[OPE] Samuel Bowles

From: McDonough, Terrence <terrence.mcdonough@nuigalway.ie>
Date: Mon Dec 29 2008 - 18:56:54 EST

>Hi Terry,

This is interesting. First, we are social creatures such that our
adaptation to our environment is always a social adaptation -- our
engagement with it is mediated by our social arrangements.

Second, we are aware. Presumably we can optimize our engagement with
our conditions of life in function of the social arrangements we
make. This doesn't need to have anything to do with the ordinary
processes of selection that orthodoxy picks out, does it?


The orthodox position would recognize this as cultural (but not biological) change which may or may not be subject to a
Darwinian dynamic. To the extent that social behavior has a biological basis it must promote the survival of the individual if it is to be inherited in the next generation so the story goes.

>The notion of group selection is apparently regaining popularity. A key
figure is David Sloan Wilson, professor of biology *and* anthropology, and
author of Darwin's Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of
Society. This is one of the most sophisticated recent accounts of the
interaction of culture and biology that I have come across. Wilson notes
that, since the 1960s, mutation is playing less of a role in evolutionary
theory, while more attention is being paid to cooperation - for example life
itself might have started as a process of molecular cooperation.<

Thanks for the reference. Stephen Jay Gould and the "dialectical biologists" have long defended group as well as individual selection but as an embattled minority.

>Cooperation of course is what game theory is obsessed with; and Wilson
himself explicitly connects the past fashion for methodological
individualism in the social sciences with the theory of individual
selection. We then seem to be living through a turn towards the social and
away from the individual agent both in the social and in the natural
sciences - this is welcome, <

There has been a long history of analogy and borrowing metaphor back and forth between economics and biology, usually but not always to the detriment of both.

>but does Marxism have anything to contribute?
Wilson himself favors a functionalist approach, for example quoting
Evans-Pritchard's explanation of the Nuer religion as corresponding to a
herding economy. He says that Marxism is also functionalist, yet says hardly
anything else about it. He wants a synthesis between the natural and the
social sciences - it's symptomatic that the loudest calls for this are
coming from the former, not the latter, and that historical materialism
scarcely figures. But I do think there's a great opportunity here to clarify
and develop our ideas by engaging with these issues.<

Usually there is speculation that some feature or other of individual or social behavior has a Darwinian and hence biological origin. This is biological imperialism. Nevertheless there must be an overlap between biological capacities and tendencies and historical action as both are rooted in actually existing underlying structures (though not the same structures). I speculate that it may be fruitful to run the imperialism the other way. Historical materialism (in Jurriaan's second sense or in the sense of "all history is the history of class struggle" can be made into a proposition about human (evolved) behavior. What propositions about 'human nature' are consistent with this and how might they have evolved through either individual or group selection?


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Received on Mon Dec 29 18:58:39 2008

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