Email this review


The desire, both popular and scientific, to apply biological evolutionary thinking to the interpretation of human behavior has been, and is, so strong that conclusions came long before facts in social evolution, racism, and eugenics,"" concludes S. L. Washburn in one of the longer, well-argued essays collected here. Montagu can be commended for assembling an interesting array of voices raised against sociobiology: as interesting for their scholarship and expository skills as for their disparate points of view. Not only Stephen Gould but also Marvin Harris, Mary Midgley, and assorted geneticists and social scientists are represented. An excellent contribution by James C. King reviews current thinking about polygenic inheritance and all but demolishes the notion that a single gene might prescribe altruism or oppose incest. He also points to the paucity of animal data used to support the propensity for human infanticide and other examples of violence or aggression. Frequently heard arguments accuse Wilson (plus Dawkins, Trivets, Barash--and sometimes Skinner) of reductionism, of confusing genetic potential with ordained behavior, and of myopia of the sort which deems one school of thought valid to the exclusion of all others. In some cases, however, the critic accepts certain sociobiological tenets--such as kin selection--and simply wants to include them in a broader multi-discipline that might be called ""biosociology."" Harris, of course, dispenses with a genetic program, replacing it with his particular brand of environmental determinism. A crowning piece is Mary Midgley's graceful and witty discussion of the in-fighting among disciplines from a historical and philosophical point of view. There will be more ado about sociobiology in years to come, for which this volume--trimmer and sharper overall than Caplan's 1978 The Sociobiology Debate--can serve as both a useful summary and an impetus.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1980
Publisher: Oxford