The Law of the Jungle: Moral Alternatives and Principles of Evolution

By J. L. Mackie

When people speak of ‘the law of the jungle’, they usually mean unrestrained and ruthless competition, with everyone out solely for his own advantage. But the phrase was coined by Rudyard Kipling, in The Second Jungle Book, and he meant something very different. His law of the jungle is a law that wolves in a pack are supposed to obey. His poem says that ‘the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack’, and it states the basic principles of social co-operation. Its provisions are a judicious mixture of individualism and collectivism, prescribing graduated and qualified rights for fathers of families, mothers with cubs, and young wolves, which constitute an elementary system of welfare services. Of course, Kipling meant his poem to give moral instruction to human children, but he probably thought it was at least roughly correct as a description of the social behaviour of wolves and other wild animals. Was he right, or is the natural world the scene of unrestrained competition, of an individualistic struggle for existence? Views not unlike those of Kipling have been presented by some recent writers on ethology, notably Robert Ardrey and Konrad Lorenz. These writers connect their accounts with a view about the process of evolution that has brought this behaviour, as well as the animals themselves, into existence. They hold that the important thing in evolution is the good of the species, or the group, rather than the good of the individual. Natural selection favours those groups and species whose members tend, no doubt through some instinctive programming, to co-operate for a common good; this would, of course, explain why wolves, for example, behave cooperatively and generously towards members of their own pack, if indeed they do. However, this recently popular view has been keenly attacked by Richard Dawkins in his admirable and fascinating book, The Selfish Gene.[1] He defends an up-to-date version of the orthodox Darwinian theory of evolution, with special reference to ‘the biology of selfishness and altruism’. One of his main theses is that there is no such thing as group selection, and that Lorenz and others who have used this as an explanation are simply wrong. This is a question of some interest to moral philosophers, particularly those who have been inclined to see human morality itself as the product of some kind of natural evolution.[2] It is well, however, to be clear about the issue. It is not whether animals ever behave for the good of the group in the sense that this is their conscious subjective goal, that they aim at the well-being or survival of the whole tribe or pack: the question of motives in this conscious sense does not arise. Nor is the issue whether animals ever behave in ways which do in fact promote the well-being of the group to which they belong, or which help

the species of which they are members to survive: of course they do. The controversial issue is different from both of these: it is whether the good of the group or the species would ever figure in a correct evolutionary account. That is, would any correct evolutionary account take either of the following forms? (i) The members of this species tend to do these things which assist the survival of this species because their ancestors were members of a subspecies whose members had an inheritable tendency to do these things, and as a result that sub-species survived, whereas other sub-species of the ancestral species at that time had members who tended not to do these things and as a result their sub-species did not survive. (ii) The members of this species tend to do these things which help the group of which they are members to flourish because some ancestral groups happened to have members who tended to do these things and these groups, as a result, survived better than related groups of the ancestral species whose members tended not to do these things. In other words, the issue is this: is there natural selection by and for group survival or species survival as opposed to selection by and for individual survival (or, as we shall see, gene survival)? Is behaviour that helps the group or the species, rather than the individual animal, rewarded by the natural selection which determines the course of evolution? However, when Dawkins denies that there is selection by and for group or species survival, it is not selection by and for individual survival that he puts in its place. Rather it is selection by and for the survival of each single gene - the genes being the unit factors of inheritance, the portions of chromosomes which replicate themselves, copy themselves as cells divide and multiply. Genes, he argues, came into existence right back at the beginning of life on earth, and all more complex organisms are to be seen as their products. We are, as he picturesquely puts it, gene-machines: our biological function is just to protect our genes, carry them around, and enable them to reproduce themselves. Hence the title of his book, The Selfish Gene. Of course what survives is not a token gene: each of these perishes with the cell of which it is a part. What survives is a gene-type, or rather what we might call a gene-clone, the members of a family of token genes related to one another by simple direct descent, by replication. The popularity of the notions of species selection and group selection may be due partly to confusion on this point. Since clearly it is only types united by descent, not individual organisms, that survive long enough to be of biological interest, it is easy to think that selection must be by and for species survival. But this is a mistake: genes, not species, are the types which primarily replicate themselves and are selected. Since Dawkins roughly defines the gene as ‘a genetic unit which is small enough to last for a number of generations and to be distributed around in the form of many copies’, it is (as he admits) practically a tautology that the gene is the basic unit of natural selection and therefore, as he puts it, ‘the fundamental unit of self-interest’, or, as we might put it less picturesquely, the primary beneficiary of natural selection. But behind this near-tautology is a synthetic truth, that this basic unit, this primary beneficiary, is a small bit of a chromosome. The reason why this is so, why what is differentially effective and therefore subject to selection is a small bit of a chromosome, lies in the mechanism of sexual reproduction by way of meiosis, with crossing over between chromosomes. When male and female cells each divide before uniting at fertilization, it is not chromosomes as a whole that are randomly distributed between the parts, but sections of chromosomes. So

sections of chromosomes can be separately inherited, and therefore can be differentially selected by natural selection. The issue between gene selection, individual selection, group selection, and species selection might seem to raise some stock questions in the philosophy of science. Many thinkers have favoured reductionism of several sorts, including methodological individualism. Wholes are made up of parts, and therefore in principle whatever happens in any larger thing depends upon and is explainable in terms of what happens in and between its smaller components. But though this metaphysical individualism is correct, methodological individualism does not follow from it. It does not follow that we must always conduct our investigations and construct our explanations in terms of component parts, such as the individual members of a group or society. Scientific accounts need not be indefinitely reductive. Some wholes are obviously more accessible to us than their components. We can understand what a human being does without analysing this in terms of how each single cell in his body or his brain behaves. Equally we can often understand what a human society does without analysing this in terms of the behaviour of each of its individual members. And the same holds quite generally: we can often understand complex wholes as units, without analysing them into their parts. So if, in the account of evolution, Dawkins’s concentration upon genes were just a piece of methodological individualism or reductionism, it would be inadequately motivated. But it is not: there is a special reason for it. Dawkins’s key argument is that species, populations, and groups, and individual organisms too, are as genetic units too temporary to qualify for natural selection. ‘They are not stable through evolutionary time. Populations are constantly blending with other populations and so losing their identity’, and, what is vitally important, ‘are also subject to evolutionary change from within’ (p. 36). This abstract general proposition may seem obscure. But it is illustrated by a simple example which Dawkins gives (pp. 197—201). A species of birds is parasitized by dangerous ticks. A bird can remove the ticks from most parts of its own body, but, having only a beak and no hands, it cannot get them out of the top of its own head. But one bird can remove ticks from another bird’s head: there can be mutual grooming. Clearly if there were an inherited tendency for each bird to take the ticks out of any other bird’s head, this would help the survival of any group in which that tendency happened to arise - for the ticks are dangerous: they can cause death. Someone who believed in group selection would, therefore, expect this tendency to be favoured and to evolve and spread for this reason. But Dawkins shows that it would not. He gives appropriate names to the different ‘strategies’, that is, the different inheritable behavioural tendencies. The strategy of grooming anyone who needs it he labels ‘Sucker’. The strategy of accepting grooming from anyone, but never grooming anyone else, even someone who has previously groomed you, is called ‘Cheat’. Now if in some population both these tendencies or strategies, and only these two, happen to arise, it is easy to see that the cheats will always do better than the suckers. They will be groomed when they need it, and since they will not waste their time pecking out other birds’ ticks, they will have more time and energy to spare for finding food, attracting mates, building nests, and so on. Consequently the gene for the Sucker strategy will gradually die out. So the population will come to consist wholly of cheats, despite the fact that this is likely to lead to the population itself becoming extinct, if the parasites are common enough and dangerous enough, whereas a

population consisting wholly of suckers would have survived. The fact that the group is open to evolutionary change from within, because of the way the internal competition between Cheat and Sucker genes works out, prevents the group from developing or even retaining a feature which would have helped the group as a whole. This is just one illustration among many, and Dawkins’s arguments on this point seem pretty conclusive. We need, as he shows, the concept of an evolutionarily stable strategy or ESS (p. 74 et passim). A strategy is evolutionarily stable, in relation to some alternative strategy or strategies, if it will survive indefinitely in a group in competition with those alternatives. We have just seen that where Cheat and Sucker alone are in competition, Cheat is an ESS but Sucker is not. We have also seen, from this example, that an ESS may not help a group, or the whole species, to survive and multiply. Of course we must not leap to the conclusion that an ESS never helps a group or a species: if that were so we could not explain much of the behaviour that actually occurs. Parents sacrifice themselves for their children, occasionally siblings for their siblings, and with the social insects, bees and ants and termites, their whole life is a system of communal service. But the point is that these results are not to be explained in terms of group selection. They can and must be explained as consequences of the selfishness of genes, that is, of the fact that gene-clones are selected for whatever helps each gene-clone itself to survive and multiply. But now we come to another remarkable fact. Although the gene is the hero of Dawkins’s book, it is not unique either in principle or in fact. It is not the only possible subject of evolutionary natural selection, nor is it the only actual one. What is important about the gene is just that it has a certain combination of logical features. It is a replicator: in the right environment it is capable of producing multiple copies of itself; but in this process of copying some mistakes occur; and these mistaken copies - mutations - will also produce copies of themselves; and, finally, the copies produced may either survive or fail to survive. Anything that has these formal, logical, features is a possible subject of evolution by natural selection. As we have seen, individual organisms, groups, and species do not have the required formal features, though many thinkers have supposed that they do. They cannot reproduce themselves with sufficient constancy of characteristics. But Dawkins, in his last chapter, introduces another sort of replicators. These are what are often called cultural items or traits; Dawkins christens them memes - to make a term a bit like ‘genes’ - because they replicate by memory and imitation (mimesis). Memes include tunes, ideas, fashions, and techniques. They require, as the environment in which they can replicate, a collection of minds, that is, brains that have the powers of imitation and memory. These brains (particularly though not exclusively human ones) are themselves the products of evolution by gene selection. But once the brains are there gene selection has done its work: given that environment, memes can themselves evolve and multiply in much the same way as genes do, in accordance with logically similar laws. But they can do so more quickly. Cultural evolution may be much faster than biological evolution. But the basic laws are the same. Memes are selfish in the same sense as genes. The explanation of the widespread flourishing of a certain meme, such as the idea of a god or the belief in hell fire, may be simply that it is an efficiently selfish meme. Something about it makes it well able to infect human minds, to take root and spread in and among them, in the same way that something about the smallpox virus makes it well able to take root and spread in human bodies. There is no need to explain the success of a meme in

and any stranger. and its members. but no cheats. In a population consisting largely of cheats. But in a population that starts off with more than a certain critical proportion of grudgers. helping those (and only those) who help you. by the way. True: but is this not group selection after all? Of course.terms of any benefit it confers on individuals or groups. then it goes extinct. The law by which nature works is not unrestrained and ruthless competition between individual organisms. But there is a difference between these two stable strategies. of group solidarity. 200). and yet by doing so they tend to eliminate those suckers. ‘If a population arrives at an ESS which drives it extinct. that a population containing only suckers and grudgers. But neither does it turn upon the advantages to a group. and. Grudger. the more rapidly the cheats would multiply. Contrary to the optimistic view often taken of cultural evolution. both Cheat and Grudger are evolutionarily stable. mutual care and respect. It turns upon the self-preservation of gene-clones. as we shall see. this analogy shows that a cultural trait can evolve. having no defence against ticks in their heads. in the example of mutual grooming. If the parasites are common enough and dangerous enough. in any proportions.and the grudger refuses to groom the cheat ever again. if there are only suckers and cheats around. But now I come to what seems to be an exception to Dawkins’s main thesis. such a pattern is not evolutionarily stable. But if there is any risk of an invasion of Cheat genes. while the strategy Sucker is not. it is a replicator in its own right. either through mutation or through immigration. whereas a separate population of grudgers will flourish indefinitely. so there would be no tendency for either the Sucker of the Grudger gene to do better than the other. and the higher the proportion of suckers. But Dawkins introduces a third strategy. the cheats will do better than the others. A grudger is rather like you and me. Now when all three strategies are in play. this will operate only if the populations are somehow isolated. including special care for one’s own children and perhaps one’s siblings. or those who have twisted his phrase to mean almost the opposite of what he intended? The answer is that neither party is right. the cheats will first wipe out the suckers. But if the birds in question were . Cheat and Grudger. We can now use it to answer the question from which I started. So far I have been merely summarizing Dawkins’s argument. and co-operation. the strategy Cheat is evolutionarily stable. Suckers and grudgers behave exactly like one another as long as there are no cheats around. but simply because it is advantageous to itself. and that is just too bad’ (p. simply because each agent’s genes are more certainly located in him than in anyone else. But it can and does express itself also in certain forms of what Broad called self-referential altruism. So we have two ESSs. We saw how. This has a strong tendency to express itself in individually selfish behaviour. though it is generated by his own argument and illustrated by one of his own examples. would simply continue as it was. Who is right about the law of the jungle? Kipling. the population of cheats will itself die out. reciprocal altruism. It is obvious. Dawkins says. It is ironical that Kipling’s phrase ‘the law of the jungle’ has proved itself a more efficient meme than the doctrine he tried to use it to propagate. A grudger grooms anyone who has previously groomed him. and both suckers and grudgers will die out.who refuses to groom him in return for having been groomed . but he remembers and bears a grudge against anyone who cheats him . but will then themselves become rare and eventually extinct: cheats can flourish only while they have suckers to take advantage of. not because it is advantageous to society.

