Show 186a: Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior

Humanism requires unselfish behavior and human cooperation for it to relevant to the future of human society.  It has become popular – perhaps as a backlash to the 1960s liberal strides – to think of humans as selfish, greedy and uber-competitive… A Hobbesian take on human nature which has been promoted to justify dangerous economic systems such as capitalism, as well as authoritarian fascist states such as the Bush Administration has been taking us toward.

Some scientists such as Richard Dawkins, Robert Trivers and Stephen Pinker, while not backing the latter, have backed the former, and now claim that science backs such draconian perceptions of our basic nature.

Others haven’t made such claims.


Evolutionary biologist, David Sloan Wilson and philosopher Elliott Sober will be our guests the next two weeks to discuss what biology can tell us about human nature, in particular our proclivity toward altruism.  Wilson and Sober are the authors of Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior. The book description at Amazon.com reads as such:

‘No matter what we do, however kind or generous our deeds may seem, a hidden motive of selfishness lurks–or so science has claimed for years.  In Unto Others, Elliott Sober and David S. Wilson demonstrate once and for all that unselfish behavior is in fact an important feature of both biological and human nature. Their book provides a panoramic view of altruism throughout the animal kingdom–from self-sacrificing parasites to insects that subsume themselves in the superorganism of a colony to the human capacity for selflessness–even as it explains the evolutionary sense of such behavior.

‘Explaining how altruistic behavior can evolve by natural selection, this book finally gives credence to the idea of group selection that was originally proposed by Darwin but denounced as heretical in the late 1960s. With their account of this controversy, Sober and Wilson offer a detailed case study of scientific change as well as an indisputable argument for group selection as a legitimate theory in evolutionary biology. Unto Others also takes a novel evolutionary approach in explaining the ultimate psychological motives behind unselfish human behavior. Developing a theory of the proximate mechanisms that most likely evolved to motivate adaptive helping behavior, Sober and Wilson show how people and perhaps other species evolved the capacity to care for others as a goal in itself.’

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