Re: [OPE] Samuel Bowles

From: Paula <>
Date: Mon Dec 29 2008 - 14:24:10 EST

Terrence wrote:
> The really interesting thing about this is not the socio-biological
> speculations about human history (and certainly not the boilerplate at the
> end about how biology is not necessarily destiny), but the generation of a
> model in which group evolution takes place. Evolutionary orthodoxy has it
> that selection cannot take place above the level of the individual
> organism.

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.

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, 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.


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Received on Mon Dec 29 14:27:52 2008

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