so that eventually all surviving birds would be grudgers. where all birds of this species are grudgers. it is also viable for a population as a whole. or some other kind of isolation. but then the pure cheat populations would die out. without going down to the gene selection level. to keep the populations that are being differentially selected apart. then some populations would become pure grudger populations. an ESS may be a third variety of replicator. and Sucker. It is worth noting how and why this case escapes Dawkins’s key argument that a population is ‘not a discrete enough entity to be a unit of natural selection. The reason why all ultimately surviving birds of this species are grudgers is partly that populations of grudgers can survive whereas populations of cheats cannot. Also. The monopoly of cheating over a population is an essential part of the causal story that explains the extinction. It would be unwarranted methodological individualism or reductionism to insist that we not merely can but must go down to the gene selection level here. They require rather special conditions. The explanation of the final situation. Someone might reply that this is not really group selection because it all rests ultimately on gene selection. just as much as a population of grudgers . So this is. We must not fall back on this weak general argument when Dawkins’s key argument against group selection fails. For if genes from one could infiltrate another. One implication of this story is that this strategy is not only evolutionarily stable within a population. (Though in fact in our example complete isolation is not required: since what matters is whether there is more or less than a certain critical . They act as if on the maxim ‘Be done by as you did’. though it is also partly that although a population of suckers could survive . I conclude. the selection of populations might be interfered with. 36). an account at the group level. Populations can be made discrete by geographical (or other) isolation. and others would become pure cheat populations. if this possibility arose. In other words. lies partly in the nonviability of a population of pure cheats. a bit of group selection after all.internal changes due to gene selection after an invasion of Cheat genes would prevent there being a population of suckers. This case of group selection is necessarily a second order phenomenon: it arises where gene selection has produced the ESSs which are then persisting selectable features of groups. is here correct as far as it goes. And they would be able to recolonize the areas where cheat populations had perished. despite the fact that within a population it is evolutionarily stable in competition with the two rival genes. that there can be genuine cases of group selection. not stable and unitary enough to be "selected" in preference to another population’ (p. though admittedly incomplete. But I admit that they are exceptional. and a full explanation can be given in terms of the long-run selfextinction of the Cheat gene. But this would be a weak reply. it is a self-reproducing feature of groups. along with genes and memes. in particular geographical isolation.distributed in geographically isolated regions. Cheat and Grudger tendencies appeared (after the parasites became plentiful) in randomly different proportions in these different regions. In special circumstances group selection (or population selection) can occur and could be observed and explained as such.it would be favoured by group selection. as I said. then. and can be made stable and unitary precisely by the emergence of an ESS in each. Another name for grudgers is ‘reciprocal altruists’. but perhaps different ESSs in the different regional populations of the same species.

perhaps these rather more complicated evolutionary ‘games’ will prove equally instructive. And while we can turn against some memes. We. Commenting on an earlier version of this paper. alone on earth. Of course there is no simple transition from ‘is’ to ‘ought’. can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators’ (p. so from a genetic point of view males are wasters: resources would be more economically used if devoted only to females. Internal competition. but we have the power to turn against our creators. not prevent. So when conditions changed. Dawkins himself explicitly warns against any simple transfer of conclusions. small-scale infiltrations would only delay.) And since special conditions are required. there is no valid general principle that features which would enable a group to flourish will be selected. precisely because all its members were genetically identical. this clone of asexual females would be at once genetically isolated from the rest of the species. Moral philosophers have already found illumination in such simple items of game theory as the Prisoners’ Dilemma. So the genetically isolated population of asexual females would out-compete the normal sexually reproducing population with roughly equal numbers of males and females. that the prevalence of sexual reproduction itself may be a result of group selection. ‘We are built as gene machines and cultured as meme machines.proportion of grudgers. 215). Sometimes. This optimistic suggestion needs fuller investigation.[3] What implications for human morality have such biological facts about selfishness and altruism? One is that the possibility that morality is itself a product of natural selection is not ruled out. Arrow’s Theorem shows that even quite small groups of rational individuals may be unable to form coherently rational preferences. it would not have the capacity for rapid adaptation by selection to changing conditions that an ordinary sexual population has. though still geographically mixed with them. the establishing of pure populations. it will be only with the help and under the guidance of other memes. . it would be unable to adapt. occurred in a species. no direct argument from what goes on in the natural world and among non-human animals to what human beings ought to do. is even more of an obstacle to its being a rational agent. And even these exceptional cases conform thoroughly to the general logic of Dawkins’s doctrine. It must be remembered that the human race as a whole cannot act as a unit with conscious foresight. Which would explain why nearly all existing species go in for what. Dawkins agreed that there could be group selection in the sort of case I suggested. is the economically wasteful business of sexual reproduction. and would die out. in the short run. but care would be needed in formulating a plausible speculative account of how it might have been favoured. let alone to act rationally. Also. but only sometimes. He also mentioned a possible example. but stressed the importance of the condition of geographical (or other) isolation. Thus there would in time be species selection against any species that produced an asexual female mutation. group characteristics have the formal features of replicators that are open to natural selection. producing offspring by parthenogenesis. which in general prevents a group from being a possible subject of natural selection. Another is that the notion of an ESS may be a useful one for discussing questions of practical morality. At the very end of the book he suggests that conscious foresight may enable us to develop radically new kinds of behaviour. So the species would in time consist only of asexual females. in most species males contribute little to the nourishment or care of their offspring. For if there were a mutation by which asexual females. But then.

or repaying good with good and evil with evil.This is an enormous problematic area. In the mutual grooming model. ‘The value judgments of evolution’. It is expressed in such formulae as that justice consists in giving everyone his due. 1977). as an outgrowth from the retributive emotions. it will need to be shown how and where human life diverges from them. including Socrates and Jesus. Now something closely resembling this strategy. of the three strategies considered. is roughly equivalent to the strategy Dawkins has unkindly labelled ‘Sucker’. H. References 1 R. They have tried to substitute ‘Do as you would be done by’ for ‘Be done by as you did’. as Polemarchus interprets it in the first book of Plato’s Republic. Now this. But some moralists. Morality itself has been seen. Dempster and D. And as Dawkins points out. A. which in human life we characterize as a Christian spirit or perhaps as saintliness. . while cheats are a hundred per cent selfish. reciprocal altruism. is a well known and long established tendency in human life. in M. Whether in the long run this is to be deplored or welcomed. Suckers are saints. interpreted. The Selfish Gene (Oxford. But in practice there may be little danger. forthcoming). have recommended something very different from this. as doing good to one’s friends and harm to one’s enemies. Dawkins. J. the presence of suckers endangers the healthy Grudger strategy. 2 I am among these: see p. and also many further alternative strategies. and ultimately bring about the extinction of the whole population. and whether it is alterable or not. we saw that the Grudger strategy was. To answer it we should have carefully to examine our specifically human capacities and the structure of human societies. This seems to provide fresh support for Nietzsche’s view of the deplorable influence of moralities of the Christian type. but with little practical persuasive force. 1976). reciprocal altruism is still dominant in all human societies. and could make them multiply to the point where they would wipe out the grudgers. just as grudgers are reciprocal altruists. We cannot simply apply to the human situation conclusions drawn from biological models. London and New York. 3 This suggestion is made in a section entitled ‘The paradox of sex and the cost of paternal neglect’ of the following article: R. for example by Edward Westermarck. is a larger question. University College. McFarland (eds) Animal Economics (Academic Press. but the sucker behaviour pattern far less so. For the moment I turn to a smaller point. After two thousand years of contrary moral teaching. Oxford. It allows cheats to prosper. Saintliness is an attractive topic for preaching. the only one that was healthy in the long run. The sucker slogan is an efficient meme. 113 of my Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong (Penguin. Harmondsworth. Nevertheless they are significant and challenging as models. turning the other cheek and repaying evil with good. thoroughgoing cheats and thoroughgoing saints (or suckers) are distinctly rare. Dawkins.

There is nothing empirical about Dawkins. where possible. It is natural for a reader to suppose that his over-simplified drama about genes is just a convenient stylistic device. with which it . is essential for his whole contention. which he treats as the source and archetype of all emotional nature. because it seems obvious that the personification of them must be just a metaphor. But in fact this personification. If this support came from Dawkins’s producing important new facts. and he argues this by claiming that all emotional nature is so. Dawkins. and merely feeds the egoist assumption into his a priori biological speculations. it may seem to some people irrelevant to his main contention. without it he is bankrupt. He is an uncritical philosophic egoist in the first place. It is only when this becomes too obviously unconvincing that he shifts his ground. Indeed he himself sometimes says that it is so.i. Mackie. and ignoring their failure to support him. This strange convoluted drama must be untwisted before the full force of the objections from genetics can be understood. because. only rarely glancing at the relevant facts of animal behaviour and genetics.and in some sense itself .e. becoming equally ready to say either that the individual is aiming to ‘increase his own genetic fitness’ . simply has a weakness for the old game of Brocken-spectre moralizing . Dawkins explains this.[2] I shall come to this point later. as they quite often do. however. as ‘reciprocal altruism’.for the sake of its representatives. Critics have repeatedly pointed out that his notions of genetics are unworkable.or that the real agent is not the individual at all but the personified Gene. L. damning though it is.[1] What Mackie welcomes in Dawkins is a new. elephants abstract or biscuits teleological. to prosper by having a lot of descendants and relatives . for each other’s advantage. His central point is that the emotional nature of man is exclusively selfinterested. this could be very interesting. biological-looking kind of support for philosophic egoism. which chooses to sacrifice him .Gene-juggling By Mary Midgley Genes cannot be selfish or unselfish. gazes awe-struck at his gigantic shadow on the clouds. he resorts to arguing from speculations about the emotional nature of genes.the one where the player strikes attitudes on a peak at sunrise. including Mr J. and reports his observations as cosmic truths. nor based on any long-term calculation at all. This is a mysterious entity riding in the individual and apparently composed of the numerous genes in his cells. Since the emotional nature of animals clearly is not exclusively self-interested. Dawkins does toy with egoistic explanations at the more ordinary level as well as with metaphysical ‘gene’ selfishness. or good new interpretations of old facts. When animals act. but Richard Dawkins’s book The Selfish Gene has succeeded in confusing a number of people about it. in its literal sense. This should not need mentioning. but I shall not begin with it. not altruism at all but a bargain. although it is not clear why he thinks he needs to . about animal life. any more than atoms can be jealous. that is.

But the facts of animal life contradict this suggestion entirely. Mackie approvingly cites Dawkins’s exposition of it in terms of three imaginary genetic strains in a supposed bird population.in which case we should indeed have good reason to suspect that it was more important than appeared in the human case as well. mutual help will indeed take place. and the help in question is assumed to be essential for survival. nobody grooms all comers indiscriminately. 464). and to some extent bear grudges. It will be liking and affection. who refuse help only to those who have previously refused it to them. and this often proceeds from old to young. and reproves Socrates and Christ for supporting Suckers in telling us to return good for evil. though he more cheerfully concludes that such moralities are mere words and will have no influence anyway. and Grudgers.somehow identifies. which in most species will certainly never be repaid. This is not a fiddling point. in the descendants who outlive him. Dawkins concludes that Cheats and Grudgers would exterminate Suckers. parents are lamentably bad Hobbists if they take any notice of their children at all. what forges society is the emotions. I shall discuss the two last alternatives. and occurs there as part of their social bonds. of all animal altruism . They are: Suckers. because it fits in with traditional egoism. apart from eating them. In this absurdly abstract and genetically quite impossible situation. Cheats. Grooming occurs only in social creatures. even where there is no blood relationship. simple. advanced social species show a great deal of casual and uncalculating friendliness in their lives. Animals are never guided in their lives by any such rigid. The advantage of being social does not spring from a chance collection of isolated behaviour-atoms like hygienic grooming.) Dawkins supposes the help given to consist in grooming. Calculation about the future is an extreme late-comer in evolution. and Grudgers might well do best of all. These ‘strategies’ are supposed each to be controlled by a single gene. who accept help from everybody and never return it. But these events form only one strand among others in the very complex web of social relations which unites them. Where the young leave home at maturity. he goes on. All this is to explain what I mean by calling Dawkins’s case absurdly abstract. ‘As Dawkins points out’. Mackie comments with satisfaction that ‘a grudger is rather like you and me’ (p. which are extremely bizarre. The main source and focus of altruistic behaviour in animals is the care of the young. games-theory criterion as ‘did he do it to me last time?’ still less ‘will he be able to do it back?’ They can certainly be angry. The first and slightly more respectable idea is the one which seems chiefly to attract Mr Mackie. ‘the presence of Suckers endangers the healthy Grudger strategy… This seems to provide fresh support for Nietzsche’s view of the deplorable influence of moralities of the Christian type’ (p. Moreover. But the reason will not be the recognition of an insurance premium falling due. But then . from the strong to the weak. later.the behaviour of ‘sucker’ is impossible. or at least far the most persistent and central source. It is only possible as part of a whole complex way of life in which the outgoing emotions - . Now even if Dawkins’s calculations made genetic sense. the only way in which they could provide support for Nietzsche or any other philosophic egoist would be by showing that ‘reciprocal altruism’ or Hobbesian prudential bargaining was the only source. They groom their friends and relations. 410).at least in birds and mammals . (It is significant that he could not find a real one. who help everybody indiscriminately. Within their friendships.

