Does Altruism Exist?: Culture, Genes, and the Welfare of Others (Foundational Questions in Science)

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9780300219883: Does Altruism Exist?: Culture, Genes, and the Welfare of Others (Foundational Questions in Science)

A powerful treatise that demonstrates the existence of altruism in nature, with surprising implications for human society

Does altruism exist? Or is human nature entirely selfish? In this eloquent and accessible book, famed biologist David Sloan Wilson provides new answers to this age-old question based on the latest developments in evolutionary science.
 
From an evolutionary viewpoint, Wilson argues, altruism is inextricably linked to the functional organization of groups. “Groups that work” undeniably exist in nature and human society, although special conditions are required for their evolution. Humans are one of the most groupish species on earth, in some ways comparable to social insect colonies and multi-cellular organisms. The case that altruism evolves in all social species is surprisingly simple to make.
 
Yet the implications for human society are far from obvious. Some of the most venerable criteria for defining altruism aren’t worth caring much about, any more than we care much whether we are paid by cash or check. Altruism defined in terms of thoughts and feelings is notably absent from religion, even though altruism defined in terms of action is notably present. The economic case for selfishness can be decisively rejected. The quality of everyday life depends critically on people who overtly care about the welfare of others. Yet, like any other adaptation, altruism can have pathological manifestations. Wilson concludes by showing how a social theory that goes beyond altruism by focusing on group function can help to improve the human condition.

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From the Author:

Q: What prompted your interest in altruism? Was it primarily a scientific question for you, or religious, philosophical, political? 
A: Reviving group selection was a great scientific challenge when I entered the field, but the idea that everything can be explained as a form of selfishness also offended my personal sensibilities.
 
Q: One of the chapters in your book is called “Pathological Altruism.”  What is the meaning of this term? Is there such a thing?
A: This is a good example of how an evolutionary lens adds insight to a venerable topic such as altruism. Of course altruism can be pathological! For example, it’s pathological to counsel someone to be altruistic without providing a social environment that enables altruism to win the Darwinian contest against selfishness.
 
Q: Are there real-world implications that emerge from your new understanding of altruism? 
A: There are so many! I have spent the last seven years exploring these implications as president of the Evolution Institute and provide a concise summary in my book.
 
Q: Can an altruistic act be performed by groups—say, corporations or nations—as well as by individuals? 
A: Absolutely! The same evolutionary dynamic applies to all levels of a multi-tier hierarchy, so corporations and nations can be altruistic or selfish, just like individuals. This is essential knowledge for solving the problems of human existence at the largest spatial and temporal scales.

About the Author:

David Sloan Wilson is president of the Evolution Institute and SUNY Distinguished Professor of Biology and Anthropology at the University of Binghamton.

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Book Description Yale University Press, United States, 2016. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. A powerful treatise that demonstrates the existence of altruism in nature, with surprising implications for human society Does altruism exist? Or is human nature entirely selfish? In this eloquent and accessible book, famed biologist David Sloan Wilson provides new answers to this age-old question based on the latest developments in evolutionary science. From an evolutionary viewpoint, Wilson argues, altruism is inextricably linked to the functional organization of groups. Groups that work undeniably exist in nature and human society, although special conditions are required for their evolution. Humans are one of the most groupish species on earth, in some ways comparable to social insect colonies and multi-cellular organisms. The case that altruism evolves in all social species is surprisingly simple to make. Yet the implications for human society are far from obvious. Some of the most venerable criteria for defining altruism aren t worth caring much about, any more than we care much whether we are paid by cash or check. Altruism defined in terms of thoughts and feelings is notably absent from religion, even though altruism defined in terms of action is notably present. The economic case for selfishness can be decisively rejected. The quality of everyday life depends critically on people who overtly care about the welfare of others. Yet, like any other adaptation, altruism can have pathological manifestations. Wilson concludes by showing how a social theory that goes beyond altruism by focusing on group function can help to improve the human condition. Bookseller Inventory # AAS9780300219883

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Book Description Yale University Press, United States, 2016. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. A powerful treatise that demonstrates the existence of altruism in nature, with surprising implications for human society Does altruism exist? Or is human nature entirely selfish? In this eloquent and accessible book, famed biologist David Sloan Wilson provides new answers to this age-old question based on the latest developments in evolutionary science. From an evolutionary viewpoint, Wilson argues, altruism is inextricably linked to the functional organization of groups. Groups that work undeniably exist in nature and human society, although special conditions are required for their evolution. Humans are one of the most groupish species on earth, in some ways comparable to social insect colonies and multi-cellular organisms. The case that altruism evolves in all social species is surprisingly simple to make. Yet the implications for human society are far from obvious. Some of the most venerable criteria for defining altruism aren t worth caring much about, any more than we care much whether we are paid by cash or check. Altruism defined in terms of thoughts and feelings is notably absent from religion, even though altruism defined in terms of action is notably present. The economic case for selfishness can be decisively rejected. The quality of everyday life depends critically on people who overtly care about the welfare of others. Yet, like any other adaptation, altruism can have pathological manifestations. Wilson concludes by showing how a social theory that goes beyond altruism by focusing on group function can help to improve the human condition. Bookseller Inventory # AAS9780300219883

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