has always had wide-ranging implications; it is an idea that reverberates far beyond science. One reason for this is that it removes humans and other living organisms from the status of being directly and specially created by God. Increasingly since Darwin, evolution explains the history of life in a materialistic way, freeing biology from theological constraints on the important question of how species got here. By detaching biology from the supernatural, evolution allowed biology to become modern science.
Evolution also acts as one of the few unifying concepts in biology, bringing biology’s many desperate areas together into a cohesive scientific discipline.
Recent developments in science and technology, many in the area of molecular biology, have resulted in the emergence of a new understanding of evolutionary mechanisms and they are providing deeper insight into the unity of living organisms and how biological novelty emerges.
As incredible as these advances are, they have not silenced the religious debates that have historically been associated with evolution. These debates have continued into the twenty-first century. However, evolution is not necessarily at odds with religion. At least since Darwin, mainstream religions in the West have accommodated at least some form of it.
This work attempts to place twenty-first century evolution into a historical and ideological context. New scientific ideas and discoveries that have shaped, and are shaping, evolution are discussed within this framework. Also discussed are how these discoveries are transforming, contradicting, and reshaping traditional Darwinism and new synthesis evolutionary thought.
This is the book Richard Dawkins was meant to write: a brilliant assessment of what science is (and isn't), a tribute to science not because it is useful but because it is uplifting.