In the species most like our own. Of course charity and forgiveness have their drawbacks too. We find him slightly less hard to believe in because he seems to show signs of being able to distinguish between friends. He is. Neither sage is recorded to have said ‘be ye equally helpful to everybody’. Altruism is transitive long before it is reciprocal. No doubt this. were talking about behaviour to one narrow class of people. automatic. lasting resentment after injuries is by no means a prominent or important motive. begging a . In a human being. but the difference is trifling. But since they are real they cannot be much helped by a dashing gesture towards Nietzsche. but then neither Mackie nor Dawkins supposes that we are insects. that calculating prudence is the root of all social behaviour. Being a shade less simple he certainly is more so. In dealing with these problems Dawkins’s grossly simplified and distorted scheme is no use at all. Ethological comparison strongly confirms. and in spite of Nietzsche’s romantic power-worship. screaming and crouching to the ground or holding out his hand. And we. may follow the aggressor. but prolonged grudge-bearing is rare and trivial. and were talking about it because it really does present appalling problems. In each case we have to look at the detailed evidence. A blank. Suckers do not exist. As Mackie rightly says. Jane Goodall notes with interest how in her chimps the usual effect of an injury is something very different . Now that we know how complex the social life of other species can become when their intelligence does not make calculation possible. of course. namely our enemies. There is no short cut to understanding it. we know that there is no such single root. it would certainly not pass as charity or forgiveness but simply as loopiness. that motivation is complex. as Hobbes excusably did.constantly work for harmony. enemies and strangers. There are real conflicts here as both Socrates and Christ realized. is what gives Mackie the impression that. what an unprejudiced view of the human scene has always suggested. The option of jumping on one’s enemies’ faces whenever possible has always been popular. undiscriminating disposition to help everyone in sight would be pathological in any animal. on which a man’s employer would usually be his best friend and his children always his enemies. In some cases. by comparison ‘a Grudger is rather like you and me’. The particular case which Mackie raises of the way in which the injured treat their injurers is a good instance of the surprising complexity which we find when we do this.a distressed approach to the aggressor with a demand for reconciliation. No one who has heard of evolution has any business to suppose. there are problems about reconciling them with justice. and as friends all those who have returned it. Both. after being threatened or attacked by a superior.which egoism denies . (Insects may need to be understood differently. it has proved to have grave drawbacks. but the failure of the social bond: A chimpanzee. in fact. is unknown in the animal world. What seems to be most noticed is not the injury itself. like any other social animal regard this as a paramount condition of normal life. along with the equal dottiness of ‘cheat’. immediate fighting is possible. especially if they are unintelligently practised. This principle. in the passages he means.) This disregard of the essential emotional context reappears in Mackie’s idea that the undiscriminating ‘sucker’ behaviour is one recommended by Socrates and Christ. with whom we are already linked. But the signs are deceptive because the Grudger is supposed to view as enemies all those who have ever failed to return his help in the past. and justice too has its roots in our emotional nature. In spite of its attractions.

until he turned. that small human children do the same thing. But this too is an outgrowth of parental protectiveness. and may take the inferiors under their permanent protection. that this simple reaction becomes impossible.willing to follow him in losing touch with the observed facts of motivation altogether and taking off for the empyrean with the Gene. But the fact that there are ‘those with whom one sympathizes’ at all is ruinous to simpleminded egoism. and John Maynard Smith who are not directly interested in individual psychology at all. The whole problem then takes on another dimension of complexity.people with vaguely egoist leanings about individual human psychology . It has to become vicarious. p. I know of no evidence from the behaviour of other species to suggest that prolonged grudge-bearing is anywhere a powerful motive. does not even start from those facts. Then as she approached him. and even while her hand dripped blood where she had scraped it against a rock. Edward O. imagination and foresight. Actual animal-watching shows that this tendency is nothing like as strong or as common as has often been imagined. This persistent difficulty in reducing parents to the egoist pattern is just the kind of thing which makes Dawkins’s typical readers . While a male chimpanzee is quick to threaten or attack a subordinate. there are plenty of situations where it does occur. by the human capacity of enlarged sympathy. Dawkins. (A community of retentive ‘grudgers’ would by contrast be a terribly insecure one. And it does so. this capacity for instant retribution needs another element. had hurried after Mike. again it presents the problem of altruism. be an important root of justice. however. or to those with whom one sympathizes. or between strangers. Still. not as an analysis of the notion of justice. He draws all his material from ‘sociobiological’ evolutionists such as W. an embrace of reassurance. . It is only for adult human beings. Altogether. then. 5). provided that it is understood. D. after Mike’s vicious attack. had given her a final reassurance by leaning forward to press his lips on her brow (p. kissed or embraced (In the Shadow of Man. he is usually equally quick to calm his victim with a touch. ‘The human capacity of enlarged sympathy’ certainly makes the point still more pressing. 114). no lapses would be tolerated. altruistic. 221). a pat on the back.reassuring touch from the other. this reaction makes it possible to resume the relationship as though the injury had never taken place. the animal desire to repel or retaliate a hurt or damage to oneself. that is. screaming in her hoarse voice. In fact. By contrast. widened so as to include all persons. It can hardly. he had patted her again and again on her head. Dominant animals often do attack middle-ranking ones who are bullying their inferiors. Hamilton. readiness to fight back immediately in case of injury certainly is such a root. As she points out. or on occasions of exceptional outrage. But to grow into the emotional raw material of justice. with their much stronger powers of memory.) She rightly remarks. but the simplest case of parental care in animals already presents it in a damning form. And Flo. Wilson. crouched low in apprehension. and the human conception of intelligent self-interest (Utilitarianism. but as an account of its psychological origins: The sentiment of justice appears to me to be. and as she quietened. usually either between individuals of roughly equal status. the account that Mill gave of the matter is a fair one. too. Sometimes he will not relax until he has been touched or patted. Ch.

In natural selection. But anyone who is so far intrigued by these as to begin applying it in detail quickly finds that the facts are too complicated for it. one’s own disadvantage forms no part of the idea. Besides this familiar difficulty. Even the least romantic of them. in fact. it is worth while asking why dogmatic egoism exerts this powerful pull. which he himself does not at all want. two other more serious reasons come in. Thy act is done for the benefit of another. an unrealistic notion of altruism. of course. R. has a paper called ‘Geometry for the Selfish herd’. and that it makes sense to talk of entities other than individuals as being selfish. the evolutionary context adds another. cannot be the only factor determining his mentors. no creature whatever can possibly act but merely from self-love. they are still devoted to it.(Incidentally. Altruism. however. because every particular affection is a man’s own. they have worked out the arithmetic of ‘kin-selection’. newer and more confusing factor. For some reason. People define altruistic behaviour negatively. has inflated this bad habit into a mythology. 7). We call this ‘competition’. or if it were. however. S. Helping him is the aim. though very influential in accounting for Dawkins’s success. At the quite unthinking level. we should want words to express the difference between the principles of an action. namely. is not a fantastic concept. as activity which while helping others does nothing for the agent. it has two great attractions. The first advantage is illusory.D. to do evil or good to another (Sermon XI. But then. but a descriptive one with a use to distinguish some existing motives from others. and the pleasure arising from its gratification his own pleasure. his pages are virgin of originality except for a single suggestion which I shall discuss in my last section. make it a selfish act. It is mere confusion to suppose that satisfaction taken in it. closely followed by Dawkins. Bishop Butler long ago nailed this error: If. The first is an error that has always dogged this controversy. such as impulsive rescuing. proceeding from cool consideration that it will be to my advantage. The word however means something positive. Sec.) These evolutionists’ main business has been to show how conduct which does not benefit the agent can survive in evolution by benefiting his kin. This way of thinking actually makes any dependence on individual selfishness as a motive unnecessary. realized how many must die early as the necessary . or which is necessarily to his disadvantage. or of friendship. despite appearances. As we begin to grasp the scale of the phenomenon. this is not the language of mankind. the strength of the motive involved seems to grow. This negative conception seems to destroy the possibility of motivation towards it. and its swashbuckling style. probably. is really bargaining.[3] They show a strong and unexamined tendency to assume both that individual motivation must actually. both of which it shares with Hedonism . nobody.its great apparent simplifying power. or its happening to turn out useful to one. and the metaphor at once suggests the specific motive of contentiousness. however. one’s own feelings are the inducement. according to this way of speaking. many are born but few survive for long. by which a man runs upon certain ruin. The second. Hamilton. Before Darwin drew attention to it. Trivers. and the term ‘selfish’ should not appear in their writings. and therefore concealed selfishness. such particular affection must be called self-love. be selfish. and Wilson takes enormous pains to show that a great range of obviously uncalculated altruistic human behaviour. and an action suppose of revenge. Before examining it. W.

on p.)Predators. always reassuring ourselves that we could translate our sloppy language back into respectable terms if we wanted to. as its title implies. so ‘remorselessness’ in the true sense of determined callousness cannot either. It may indeed seem that he must just be speaking metaphorically. and much of it requires altruistic ones. manly self-contradiction. but he goes on afterwards as if the literal interpretation still stood. he personifies genes in order to find an owner for it. though hesitantly. Being a realistic naturalist. What. predict their subsequent starvation.condition of the life and development of a few. Among social birds and mammals we might use it. since no question of shares arises among them. to describe an individual who constantly grabbed more than his share. About individual motivation he would like to be an egoist. For instance. of freely admitting a point that destroys one’s whole position and then going on exactly as before. but a particular complex human motive which may well conflict with self-interest. but just as meat. and often used terms like ‘war’ and ‘remorseless struggle’. in fact. He wants to relate the workings of natural selection in a simple and satisfying way to those of motivation by finding a single universal motive. For the same reason. But the trouble about these admissions is that Dawkins seems to have studied under B. Having picked on selfishness for this role. He is not selfish. as their expressive movements show. and there is no such motive. what is a single selfish gene . and will. Nobody attributes selfish planning to a paramecium. but it cannot be ignored. but the facts of ethology prevent it. dynastic ambition is not selfishness. he switches from one to the other with bewildering speed every time he gets into a difficulty. was shaken by what he found. Most selective competition does not require competitive motives. the milder notion of ‘selfishness’ is equally out of place. do not regard their prey with anger or cruelty or as a fellow-creature at all. But for non-social creatures we could not use it so. however. he would never have made the mistake of supposing that mice and mushrooms. If we allow ourselves the license of talking about genes as if they had conscious aims. can Dawkins mean by attributing it to a gene? Doing his best for Dawkins. Darwin. Skinner the useful art of open. he just wants the place clear. The further down the scale of creatures we go. we can ask the question. One cannot speak even of ‘unthinking selfishness’ in beings incapable of the thought in question. this whole process in which he is involved. My present business is not with the problems of theology but with the confused way in which people have persistently attributed to individual creatures the motives which seem needed in an imaginary being who might actually understand. Absolutely none of it below the human level can proceed from dynastic ambition. then. Only quite advanced creatures are sufficiently conscious of each other’s existence to ‘compete’ in the full sense of the word . When ruin stares him in the face. pigs and pampas-grass were actually busy on unscrupulous plots to destroy each other. (Even human beings do not usually do so. he withdraws into talk of metaphors.to know what they are about and have the appropriate motives. as he sometimes claims. and decide in his own favour. nor any sort of motive involving calculation of consequences. a robin driving intruders off his territory cannot be supposed to weigh up their claims. 95 of The Selfish Gene. just because he was an exceptionally humane man. F. Moreover. Dawkins brings in gene motivation because his account of individual motivation is a total failure. the more obvious all this becomes. Remorse could not enter into the matter. Similarly. still less that minute scraps of their cell-tissues were so occupied. Mackie ignores this point. the book depends on it.

purposeful agents’. evidently concluding that genes have been shown to be the only reality. 210. To understand how metaphors can properly be used in scientific writing. On p. Just so Dawkins. But we shall always keep a sceptical eye on our metaphors. it is science. He may want to do theology. Cliché or not. Not a word of caution about metaphors follows. 48. because a gene cannot perpetuate itself but only likenesses of itself.trying to do? . he makes the quite proper and moderate reply that study of genetic causes is useful. I have emphasized that we must not think of genes as conscious. Anyone who can talk like this has a deeply confused view of metaphor. ‘Throughout this book. Whatever may be deemed to be the usable part of this metaphor. indeed. Then. is only a metaphorical way of describing the behaviour of genes. like the paternosters of Mafia agents. x). We are survival machines . unfigurative assertions which are everywhere essential to the book’s argument or modify its opening manifesto: [This book] is not science fiction. too. On p. and a few words on this topic seem called for. For instance. but. he must do it explicitly. This seems to mean that not only the talk of conscious motives. not by loosely extending the language of ‘mechanisms'. and it is the first business of somebody who proposes a new model to make this distinction clear. which . and for brevity and vividness we shall lapse into metaphor. the familiar model of mechanisms in biology has long ago been pruned of its original implication that a mechanism needs an inventor or maker. . Calling genes selfish is indeed a metaphor. but also all talk of whole organisms and their behaviour. figurative speculations about the inventor’s character and history will damage and confuse his reasoning. ‘It’ is a distributed agency… A gene might be able to assist replicas of itself which are sitting in other bodies… In short. to make sure they can be translated back into gene language if necessary. it is no longer legitimate to use them simply as stylistic devices. He must somehow manage to use the language of purpose and adaptation without this reference. but one which has been carefully pruned. but if so. But this by no means makes him go back and alter the flat. Anyone writing about a ‘biological mechanism’ knows that he must keep such inventors out of his explanation. even from people who were willing to make a pet of his bogus entity. Once this is done. he suddenly adds: At times.robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes. Dawkins has the gall to write. Resisting people who might say that he has ‘an excessively gene-centred view of evolution’. we must get straight a fundamental point about the relation between metaphors and models. a model is itself a metaphor. in officially discussing the merely physical action of genes. gene language gets a bit tedious. This is a truth which still fills me with astonishment (p. the language of selfishness is so crashingly wrong that even Dawkins sees he will have to hide it under the table for a bit. the unusable parts of the original metaphor must be sharply avoided. he takes a very different line. Certain branches of it are safe. . These disavowals do occur now and then. they have no force against his practice of habitually relying on the literal sense. ‘stranger than fiction’ expresses exactly how I feel about the truth. others are not. Every metaphor suggests a model. constantly uses the language of conscious motive and depends entirely on it to create the impression that he is in a position to say anything about human psychology.

