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Does Altruism Exist?

Culture, Genes, and the Welfare of Others

David Sloan Wilson



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Yale University Press
03 March 2015
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.

By:   David Sloan Wilson
Imprint:   Yale University Press
Country of Publication:   United States
Dimensions:   Height: 217mm,  Width: 145mm,  Spine: 20mm
Weight:   374g
ISBN:   9780300189490
ISBN 10:   0300189494
Series:   Foundational Questions In Science
Pages:   224
Publication Date:   03 March 2015
Audience:   College/higher education ,  Professional and scholarly ,  Primary ,  Undergraduate
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active

David Sloan Wilson is president of the Evolution Institute and SUNY Distinguished Professor of Biology and Anthropology at Binghamton University. He is the author of Darwin's Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society.

Reviews for Does Altruism Exist?: Culture, Genes, and the Welfare of Others

'Wilson argues his corner masterfully, providing a pithy riposte to the belief that natural selection occurs only at the level of the selfish gene ... Wilson's fascinating gallop through religion, economics, politics and everyday life reveals many ways to activate altruism.' -Kate Douglas, New Scientist -- Kate Douglas New Scientist 'Evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson's Does Altruism Exist? [is a] brilliant contribution to this branch of socio-political discourse.'-Herbert Gintis, Nature -- Herbert Gintis Nature David Sloan Wilson has a nose for important problems and his writing is always interesting and provocative. This work on altruism - which extends across a range of problems including religion -- will enhance his deservedly high reputation. If you read only one book on the topic, make it this one. -Michael Ruse, Director of the Program in History and Philosophy of Science, Florida State University -- Michael Ruse David Sloan Wilson's special take on the evolution of altruism, and how in our species it is fortified by religion and morality, has inspired fierce debate. It is explained here in a most lively and readable manner. -Frans de Waal, author of The Bonobo and the Atheist -- Frans de Waal In this highly readable book a remarkable philosophical mind is at work, inspired by applying evolutionary theory to real life as we know it. The message is that altruism is alive and well, and it can actually be taken into account as we plan a better modern life---as long as we focus on the right kinds of altruism. -Chris Boehm, University of South California -- Chris Boehm

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