blurred psychology. 38 . What he has got is a situation of the utmost causal complexity. Something like his simple sucker/cheat model would have to be adequate right across the board. however. It is the gene. is not the species. as if it were both well proven and typical. altruism must he bad selfishness good . but there is which is particularly relevant to this book at the gene level. Genetically speaking. only contingently connected. .e. and therefore of self-interest.) What he needs is a ‘prisoners’ dilemma’ situation. strictly. creatures which have been appearing in suspicious isolation as a stage army in all such arguments for some time. in order to understand the behaviour of larger units or ‘temporary aggregations’. all that we need is to understand the behaviour of genes. this would allow co-operation over the rest of the field and destroy his case entirely.might fit it to become a model. 36). it turns out to be a point about the ultimate ‘unit of selection’: ‘The fundamental unit of selection.. They are not stable through evolutionary time [whereas the gene] does not grow senile… It leaps from body to body in its own way and for its own ends. The suggestion seems to be that. If anyone has any doubt about this. This looks like a simple recommendation to go and do some genetics. and does it in the same way whatever the others may do. 12. (i. One gene must govern each ‘strategy’ if their ‘interests’ are supposed to be always in competition.The genes are the immortals (p. (In spite of some words in the last quotation. it may be best dealt with by moving on to examine the supposedly safer branches. 42). To convince us that this is so. he cannot really mean that it is just war between each gene and its own alleles. the individual. the whole of behaviour would have to be divisible into units of action inherited separately and each governed by a single gene. is no geneticist. and in many cases may produce a totally different effect when different ‘modifier’ genes accompany them. is the literal sense which the metaphor is there to convey?’ Shorn of its beams. Dawkins. cheap. and when we ask for further information on how genes do behave. to ask ‘what then.39). p. but that all the genetics which he or anyone else knows is solidly opposed to his notion of genes as independent units. . cf. individuals and groups are like clouds in the sky or dust . one and The The reason why he cannot get off this subject is not that he knows no genetics. nor even. nor the group. he invariably returns to what was supposed to be merely a metaphor: Can we think of any universal qualities which we would expect to find in all good long-lived) genes?…There might be several such universal properties. They are temporary aggregations or federations. ignoring the figurative flourishes. . It is the kingpin of his crude. For selection to work as he suggests by direct competition between individual genes. Genes are competing directly with their alleles for survival… gene is the basic unit of selfishness (p. cheap. in which genes probably always vary their workings according to context. a war of all against all. everyone will agree that the attribution of conscious motive belongs to the unusable part. As I have suggested. the unit of heredity (p. Dawkins brings up once more the case of Rothenbuhler’s Hygienic Bees. always depend on each other. and locked in constant internecine competition. and. It is time to turn to the genetic realities. Yet that attribution is the only thing which makes it possible for him to move from saying ‘genes are selfish’ to saying ‘people are selfish’. Dawkins’s crude.. blurred genetics is not just an expository device. in which each unit operates alone.storms in the desert.

In his offhand way. 66) . Since that time. 47. that the word ‘gene’ is used in various senses by geneticists for varying sections along the DNA. he writes that this would indeed be hard to understand in terms of advantage to the individual or even the increase of his posterity: But the paradox seems less paradoxical if we follow the argument of this book. abilities or aptitudes may be conditioned by heredity (Mankind Evolving. in considering how sexual reproduction arose. it is what the metaphor is meant to convey as literal fact. Dawkins acknowledges some of this in Chapters 3 and 4. 33). tracing the history of his subject in 1962: The original conception of simple unit-characters had to be given up when it was discovered that the visible traits of organisms are mostly conditioned by the interaction of many genes and most genes have pleiotropic. for example. A gene ‘for’ sexuality manipulates all the other genes for its own selfish ends (p. my italics). because this point is not part of the metaphor. Genetics is that complicated. . the italicized sentence would just be a bad mistake.[4] (By Dawkins’s account. ‘If I speak. and even this would not show that these genes affected nothing else. because what in a student would be simple ignorance is here being used to bail out an unworkable thesis. As Dobzhansky put it. But this in no way embarrasses him when he writes of ‘the grudger gene’ (p. It is so because . This refers to work done before 1920. just like blue eyes versus brown eyes. In fact the word may be used to indicate different lengths of DNA within the chromosome depending whether a unit of mutation.he airily adds. the emphasis on interdependence among genes has steadily grown.genes are essentially co-operative. Thus. effects on many traits .) Those are the standards to which geneticists work. others continue to do so… The academic lag goes far to explain why so many social scientists are repelled by the idea that intelligence. Rothenbuhler has studied two generations. as the quotations just made show. function or recombination is being referred to. . make a difference. ‘Efficiency’ from the whole individual’s point of view is then seen to be irrelevant. The same open disregard for consistency surrounds the questions of the gene’s credentials as a unit. 199) nor when he repeatedly assumes in those same chapters that each gene is a quite independent force wielding enormous individual influence. Its unity and permanence are. Although geneticists no longer speak of unit-characters. p. of course. The idea of a one-one correlation is not genetics at all. they are linked together in the most complex and hierarchical ways and affect each other’s working to an incalculable extent. and treat the individual as a survival machine built by a short-lived confederation of long-lived genes. To show that even the simple behaviour it involves is really governed by only two genes would take something like seventy generations of outbreeding experiments to ensure that the effects described are not due to the close linkage of genes at a whole series of adjacent loci. Sexuality versus non-sexuality will be regarded as an attribute under single-gene control. The context does. remember the story of the hygienic bees’ (p. of a hypothetical gene "for saving companions from drowning" and you find such a concept incredible. and that none of them is immortal.[5] Occurring in a student’s genetics essay. supposed to be its great merits. Dawkins however cheerfully acknowledges what is well known. It cannot be turned into something else here by the metaphorical context. or manifold. not only does the bees’ case stand alone.as is well known . These are so far different that Dawkins’s danger is like that of . but it is certainly not proven. Actually.

‘what is the fundamental unit of economics?’ A coin? If so how large and of what country? A single worker? A factory? A complete market exchange? A minimal investor? For various purposes and from different angles. The only possible unit of self-interest is a self. namely the project of finding a unit which will serve for every kind of calculation involved in understanding evolution. but talks as if it did not matter whether we take those elements to be letters. but they are not independent. and how finely to divide them.) Genes are units indeed for some purposes of calculation. though obscurely. but it is vacuous. what he says is tautological and meaningless. 30). If a gene were a conscious planner. Dawkins sometimes does toy with this thought. we might need to count any of these things. and indeed for the eco-system. and would rightly not expect to have to reduce one to another. since genes are not on view. This.in short. everything needed for the gene pool . They survive only if their owner belongs to a species. it would have to reckon its interests as including those of a mass of other genes on which it is dependent. physical particles are in a stronger position still. would depend entirely on the particular problem which we wanted to solve. and there are no selves in the DNA. genes cannot. In psychological terms. since he has linked the notion of self-interest quite gratuitously to a kind of subject for which it can make no sense at all. A gene is now defined as ‘any portion of chromosomal material which potentially lasts for enough generations to serve as a unit of natural selection’ (p. since any gene pool can fall into trouble. No biological unit can he both . What I have now done is to define the gene in such a way that I cannot help being right. why stop at genes? The reason can only be that our understanding of genes does a special job in explaining evolution. he hastily adopts a general definition for 'gene’ which he attributes (rather surprisingly and without reference) to George Williams. all serious reference to individuals.’ That is: in physical terms. calling them too ‘selfish replicators’. and not just supplement. physical particles can exist without organisms. The reason which Dawkins gives for electing genes to this strange position in evolution is that they are less changeable than the entities of which they form part. kin and species. and one which has not fallen below the critical frequency for further breeding. Moreover. who insists that we must find its fundamental elements. a ‘fundamental unit’ at a deep level which will displace. what we find is not so much a mouse as a mare’s nest. This is true. Aware of trouble here. groups. Members of a population within a species probably have as many as 70—80 per cent of their genes in common (ignoring ‘neutral alleles’ whose results (allozymes) make no difference and are therefore ‘invisible’ to selection). words or sentences. privateering units. and for most purposes we would refer to all of them. is the end of his search for ‘the fundamental unit of natural selection. in fact. and all necessary ancestors for those mates . everything needed for the whole species. as well as all such genes in all possible mates for its owner’s descendants. Dawkins is not the only person to be impressed by the idea of a universal unit. he might be talking about any section of the DNA. it is both meaningless and absurd. entirely dependent on a direct understanding of the more obvious entities in their own terms.in short.someone analysing language. To see how vacuous. and which (for some unexplained reason) will also be the unit of selfishness or self-interest. he claims with relief. When the mountains of metaphor are removed. But as far as this goes. The decision which to count. (This is why hybrids are usually sterile. it is a limited job.[6] And these genes are hierarchically linked in such a way that any serious disturbance of the group will not give rise to a viable organism at all. but. we might ask the parallel question. and therefore the fundamental unit of self-interest.

as misers do.And it does not normally happen that many distinct groups compete without mixing. But they might not have done. ‘Maximum genetic fitness’ means having as many surviving relatives as possible. and economics cannot tell us. and draws attention to a confusion in the notion of ‘selection’ itself. as it used to. But neither employers nor pressures can really act so simple-mindedly. since there is no sort of need for such a unit. we might have to reverse the judgment again later on. but what are they selected for? The term ‘select’ leads people to hope for a simple. for ‘atoms’ in the strict sense of unsplittable units. he will be moved by non-economic considerations like not wanting to go to jail or work himself to death. ‘just as an employer choosing workers selects simply the ones who will maximize profits. Instead there is usually gene-flow between them.‘fundamental’ in the sense of lasting. ‘Group-selection’ is a bad term if it is taken to mean something parallel and alternative to individual selection. if he is a man as well as being economic. Organisms are born and die as wholes. All the same. so evolutionary pressures select simply those who will maximize something specific like their own life-span’. There is however a perfectly good controversy carried on among evolutionists about the ‘unit of selection’. permanent and unchangeable billiard-balls. webbed feet or a silent habit become necessary in new circumstances. or alternatively. indeed. Quite different policies would follow these decisions. Puzzles remarkably like this infest the attempt to find a single aim for natural selection. at the end of its analysis. the degree of ‘success’ achieved will seem to vary with the time when one decides to do the audit. was invented to account for the fact that some ways of behaving seem adapted rather to preserve the group than the individual. normally counts as a condition to be satisfied before profits start to be reckoned. The notion of ‘group selection’. The idea of an ‘economic man’ whose sole aim is to maximize profits cannot be made coherent. isolable purpose. Sociobiological thinkers are inclined to hope they can solve them by substituting ‘maximum genetic fitness’ for maximum life-span’ as the aim of selection.it is not the aim or condition of it. Physics itself no longer looks. But this is mere word-spinning. (This thought arose not so much about altruistic behaviour as about population mechanisms which look like devices to stabilize the size of a group. We ask: what is it that natural selection selects? Now there is an obvious and perhaps conclusive sense in which we must answer ‘individuals’. Organisms are selected as individuals. . and also independent. But in principle one could decide to aim at absolute maximization in six months followed by suicide.) But the phrase ‘group-selection’ is confused. because what is selected ought to be items out of a set . We would like to say. at what time the profits are to be counted. This is not only because. but it does involve all its parts. Just as with economics. after all. But this is no tragedy. a single. Security for next year. the notion of ‘profits’ is normally understood against a background of this condition and many others. the point raised is a real one. one dealing with a real but much more limited issue. and this simply is ‘being selected’ . There is no point at all in other sciences dressing up in its old clothes and inventing such units. such as not murdering all possible rivals. It is because we do not know. each does not directly involve another. and it is idle to say ‘then he was fitter than we supposed’. or for some such slice of the future. and groupstabilizing characters spread throughout the species. to live in penury with a view to maximizing at the end of the longest possible life-span. however. positive answer to this question. Changes long after an individual’s death can bring his hitherto unwelcome genes into sudden demand.

Because of the genetic complications I have mentioned. plotting the course of their own survival. each constructed by a single gene. Natural history. Some are outside anyone’s control. Parts are not translated genes. but of protective behaviour spreading through the advantage it confers. both socially and physiologically. 86. always a practical point to urge.It is probably necessary. Even if we confine ourselves to asking what is needed for an individual to be ‘selected’ . As Stephen Jay Gould sensibly puts it: No matter how much power Dawkins wishes to assign to genes. but it is one which can be expressed compatibly with the obvious truth expressed by the notion of individual selection. In all these kinds of case. Real empirical issues remain. . which means the development of kin-profiting behaviour by the selective advantage which it gives to those kin-groups which practise it. Egoism. but of a number which converge. Hobbes used it to urge citizens to treat their government as accountable to . bears little relation to developmental genetics as we understand it (‘Caring Groups and Selfish Genes’. ‘Kin’ in fact is not the name of a super-entity which replaces individuals in the selection process.direct visibility to natural selection. is a much more obscure idea. His own qualities can only account for sonic of them. the reason why the behaviour can develop is that it helps to build up the supportive background needed by all individuals rather than directly helping the agent. Since kin-groups are normally not exclusive. does all this matter? There are many aspects of it which I cannot go into now. . though again it is not actually an alternative to individual selection. but a blank clash of polarized views is unnecessary.to survive and leave descendants . . it is hard to give it any meaning at all. This is a reasonable idea. this point has been expressed by talking of ‘kinselection’. finally. to think not of one single aim. Because they largely occur among kin. and selection doesn’t even work directly on parts.a great many in social species . about just how the mechanisms involved work. This social character can have various ranges. but a pointer to the necessarily social character of some behaviour.lie in the control of con-specifics. Why. Migration and colonization may help chiefly one’s species. and they are more often transitive than reciprocal. Parental care helps chiefly one’s kin. It has. The mobbing of predators helps chiefly one’s group. which Dawkins puts forward as winning candidate for this somewhat unreal race. It must use bodies as an intermediary… Bodies cannot be atomized into parts. Vol. Selection simply cannot see genes and pick among them directly. Gene-selection. however. for evolution as for economics. is a much larger and more complex thing than human life. however. the picture is not one of isolated kin-groups competing. Aristotle used it to tell us to attend to our own personal and intellectual development. . is a moral doctrine. and I concentrate on the moral consequences which Dawkins and Mackie draw. The image of individual genes. there is one thing that he cannot give them . Evolution. some . Mutual aid and protection can be quite essential to him. this spread will eventually go beyond them. 1977). when it is not just vacuous.and group-selection each have a point.we shall not find one goal which he has to reach. as Mackie sees. Thus the notions of kin. It accepts or rejects entire organisms . and particularly to notice a number of negative conditions which must be met. Dec. No sensible economist supposes that his subject lays bare the ultimate structure of human life and reveals its deep determining purpose. less likely still to yield to formulation in such simple terms. As with larger groups. but rather a great many disasters which he has to avoid.

by contributions from his personal terror of love and human contact. is not any other individual motivation either. independently.them generally. as usual. against the wilder excesses of Christianity he certainly had a point. Even as drama. to tell them (what is quite different) that they have actually no motives at all and no control over their actions. but monstrously irresponsible. Yet he just as often talks as if this established that the individual motivation were different from what it appears to be . Any attempts to use him as a signpost here would. This entitles us to expect certain qualities in our genes. our genes have survived. because we are born selfish (pp. His thought seems to be that individual motivation is only an expression of some pro-founder. be frustrated by his equal readiness to denounce bourgeois caution and exalt suicidal courage. that their conduct will amount to the same whatever they do. Human pugnacity had its place in this equipment. and particularly to make them resist religious wars. But since people are now moving into a phase of existence when that pugnacity itself becomes one of the main dangers to be faced.as here. but is relative to the strains imposed at the time. On the other hand. my italics). that their own and other people’s apparently more decent feelings are false and hypocritical. It might happen that in doing so they had unknowingly often removed resources which would have saved the lives of others . is melodramatic and . This strength is not an abstract quality. as he often says.but this could tell us nothing about their characters unless they had known that they were doing so. and scraps of nuclear tissue are incapable of knowledge. helpless pawns in the hands of powers over whom they have no influence. metaphysical motivation. But he is only a part-time egoist. He contends. and all other animals. His egoism is confused. is only a deceptive phantom. Is there any way in which reference to genes could become relevant to disputes about it? Dawkins makes the connection as follows: The argument of this book is that we. 2—3. ‘we are born selfish’. If people insist on personification. in some cases for millions of years. and he was able to make it without any reference to genes. new selective pressures are beginning to operate. The fact that people have survived so far shows only that they have had the genetic equipment to meet the challenges they have so far encountered. too. nonpolitical and often surprisingly close to Aristotle. and to make a parallel here we must examine the concept of gene ‘strength’. And he has arrived at his notion of gene-motivation by dramatizing the notion of competition. . Still. that the appearance of ‘a limited form of altruism at the level of individual animals’ including ourselves. We could be sure only that such travellers were strong. in a highly competitive world. did on his egoist days preach selfsufficiency and self-fulfilment as a counterblast to the self-forgetful and self-despising elements in Christianity. that they live in a permanent state of post-hypnotic suggestion. In this situation telling people that they are essentially Chicago gangsters is not just false and confused. crossed a terrible desert. All that can be known about our genes from the fact that they have survived is that they are strong. . which he attributes to genes. the right parallel would no doubt be with a situation in which a number of travellers had. but the selfishness of the genes. are machines created by our genes. Nietzsche. that is. He hated prudent bargaining. It can only mean that their feeble efforts to behave more decently are futile. this fancy is gratuitous. The underlying reality. I shall argue that a predominant quality to be expected in our genes is ruthless selfishness . Let us try to teach generosity and altruism. Like successful Chicago gangsters. and is bound therefore to represent it. or ‘love of the remotest’.

the memes will automatically take over. claims innocence of all this.incoherent fatalism. to avoid producing the sense of insult which readers often feel on being told that their traits are inherited. Instead. to build a society in which individuals co-operate generously and unselfishly towards a common good. These memes. to be frank. if we want to study (say) dances. we shall ask why dances. and no wonder. but to study the use they make of people. He does not explain who the ‘we’ are that have somehow so far escaped being pre-formed by these all-powerful forces as to be able to turn against them. Here. . We shall no longer ask to what particular human tastes and needs they appeal. . we must be clear whose survival we are talking about . Wilson or anybody else .the idea that cultural evolution is a process on its own. decided to parasitize people rather then elephants or octopuses. 214-215). if they wanted a host. Hamilton. He does however see some difficulty in accounting for the diversities of human conduct. apparently. if there were no kindly and generous feelings in our emotional make-up. as I do. are selfish and ruthless: When we look at the evolution of cultural traits. and which they have a right to feel ten times more strongly after the account which Dawkins . so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which. This so far disturbs him that he produces for once an idea of his own. how they are related to the other satisfactions of life. ways of making pots or of building arches. what feelings they express or what needs cause people to change them. 3). not derived from Trivers. clothes fashions. presumably. because we may then at least have the chance to upset their designs… (p. ideas. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs.an appeal which gets stronger the nastier the powers in question are supposed to be. catch-phrases. in the broad sense. The unlucky thing is that people enjoy fatalism. So. H says he is merely issuing a warning that we had better resist our genes and ‘upset their designs’: Be warned that if you wish. Dawkins blathers. but it will be still harder for scientific theories. simply because it is advantageous to itself… Once the genes have provided their survival machines with brains that are capable of rapid imitation. not to investigate their truth or any other advantage which they might have for the people using them. 206). A cultural trait may have evolved in the way that it has. you can expect little help from biological nature… Let us understand what our own selfish genes are up to. can be called imitation (p. Dawkins explicitly includes them as memes. so that the proper way to enquire about them seems to be. we should stop asking what dances do for people and should ask only what they do for themselves. partly because it promotes bad faith and excuse-making. We do not even have to posit a genetic advantage in imitation (pp. taking place in units called memes (short for mimemes): Examples of memes are tunes. partly because the melodrama has a sadomasochistic appeal . This is not an easy question to handle for dances. however. equally with genes. how people use them. He does not even raise the question how we are supposed to conceive the idea of ‘building a society in which individuals co-operate generously and unselfishly towards a common good’. and at their survival value. Dawkins. The idea of memes is meant to save human uniqueness.

and because the general public does not realize that genes do not have it. a psychologist might really feel moved to describe the history of human thought in terms of its progressive infestation by conscious.imitation were the essence of culture. something that has never existed before in the whole history of the world. There is now no safer occupation than talking bad science to philosophers. Dawkins has insisted very firmly on the permanence. it could not have units and the whole conception falls to the ground. less superstitious explanations are not hard to find. he has more or less got by. In the case of ‘memes’ the simplest observer can see that no such standards can be met. and specially in those (like Dawkins’s) which simplify it by reduction and trade on fatalism. even if . Over memes there is. Should we then (he might wonder) resign ourselves to enduring all such manifestations. It is a natural expression of people’s lazy-minded vanity. For the time.has given of inherited traits. beginning this enterprise now. then. disinterested altruism something that has no place in nature. workable account of human freedom but sets up another. he would find strength to resist this idea. No non-human intervention is needed to account for it. selfinterested. Again it is unrelated to the facts. of course. but we have the power to turn against our creators. But it is still an explanation of the only kind which (apparently) Dawkins can conceive. however. Consequently. apparently impenetrable. or a unit of imitation’. the theory not only fails to give a proper. has made it even more vulnerable to bad theories by dividing the critics who should provide immunity against them. We are built as gene machines and cultured as meme machines. namely a metaphysical one in terms of autonomous. parasitical bad ideas. We are to do this partly by improved calculations of selfinterest. . but also. including The Selfish Gene. This topic is. In the case of genes. a nightmare possibility of developing Dawkins’s case. as impregnable alien life-forms. Modern specialization. to save ourselves from ‘the worst excesses of the blind replicators’ including memes. except talking bad philosophy to scientists. perhaps the hardest to approach impartially. barrier in the way of supposing that we are free at all.A meme is meant to be ‘a unit of cultural transmission. partly by ‘deliberately cultivating and nurturing pure. he might well find his most convincing examples in theories of motivation. non-human entities. that Dawkins hurries past his half-finished meme-construction to advise us in peroration. the chronic waste of human speculative intelligence. a kind of mental bacillus against which no antigen can ever be developed? Emerging finally from his bad mood. Slapdash egoism is not really a very puzzling phenomenon. No wonder. it is a commonplace. distinctness and separability needed for such units. does not emerge. parasitical. In a sufficiently depressed mood. he says. the showing-off. the neglect of obvious facts. that might seem to him the only way of explaining the confusion he sees. the contentiousness.’ Why it should be imagined that Dawkins and his disciples. could succeed when everyone else in recorded and unrecorded history who has tried it has managed only to become infested by memes (including scientific theories). and on top of that this time it fails still more obviously and resoundingly in the job of providing ‘units’ . Besides this. too. understandable disorder of human development. the most prone to distortion both by oversimplification and bad faith. In this project. of course.absurdly . Nor is it clear whether Mr Mackie is going to welcome this new enterprise. of all important human enquiries. Spooks should not be encouraged. an armchair game of cops-and-robbers which saves them the trouble of real enquiry and flatters their self-esteem. Entities (he would remind himself) ought after all not to be multiplied beyond necessity.

2 The attempt which he has eventually made to answer some of these criticisms may be read in Zeitschrift fur Tierpsychologie 47 (1978).[7] University of Newcastle upon Tyne References 1 J. 609-629. 120. Felton on ‘Genetic Heterogeneity within Electrophoretic "Alleles" of Xanthine Dehydrogenase in Drosophila pseudoobscura’.like obesity or fallen arches. 1975). and A. but animal behaviour seems to be almost devoid of it’. Singh. since these ‘animals’ are the subjects we are dealing with for almost the whole of evolution. C. simply because the theoretical issues have not been clearly stated. Dawkins always answers opponents who point out that ‘genes’ as scientists normally conceive them cannot possibly play the role which he assigns to them by retreating still further from the facts to a more general metaphysical position where ‘genes’ are classed as ‘replicators’. ‘The Law of the Jungle’. 1979). 7 For a fuller discussion of sociobiological ideas in their more modest. as he does most other things that do not suit him. but seems not to see that. Lewontin. Mackie. Unless he either learns to do metaphysics or retreats out of sight entirely. on the most fundamental questions . Genetics 84 (1976). ignores Wilson’s reasoning here. S. Burnet and Connolly on heterozygote advantage in the mating behaviour of Drosophila (‘The behavioural basis of over-dominance in competitive mating success at the ebony locus in Drosophila melanogaster’). ordinary care and attention are enough to remedy it.my mind is not made up. see Kyriakou. I have not attended to Dawkins. On sex.the nature of the forces responsible for the maintenance of sexual reproduction and genetic recombination . 3 See Sociobiology (Harvard University Press. 61—76. Philosophy 53 (October 1978). It is no subject for science fiction. A. however.’ 6 See R. L. Dawkins. Apart from some minor disputes. any ‘genetic theory’ inconsistent with their capacities will have to be revised. He accounts for this (as I do) by the lack of calculation in animals. He adds. Harvester Press. Animal Behaviour 27 (1979) (in press). 1978. Wilsonian form. 5 Contrast with this confident and startling pronouncement a typical passage from the Preface to John Maynard Smith’s thoughtful book The Evolution of Sex (Cambridge University Press. in his ‘Grudger’ story. ‘Human behaviour abounds with reciprocal altruism consistent with genetic theory. 1976): ‘I am under no illusion that I have solved all the problems that I raise. the relative importance of group and individual selection is not easy to decide… It has struck me while writing that the crucial evidence is often missing. Chapters 4-8. it simply intensifies the conceptual blunders which I discuss here. Up till now. 4 For an example of such work fully carried through. R. see my book Beast and Man (Cornell University Press. Indeed. this is not going to do him any good. thinking it unnecessary to break .

. Anti-naturalist diets must be altogether given up if this sort of thing is to be avoided. Moral philosophers. in the absence of a serious and realistic psychology of motive. I would like to acknowledge invaluable help over the scientific side of this paper. What this shows is that. have so thoroughly and deliberately starved themselves of the natural facts needed to deal with their problems that many of them are reduced to a weak state in which they lack resistance to even the most obvious absurdities. given by my colleague Dr A. in particular. Panchen of the Zoology Department of the University of Newcastle.a butterfly upon a wheel. people will clutch at straws. L. But Mr Mackie’s article is not the only indication I have lately met of serious attention paid to his fantasies.

In my article I stressed reciprocal altruism. but only a bit. neighbours . Reciprocal altruism is shown in gratitude for benefits and further benefits in response to gratitude (contrasting with resentment of injuries). 439). parents. and also many further alternative strategies.. which Midgley has ignored: ‘To answer it’—that is. All of Midgley’s passionate insistence that human beings (as well as other animals) are altruistic towards their young. it may work a bit like an implicit bargain. We cannot simply apply to the human situation conclusions drawn from biological models. apart from any explicit motivation. It can flourish as a behaviour pattern. friends. it is reciprocal altruism. biological-looking kind of support for philosophic egoism’ (p.. I shall comment only on the opinions Midgley ascribes to me. contracts. Mackie Mary Midgley’s article [1] is not merely intemperate but misconceived. agreements.132).Genes and Egoism By J. workmates. for it rests on a complete misunderstanding both of Dr Dawkins’s position and of mine. ‘What Mackie welcomes in Dawkins’. but this matters little. . Midgley thinks that this is ‘not altruism at all but a bargain’ (p. ‘is a new. Over time. Midgley could have glanced at my book on ethics [3] no need to read it all.’ If she had wanted to know more about my views. it will need to be shown how and where human life diverges from them. but reciprocal altruism is a much simpler and more pervasive phenomenon. Nevertheless they are significant and challenging as models. even in human beings who are capable of calculation. the index entries under ‘altruism’ and ‘egoism’ give the key passages. Bargains. 440).. that help is given to ‘friends and relations’ (pp. promises and so on are much more sophisticated performances. but that the altruism is mainly what Broad called ‘self-referential’. but in fact I took care to leave all such questions open. But she is wrong. What I say there is that human motivation is partly egoistic and partly altruistic. certainly. the question whether the practical inefficacy of saintliness is to be welcomed or deplored—’we should have carefully to examine our specifically human capacities and the structure of human societies. since I have not adopted or advocated either position. she says. and try to make it clear what my views really are. children. If my article [2] supports anything. they too have a role in human life.. I leave it to Dawkins to reply about his own work. who have some special connection with oneself. This is nonsense. ‘concern for others. Its errors must be corrected if readers of Philosophy are not to be left with false impressions. and am not looking for support for either. It can be and normally is uncalculating. I am not sure whether she has psychological or ethical egoism in mind. that is. 440—441) is therefore totally beside the point: what she says under this heading is no more than I have said all along. L. that there is ‘uncalculating friendliness’. (p. I must simply repeat my closing remarks.

a possibility which is of interest to moral philosophers if they are trying to understand morality itself as the product of some kind of natural evolution. then he may well wonder whether there are any practical limits. honesty . I make no claim to biological knowledge. 445) Bishop Butler’s argument against psychological egoism. like most teachers of this subject. I suppose. But her misunderstanding goes far deeper than this. but it is deplorable. agreeing with Bishop Butler: ‘Self-love in its due degree is as just and morally good. Midgley says. as it happens. but not with a view to establishing ethical egoism. ‘is not really a very puzzling phenomenon’ (p. one of the most interesting points to emerge from the game-theoretic approach is the possibility that an evolutionarily stable strategy will be a mixed strategy. therefore. namely what I call ‘the special device of morality in the narrow sense’ (p. say. So far as practical ethics is concerned. is slapdash discussion (even in a reputable philosophical journal). and I refer to it on p. 106. But 1 have argued also that ‘we need some constraints on the pursuit of these narrower interests’. pp. than it is’ (Preface to the Sermons). as any affection whatever…Neither does there appear any reason to wish self-love were weaker in the generality of the world. So far as philosophy is concerned. may well show formal analogies with biological evolution. Nor. any constraints upon what we can put into it if we want our moral recommendations to be effective. (This suggestion is in no way undermined by Midgley’s fuss about ‘units’.) I hope it is clear by now that I am not suggesting that either sort of constraint will be anything as simple as universal pure egoism. I have commended this argument to every generation of my students. 458). 123) that morality is not to be discovered but to be made. If anyone agrees with me (Ethics. however.particularly interesting since each of us tends to display a mixed strategy with regard to. 143 of my book. Midgley has attacked a wholly imaginary target. but as part of my general case against objectively prescriptive values. Any suggestion that my ethical position is pure egoism is as wide of the mark as the suggestion that I endorse pure psychological egoism.Midgley quotes (p. 170). In that book I have argued (following Sidgwick) that there is no rational disproof of ethical egoism. and that we also want ‘some self-referentially altruistic moral principles’ (p. Some constraints may result from biologically determined and hence general tendencies in human nature. If she had read my article with even a minimum of attention she would have seen that its main subject is neither ethics nor psychology. that it is ‘not only legitimate but right and proper that [people] should pursue what they see as their own well-being’. which. Let me end. with contrasting behaviour tendencies in some stable ratio either between individuals in a population or within each individual . others may result from the game-theoretic interplay of cultural traits. 173). ‘and benevolence to some preferably to others [is] virtue’ (Dissertation of the Nature of Virtue). namely the possibility of a kind of group selection. as Dawkins argues. Here I am. but a theoretical point in biology. but my purpose was to show that some of the models used by Dawkins leave room for such a possibility . ‘Slapdash egoism’. Does she really imagine that she needs to draw my attention to this? I have been teaching moral philosophy for more than thirty years. In fact. to work and survive in competition with other tendencies. on a more positive note. I have said that ‘egoism and self-referential altruism would form a central part of the good life’.

University College. 1977). 2 J. Philosophy 54 (October 1979). Mackie. It is good common sense. Philosophy 53 (October 1978). to be aware of the possibility of such constraints and to be prepared to work out what they are likely to be. 3 Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong (Penguin. L. Oxford References 1 Mary Midgley. ‘Gene-juggling’. not ‘melodramatic and incoherent fatalism’.or even politeness. ‘The Law of the Jungle’. .

We define altruism and selfishness in purely behaviouristic ways: ‘An entity… is said to be altruistic if it behaves in such a way as to increase another such entity’s welfare at the expense of its own. I deplore bad manners as strongly as anyone. other animals. I will try to make my reply constructive. We may even bend over backwards to concede some of her points. No doubt my ignorance would be just as obvious if I rushed headlong into her field of expertise. in the hope that it may interest those who have not read Midgley’s article. I shall return to this misunderstanding of me. or genes. 1976). Midgley raises the art of misunderstanding to dizzy heights. not the ethics of one particular. nor based on any long-term calculation at all. 439). Unattributed quotations with page numbers will all be taken from her article. As it is we are both in my corner. and it is hard for me not to regard the gloves as off. a science of which she aspires to be a serious scholar. I shall divide my reply into eight sections. Since the emotional nature of animals clearly is not exclusively self-interested. or at least not in his emotional nature.In Defence of Selfish Genes By Richard Dawkins I have been taken aback by the inexplicable hostility of Mary Midgley’s assault. but for the moment let me concentrate on her more serious misunderstanding of the definitional conventions of the whole science of ‘sociobiology’. My book is about the evolution of life. he resorts to arguing from speculations about the emotional nature of genes…' (p. We do not even mean the words in a metaphorical sense. simply in order to appear fair-minded when we deplore the way she made them. but others warn that the venomous tone of her article may conceal the errors in its content. My central point had no connection with what she alleges. I am not even very directly interested in man. we are in danger of assuming that nobody would dare to be so rude without taking the elementary precaution of being right in what she said. but more importantly I shall show that Midgley has no good point to make. as well as those who have. which stimulated her attack. . Definitional Misunderstanding ‘[Dawkins’] central point is that the emotional nature of man is exclusively self-interested. species. it will also be necessary for me to quote from it. whether of human beings. but I would then adopt a more diffident tone. The Selfish Gene (Oxford: Oxford University Press. Selfish behaviour has exactly the opposite effect.[2] When biologists talk about ‘selfishness or ‘altruism’ we are emphatically not talking about emotional nature. She seems not to understand biology or the way biologists use language. Indeed.[1] Some colleagues have advised me that such transparent spite is best ignored. rather aberrant. Since it was my book. and he argues this by claiming that all emotional nature is so.

It follows from such a behaviouristic definition of altruism and selfishness that ‘calculation’. ‘fear’ and ‘selfishness’. Why didn’t she add to this witty little list. A biologist would be interested in calculating the genetic and other conditions which would be necessary for such ‘altruism’ to be favoured by natural selection: for instance. . therefore I shall interpret your statement as though you were using my definition of selfishness. even if the effect on actual life and death prospects is . whether long-term or not. pp. what Midgley has done: ‘Genes cannot be selfish or unselfish. A philosopher who wishes to understand biologists . after all. may legitimately be described as selfish’. My definition is concerned only with whether the effect of an act is to lower or raise the survival prospects of the presumed altruist and the presumed beneficiary’ (The Selfish Gene. . Maybe one day we will all come round to the minority view of Donald Griffin (The Question of Animal Awareness. I am not concerned here with the psychology of motives . restricted sense. To make doubly sure. in effect. yet I might describe an oak tree as altruistic if it grew fewer leaves than its physiological optimum. small . 1976) that the present anti-subjective bias of ethological language constitutes ‘an obsolete straitjacket’. Now a philosopher could reasonably say: ‘I don’t like your definition. . whether we like it or not. I still went to the trouble of emphasizing that my definition was behaviouristic. No sensible case can be made that genes do. and Midgley is supposed to know about these things. But in the present case no such excuse can be made. It is essentially the same kind of definition as is used by all modern biologists who write about social behaviour in animals. any more than atoms can be jealous. Philosophers may object that this kind of definition loses most of the spirit of what is ordinarily meant by altruism. that fundamental particles cannot have charm? If I spoke of a ‘selfish elephant’ I would have to be very careful to state. Did Midgley. thereby sparing neighbouring saplings harmful overshadowing. The many laymen who have read my book seem to have had little trouble in grasping this simple matter of definition."Welfare" is defined as "chances of survival". behaviouristic definitions of words like ‘hunger’. be expected to read every single word of a book whose author one wishes to insult. ‘My’ definition is not private to me. This is because a good case might be made that elephants subjectively experience emotions akin to our own selfishness. Actually I think it is arguable that we ethologists (‘sociobiologists’) have overdone our insistence on objective. just overlook my definition? One cannot. it might be favoured if the saplings were close relatives of the tree. In effect I am saying: ‘Provided I define selfishness in a particular way an oak tree. that is not what this hook is about. But for the time being. but given that you adopt it I can see what you mean when you call a gene selfish’. 439). elephants abstract or biscuits teleological’ (p. by my definition your concept of the selfish gene is nonsense. therefore it is nonsense’. as is ‘emotional nature’. is irrelevant. It is important to realize that the above definitions of altruism and selfishness are behavioural. . of all people. and I therefore might have thought myself safe from misunderstanding. This is. I assume that an oak tree has no emotions and cannot calculate. But no reasonable philosopher would say: ‘I don’t like your definition. not subjective. New York: Rockefeller University Press. or a gene. but philosophers. know that words may be redefined in special ways for technical purposes. over and over again. whether I meant the word in its subjective or its behaviouristic sense. 4-5). perhaps. . it just is the case that biologists use these words in a special. for the benefit of quantum physicists.

this is a special technical usage.. Every ethologist knows this. p. The imagination reels at what a mind labouring under Midgley’s definitional misconception must make of almost any of the modern literature on animal behaviour. does it choose among? The favoured answer is ‘individuals’. pp. or other group. then. I really was saying that genes had a selfish ‘emotional nature’ (p. And I of course do not think genes have emotional natures at all. What.. but only if we put it very carefully.[3] We may say. therefore. what matters is not differential survival of individuals. but differential inclusive genetic fitness of individuals. may selfishly survive at the expense of rival groups if the individuals within it behave altruistically towards each other.117). how. is the Darwinian to explain individual altruistic behaviour in animals? ‘Group selection’ is one possible answer: a species. as ‘for the good of the species’. But even if. for instance. and examples abound in my book. I doubt if our emotional nature is. p. that maternal care is favoured by natural selection because of its beneficial . . except under very special conditions. . But unfortunately.. it would not follow that I thought human beings had one too. a rather small extent). 439). ‘that property of an individual organism which will appear to be maximized when what is really being maximized is gene survival’. Fitness is a difficult quantity to calculate and a difficult concept to understand (see. it would not follow that I welcomed the idea. The contemporary biologist would say that whether or not a species survives is. to grant the inconceivable. In a sense this is correct. though doubtless an interesting question. then. 149). as when she says ‘What is maladaptive . has this old biology A-level reflex well developed. biologists now agree that group selection cannot work in nature. I disapprove of egoism. learn this basic feature of biological language. Egoism To Midgley it evidently follows from her misunderstanding of my words that I am advocating an egoistic view of human ethics. Let me try to say again what I do think. In fact. particularly a philosopher who aspires to write about biology. of course. Inclusive fitness is. 446). I have only half facetiously pointed out. to the extent that I am interested in human ethics (a rather small extent). nothing to do with Darwinian selection. different from everyday usage) means its success in getting copies of its genes represented in future generations. Midgley’s own misunderstanding of it in Beast and Man. damages the species’s chances of surviving’ (Beast and Man. The facts of ethology certainly deny individual egoism as a rule in nature. to the gene itself. There is no authoritative support for the once fashionable habit of explaining animal adaptations. as a matter of fact. To the extent that I know about human psychology (again. incidentally. The fitness of an individual (again. Midgley. 138-140). there is a problem about evolution. fundamentally selfish.must. or at least that I ‘would like to be an egoist’ (p. And even if I did think human beings were fundamentally selfish.. and . with the majority of modern specialists. cit. altruistic behaviour among them. Darwinian selection does not choose among species. which runs "Can a species survive if each member of it sometimes does things which do not (in fact) pay him?" (op. My suggestion is that we can lessen the risk of misunderstanding if we shift our attention from the organism as agent.

In any case it was not people but genes that were the subject of my analogy. . This entitles us to expect certain qualities in our genes’ (The Selfish Gene. our genes have survived. already alluded to. we may say what is essentially the same thing in terms of the selfish gene: genes that make mothers care for their young are likely to survive in the bodies of the infants cared for. Reciprocal Altruism Midgley’s misunderstanding of the theory of reciprocal altruism is a special case of her more general muddle. Trivers suggested that the principle of doing favours in the ‘expectation’ of their possibly being returned later. was the subject of J L. and ‘grudger’ (The Selfish Gene. largely due to R. See the role of my Chicago gangster analogy. can be made to work in an evolutionary model without assuming conscious calculation. and to offer ‘the selfish gene’ as a simple. We might expect that he would have qualities such as toughness. The details are by no means simple. The evolutionary theory of reciprocal altruism. in some cases for millions of years. Yet this superhuman feat of misunderstanding is exactly what Midgley manages to achieve. and the ability to attract loyal friends Like successful Chicago gangsters. 197-201). p. The appropriate mathematics is the theory of games. to say ‘the selfish individual’ is a better. that individual behaviour. in a highly competitive world. Mackie’s paper in this journal which was the immediate stimulus for Midgley’s attack. correct alternative. Or. L. 2). what I have done is to reject ‘the selfish group’ as an explanation of individual altruism. we would be entitled to make some guesses as to the sort of man he was.effects on the inclusive fitness of the mothers concerned. therefore the gene pool becomes full of genes that induce maternal care. Now Midgley appears to think that reciprocal altruism can only work in animals . is best interpreted as a manifestation of selfishness at the gene level. of the complications and implications of this fundamental principle. however. I ask Midgley to look again at my words. I could just as well have used the analogy of a man who had risen to the top of the Church of England. altruistic or selfish. I used an analogy: ‘If we were told that a man had lived a long and prosperous life in the world of Chicago gangsters. as I illustrated in my simple explanatory model of three ‘strategies’ called ‘cheat’. this is why we see maternal care in nature. alternative. which we understand at the level of conscious calculation. ‘sucker’. Trivers. about animals ‘calculating’. To illustrate the kind of argument I was making. and my book is a working out. In effect. . but more complex and easily misunderstood. The point was that knowledge about the kind of world in which a man has prospered tells you something about that man. ‘. take a few deep breaths and read them calmly and quietly. in various ways. or been elected to the Athenaeum. If anybody had suggested to me that it was possible to misread that passage as saying that people are essentially Chicago gangsters I would have laughed. 455). telling people that they are essentially Chicago gangsters is not just false and confused. Briefly. a quick trigger finger. pp. It had nothing to do with the particular qualities of Chicago gangsters. genes that make mothers neglect their infants are likely to end up in dead infant bodies. but monstrously irresponsible’ (p.

’ The important point is that neither calculation nor memory of past favours need be invoked..O. This is. acts as a kind of equivalent of a memory. any "genetic theory" inconsistent with their capacities will have to be revised’ (p. Some fifty species. What he does suggest is that '…in animals relationships are not sufficiently enduring. must outweigh the cost of refraining from eating the cleaner. ‘It is probably this site-tenacity which makes possible the evolution of delayed reciprocalaltruism in this case. natural selection favours merciful behaviour by large fish towards their cleaners. indeed. be that as it may. since these "animals" are the subjects we are dealing with for almost the whole of evolution. Midgley might have realized this if. In many cases the large fish open their mouths and allow cleaners right inside to pick their teeth. The site-tenacity. to permit the highly personal contracts associated with the more human forms of reciprocal altruism’ (Sociobiology. not by the fish (they . It does not have to be a real memory residing in the nervous system. All that is required is some functional equivalent of a memory of past favours. and then to swim out through the gills which they also clean. 444). . She quotes E. or memories of personal behavior reliable enough. I would have been surprised if Wilson had really invoked ‘the lack of calculation in animals’. and the cleaners get a good supply of food. the novelty of Trivers’ contribution. are known to make their living by picking parasites off the surface of larger fish of other species.57). . at least in the ordinary sense of the word. by the way. which is quite different from Midgley’s ‘calculation’. Yet instead he usually lets the cleaner swim off unmolested. is a commonplace of fish ethology. 201-202): ‘Trivers discusses the remarkable symbiosis of the cleaner-fish. Trivers. instead of relying on her admittedly slightly misleading secondary source. 35 . since any fool can see that the principle of reciprocation will work in a species that is capable of remembering past favours and calculating debts. More importantly. L. Quarterly Review of Biology 46 (1971). Midgley goes on: ‘[Wilson] accounts for this (as I do) by the lack of calculation in animals. She might even have got the point from The Selfish Gene (pp. but. and large fish have been seen queueing up for attention like customers at a barber’s shop’ (not a real barber’s shop with scissors and electric clippers. but seems not to see that. This is a considerable feat of altruism because in many cases the cleaner is of the same size as the large fish’s normal prey . I suppose I now have to add). I think Wilson underestimates the power of animals to recognize and remember each other. p. and then gobble up the cleaner. including small fish and shrimps. Site-tenacity on the part of both kinds of fish is sufficient. which. One might expect that a large fish would craftily wait until he had been thoroughly cleaned. far from the theory of reciprocal altruism needing calculation. he is talking about memory. and indeed. Calculations of probable future benefit are done by the biologist. she had gone back to the primary source (R. but animal behaviour seems to be almost devoid of it’ (Midgley’s italics.that can ‘calculate’. not in original. as far as I can see. Each cleaner has his own territory. ‘The Evolution of Reciprocal Altruism’. rather than continually searching for a new one. not acknowledged). 120). given site-tenacity by both cleaners and cleaned fish. The benefit to a large fish of being able to return repeatedly to the same "barber’s shop". he does not. In Darwinian terms we say that. The large fish obviously benefit from being cleaned. Wilson’s surprising statement that ‘Human behaviour abounds with reciprocal altruism consistent with genetic theory. it doesn’t even need memory..

I am relieved to note. Before explaining why I think Mackie’s paper may be an important contribution to biology. Group selection is the hypothetical process whereby natural selection chooses among whole groups of organisms. but if it did work it would be important since it could explain altruistic behaviour: groups containing altruistic individuals are less likely to go . it is widely agreed to be an unworkable theory. but at his little aside about Nietzsche. The idea of animals behaving as if calculating odds without really doing so is fundamental to an understanding of the whole of sociobiology: ‘Just as we may use a slide rule without appreciating that we are. This is not so difficult to imagine as it appears. Dawkins. . There are other odd things in Midgley’s section on reciprocal altruism. from Midgley: ‘This persistent difficulty in reducing parents to the egoist pattern is just the kind of thing which makes Dawkins’s typical readers . 277-283). but no doubt they vary and would resent prejudiced generalizations about their ‘leanings’ and ill-informed slurs against their critical faculties.willing to follow him in losing touch with the observed facts of motivation altogether and taking off for the empyrean with the Gene’ (pp. ‘Twelve Misunderstandings of Kin Selection’. L. pp. Mackie (‘The Law of the Jungle’.people with vaguely egoist leanings about individual human psychology . in effect. Midgley’s target in this case is J. but how dare Midgley pontificate about its ‘typical readers’? I don’t think I have had the pleasure of meeting any readers of Mrs Midgley’s book. As I have explained. so an animal may be pre-programmed in such a way that it behaves as if it had made a complicated calculation . Quarterly Review of Biology 31. . The fish simply do things which have consequences in given conditions. Maynard Smith. He may neither know nor care what a differential equation is. Philosophy 53 (October 1978)).might be done by the fish. my italics). I cannot leave the subject of parental care without calling attention to the following. and natural selection judges them by those consequences. Zeitschrift fur Tierpsychologie 51 (1979). which in most species will certainly never be repaid’ (p. I shall explain this. It is one thing to insult the author of a book. since Mackie himself did not follow his train of thought to its conclusion. but her shot is aimed not at his main point (which she seems to have overlooked). Mackie’s Contribution Midgley’s emotional reaction to a few words and phrases used by Mackie seems to have blinded her to the potentially important suggestion he was making. 440. he behaves as if he had solved a set of differential equations in predicting the trajectory of the ball. When a man throws a ball high in the air and catches it again. but this does not affect his skill with the ball’ (The Selfish Gene. 443-444). ‘Group Selection’. 103-104. Who is supposed to be surprised? Not me. as opposed to choosing among individuals (see J. For instance she devotes a paragraph to a trenchant and forceful advocacy of the obviously undisputed proposition that ‘The main source and focus of altruistic behaviour in animals is the care of the young. see also my reply to Marshall Sablins: misunderstanding number 3 in R. but that is incidental). 184-200). using logarithms. since reciprocation occupies a very small part of my book and kin-selected parental care rather a large one.

they would be reality. The argument is as follows. Quarterly Review of Biology 53 (1978)). suckers and grudgers’ led to two alternative stable solutions. This assumption will clearly be met if genetic relatives go about in family groups. It is too early to say. It is the very property which made my model useful to Mackie and which stimulated his useful contribution. Populations with intermediate relative frequencies would be inherently unstable. differentially extinguishing groups of cheats at the expense of groups of grudgers (reciprocal altruists). If. a population chanced to acquire more than a critical frequency of grudgers. do better than the other. In physics. This is a technical way of saying that there has to be a tendency for fellow group members to share more genes with each other than they share with random members of the population at large. Models do not aspire to mimic reality faithfully.extinct than groups of selfish individuals. however. and as a ‘grossly simplified and distorted scheme’ (p. who sees the passengers hideously foreshortened. The whole point is not that grudgers might do better or worse than cheats. A population dominated by cheats would not be invaded (evolutionarily speaking) by suckers or grudgers. the important consequence is that such a bistable system is a recipe for high between-group variance: some populations would stabilize at the grudger equilibrium. I should add that a brief similar suggestion has been made independently by M. not group selection at all. though he does not put it like this. Wade (‘A Critical Review of the Models of Group Selection’. 440). and it is not surprising that Midgley misunderstood it in her summary: ‘Dawkins concludes that Cheats and Grudgers would exterminate Suckers.travelling at nearly the speed of light past an observer. Mathematical models by Maynard Smith himself and others have shown that the theoretical objections to group selection would largely vanish if we were allowed to assume the existence of high genetic variance among groups compared to within-group variance. The concept of a bistable system is a slightly subtle one. J.it may even be described as a train . My game-theoretic analysis of ‘cheats. Models Midgley describes my model of cheats. they would not be models. others would stabilize at the cheat equilibrium. simplified and distorted. but if they do. and Grudgers might well do best of all’ (p. Mackie’s argument is that group selection would now have a real chance to work. 441). and that is what gives them their usefulness. Mackie’s paper in Philosophy will have to be seen as a useful contribution to biology. natural selection would suddenly start favouring grudgers. 440). but rather that whichever of the two happened to attain more than a critical frequency in the population would. Selection within groups would thus see to it that variance between groups was high. for instance. whether formal mathematical models will uphold this possibility. If they did. it is sometimes convenient to imagine a body . For the present argument. This is what models are. until they became a runaway majority. and natural selection at the individual level would push them to one extreme or the other. but then we are dealing with the wellunderstood phenomenon of ‘kin selection’. by virtue of that fact. yet. suckers and grudgers as an ‘absurdly abstract and genetically quite impossible situation’ (p. is to have offered us a new mechanism whereby the variance-differential necessary for group selection could be maintained. Only a pedant would point out that trains can’t go that . But of course it is abstract. Mackie’s contribution.

we could justly conclude that he or she did not understand the first thing about physics. In the present state of evolutionary biology.O. 1978).[3] Midgley says that in this paper I have ‘eventually’ made an ‘attempt to answer some of these criticisms’. while the quantitative details of their predictions will not. To convince us that this is so. If she had objected that it was a bad model I would have listened sympathetically. Wilson. and that in any case the observer wouldn’t have time to see the passengers. as it is ordinarily used by geneticists: ‘For selection to work as [Dawkins] suggests by direct competition between individual genes. invoking in his support the very passage from The Selfish Gene which Midgley describes as a ‘danger’. if appropriate. . My notions of genetics are actually much more conventional than Midgley thinks. displays fundamental and profound ignorance of the methods of biology. Dawkins brings up once more the case of Rothenbuhler’s Hygienic Bees. again we would have to listen. We must patiently wait and see. She herself would have a great deal of trouble with the concept of the gene. the whole of behaviour would have to be divisible into units of action inherited separately and each governed by a single gene . It may be that we shall eventually find today’s ‘one gene one strategy’ models too simple to be useful. it that most of the major principles of present day ‘strategy’ models will survive future injections of genetic complexity. No critic is named. because no such criticisms were known to me. Critics have repeatedly pointed out that his notions of genetics are unworkable’ (p. and one of the most fashionable of these deliberate simplifications is the ‘one gene one strategy’ model that worries Midgley so much. Others who frequently wield it include J. this book abounds in simplified models of exactly the kind Midgley castigates. Midgley would have found Maynard Smith specifically endorsing gene-selection models of sexuality. and have done for decades. to name two biologists whom Midgley singles out for special praise in her article. reply to them. The intuition of professionals varies here. Genes ‘There is nothing empirical about Dawkins. to its disadvantage. but that is not what she did. creatures . 439). . If Midgley will cite the ‘repeated’ criticisms I will read them with attention and. If a philosopher made such an objection against the writings of a particular physicist. If she had read beyond the Preface to page 113. If a philosopher attacked modern evolutionary biology as a whole for its reliance on oversimple models. with a passage from John Maynard Smith’s rightly praised The Evolution of Sex (Cambridge University Press. But a philosopher who intemperately attacks one particular biologist for doing exactly what most of his professional colleagues do. The footnote refers only to a 1978 paper of mine.fast. My own hunch. In fact I made no such attempt. She appears not to have understood that it was a model at all. I am only one of many biologists for whom it is a convenient weapon in our theoretical armoury. Maynard Smith and E. It is ironic that she should compare my ‘gene-selection’ treatment of the paradox of sex. Like nearly all Maynard Smith’s works. the preferred models embody various kinds of deliberate simplification. since all physicists make use of such simplified models. Yet this is almost exactly the nature of Midgley’s objection to my ‘grudger/sucker/cheat’ model. for what it is worth.

nor that it is the only gene contributing to the brown pigmentation. If a gene G2 could be found which infallibly caused in its possessors the particular brain lesion necessary to induce specific dyslexia. To show that even the simple behaviour it involves is really governed by only two genes would take something like seventy generations of outbreeding experiments to ensure that the effects described are not due to the close linkage of genes at a whole series of adjacent loci. If all individuals had two copies of the gene ‘for’ brown eyes and if no other eye colour ever occurred. but it is a routine convenience in genetics to accept other labels such as ‘gene for brown eyes’. or potential existence. The statement ‘G1 is a gene for phenotypic characteristic P1’ is always a shorthand. not only does the bees’ case stand alone. A gene ‘for brown eyes’ is not a gene that. of course. manufactures brown pigment. It can only be defined by reference to at least one potential alternative. which leads to not X. It follows that there is no clear limit to the complexity of the ‘X’ which we may substitute in the phrase ‘a gene for X’. provided adequate educational opportunities were available to all. Now the rare possessors of G1 would be the sole literates and. when compared with its alleles (alternatives at the same chromosomal locus). Reading. be the only describable effect of such a gene. would by definition have to be called a gene for reading. There are so many muddles interwoven here. and at least one alternative characteristic P2. is responsible for the difference in eye colour between individuals possessing the gene and individuals not possessing the gene. alone and unaided. if we follow genetic terminological convention to its logical conclusion. it is hard to know where to start unravelling. All genes are fundamentally ‘genes for making proteins’. for example.which have been appearing in suspicious isolation as a stage army in all such arguments for some time. A gene for reading would. is a learned skill of immense and subtle complexity. to naive common sense. it would follow that G1. and therefore likely to be in the same body. but it is certainly not proven. of at least one alternative gene 2. Yet. but it is only properly called a gene ‘for X'. Probably the first point to make is that whenever a geneticist speaks of a gene ‘for’ such and such a characteristic. be an absurd notion. Imagine a tribe in which almost everybody had G2 and therefore could not learn to read. A vast number of genes are necessary for the development of eyes and their pigment. he never means that this gene affects nothing else. the ‘gene for brown eyes’ would strictly be a meaningless concept. Dyslexia would not. When a geneticist talks about a single gene effect. It always implies the existence. Most genes have many distantly ramified and apparently unconnected effects. in a normal environment. including the presence of the other genes which are common in the gene pool as a whole. Of course any gene exists physically in the sense of being a length of DNA. It also implies a normal developmental environment. he is always talking about a difference between individuals. all that would be necessary in order to establish the existence of a gene for reading is the existence of a gene for not reading. Actually. It is a gene that. and the dyslexia label would . Which of the intricately ramified consequences of the fundamental protein effect we choose to use as a label is simply a matter of convenience. but in our world where reading is so important dyslexia might well be its most salient effect. the gene which all the rest of us have in double dose at that chromosomal locus. if there is at least one alternative gene at the same chromosomal locus. 449). The hypothetical ‘gene for dyslexia’ would almost certainly have other psychological or perceptual effects. and even this would not show that these genes affected nothing else’ (p. reading behaviour would be inherited according to the elementary laws of Mendelian genetics. say brown eyes.

The normal alternative to a gene for total blindness could sensibly be called a gene for seeing. so is natural selection. a gene for total blindness would obviously prevent reading. but not a gene for reading. We cannot now break the cake into its component crumbs and say: this crumb corresponds to the first word in the recipe. of course. different through its whole substance. in a Pleistocene environment. If we follow a particular recipe. no evolutionary change will result from the selection: fast runners will come to predominate among the survivors of each generation. is tantamount to a disavowal of the entire principle of the evolution of behavioural adaptation by natural selection! . even if the behaviour patterns themselves are highly complex. word for word. This is. My only point is that the complexity. of a behaviour pattern such as reading is irrelevant to the plausibility of there being a single gene ‘for’ that behaviour pattern. this crumb corresponds to the second word in the recipe. They are concerned with ‘one gene-difference one animal-difference’ mapping. in the past anyway. but they will not pass their fleetness of foot on to the next generation. it is more like a recipe for baking one from a set of ingredients. it is just the most spectacular). of course. For instance. The genetic code is not a blueprint for assembling a body from a set of bits. but individual differences in fleetness of foot are entirely non-genetic in origin. It follows that if we believe that X is a Darwinian adaptation. what finally emerges from the oven is a cake. The whole recipe maps on to the whole cake. let me use an analogy which others seem to have found helpful. then. so no evolution will be seen. To repeat. might earn a different label. per se. there must have been at least one gene ‘for’ X. but it is only if the responsible differences between the individuals are due to genes that natural selection can have any evolutionary consequences. Similarly. it is true that a one word difference between these two recipes is solely responsible for the only consistent differences between this set of 100 cakes and that set of 100 cakes. in a cookery book. Since Midgley is not the only person to have had trouble in grasping this point. And just as geneticists are concerned with inter-individual differences. etc. say ‘gene for being unable to read animal footprints’. It is no part of my world view that the whole of behaviour must be ‘divisible into units of action inherited separately and each governed by a single gene’. a hypothetical example. if selection favours fleetness of foot within a preyed-upon species. what now emerges from the oven is a different cake. To summarize the reason for this. And Midgley’s implication that the hygienic honey bee is the only known example of a gene effect on behaviour (it isn’t. it is that differences between behaviour patterns can have unitary and simple causes. we are committing ourselves to the belief that. But suppose we change one word in the recipe. If we have 100 cakes baked according to the first version of the recipe and 100 cakes baked according to the second version of the recipe.therefore be convenient. Natural selection can be said to choose individuals versus rival individuals. geneticists are not concerned with ‘one gene one bit-of-animal’ mapping. there is no oneto-one mapping from words of recipe to ‘bits’ of cake. The same gene. but it would not be convenient to label it by this property since other effects of total blindness would be more noticeable. I know of no evidence of a gene for dyslexia. it will be possible to say: although there is no one-word-one-crumb mapping from recipe to either cake. With minor exceptions such as the cherry on top. and that even it may be suspect.

too. expressing surprise that I got it from George Williams (whom she rightly admires). It is admittedly true that ‘the gene’ is an asymptotic rather than an all or none concept only if defined in a particular way. A molecular biologist might define it so that it became an all or none concept. but I believe I have shown them to be less great than the difficulties inherent in any other way that has been suggested.We now come to the allegedly important distinction between a single gene and a linked series of adjacent genes. I am searching for a chunk of chromosomal material which. But I am not a molecular biologist. and it is partly for this reason that it is no longer regarded as a significant unit of selection. There never has been a generally agreed definition of the gene. Midgley quotes this definition. as though it were an objection. because ‘the gene’. because it is a non-issue. atom-like unit. and the statement that it would take ‘something like seventy generations of outbreeding experiments’ to demonstrate a single gene effect as opposed to a close linkage effect. we will be content to regard it as controlled by a single gene provided natural selection. although in principle it was thought of as an indivisible ‘bead’ on a chromosomal string. And the time span we are interested in here is the evolutionary time span. but actually the present case hardly deserves to be called re-definition at all. but I believe my ‘fuzzy gene’ or ‘replicator’ is the most convenient approximation. 451). I hope nobody was impressed by the spurious impression of scientific precision conveyed by that ‘seventy generations’. in practice.[4] That is my point. Pre-molecular usage. and the cistron was defined in a way that was strictly applicable only to micro-organisms. If we are examining a particular behaviour pattern as a possible Darwinian adaptation. I agree that there are difficulties in this way of looking at evolution. p. Why seventy. that I ‘might be talking about any section of the DNA’ (p. Once again. and adding. indivisible. provided n is large in relation to the time span we are interested in. I am not searching for an ideal. The group of individuals is even more fuzzy. ‘regards’ it as controlled by a single gene . Which of the three gene definitions . The individual organism is a fuzzy unit too (think of vegetatively propagating plants). as I use the term. In the 1950s. more precisely. and I made my definition very clear: ‘A gene is defined as any portion of chromosomal material which potentially lasts for enough generations to serve as a unit of natural selection’ (The Selfish Gene. the recon was the minimum unit of recombination. or. philosophers should be particularly sympathetic towards special-purpose redefinitions of words. behaves as a unit for long enough to be naturally selected at the expense of another such fuzzy unit. in practice. concept.that is. If a series of adjacent genes is so closely linked that it takes n generations of breeding experiments to separate them. yet it is current orthodoxy that ‘the individual is the unit of selection’. not an all or none. provided the risk of the supergene’s being split into its component sub-genes is small compared to the risk of its being eliminated by the natural selection pressures we are investigating. then for practical purposes we can treat them as one gene (‘supergene’ it is sometimes called). and Seymour Benzer [5] suggested that ‘the gene’ should be replaced by three terms: the muton was the minimum unit of mutational change. amounted to the gene of the Williams definition. but for practical purposes it amounted to the unit of protein synthesis. is an asymptotic. molecular biology showed that there were no atomistic beads. 30). The truth is that there is no hard atomic unit of natural selection. not seven hundred or seven thousand? No magic number of outbreeding experiments can settle the issue.

and may properly be regarded as engines of gene propagation . does Midgley think the perfectly obvious fact that ‘a gene cannot perpetuate itself but only likenesses of itself’ (p. I do not claim that my essay on replicator selection [3] solves all the problems. and the paper of the philosopher David Hull [6] that follows it. which I shall call the ‘optimon’. Midgley so pathetically misunderstood). Only genes survive.direct visibility to natural selection. my material having all been drawn from ‘evolutionists such as W. 446) is such a ‘crashing’ disaster for my case? It is one of the very linch-pins of my case!). as I showed above. but the alleged difficulties manufactured by Midgley are not among them. therefore. 1975. had not had an opportunity of seeing Wilson’s book. In The Selfish Gene I followed him. This whole area of units of genetic function and units of adaptive benefit is fraught with important difficulties. is required. Edward O. It must use bodies as an intermediary . Natural selection favours genes (replicators) versus their alleles by virtue of those genes’ effects on bodies. tend to have what it takes to propagate genes. The optimon is that unit to which we refer when we speak of a Darwinian adaptation as being ‘for the good of’ something. Such success is achieved by means of influence on the development of bodies. Midgley (p. defined the gene as equivalent to what I am calling the optimon. together with most other people.one used was to depend on one’s purposes. ignores Wilson’s reasoning here. the genes whose replicas in previous generations were successful in getting themselves copied. I did not ‘ignore’ Wilson’s reasoning: at the time of writing (1975) I. D. since ‘gene’ gives rise to confusion (and how!). when she gratuitously remarks that my ‘pages are virgin of originality…' (p. obviously. . The genes which exist in the world are. ironically the sentence is the very one on reciprocal altruism. She then adds: ‘Dawkins . which. as. and that some progress is being made. in the form of information copies of themselves (why. Wilson. are honest attempts to face up to the difficulties. But Benzer’s purposes were all molecular. Hamilton. 444). in effect.’[7] I find it impossible to imagine what it would even mean to say that genes were directly visible to natural selection. For the student of adaptation in whole organisms yet another unit. Of course they have to use bodies as an intermediary.. they reproduce their genes and die. 444). Williams.‘survival machines’. there is one thing that he cannot give them . That is why my book is mostly about the behaviour of individual bodies (see especially Chapter 4 for a discussion of the role of bodies as machines programmed to preserve genes. like computers programmed to win games of chess). Evolution consists in the differential copying success of genes relative to their alleles. and John Maynard Smith who are not directly interested in individual psychology at all’. But it is not the bodies that survive. 454) quotes with approval Stephen Jay Gould’s courteously expressed criticism: ‘No matter how much power Dawkins wishes to assign to genes. by the way. as he does most other things that do not suit him’ (p. . but I have since suggested substituting the more general term replicator. Sociobiology Midgley’s malice at times becomes positively catty. but I think that it. . After completing my book in essentially its final . Selection simply cannot see genes and pick among them directly. Bodies. In another place she quotes a sentence from Wilson’s Sociobiology (Harvard University Press. for instance.

I am proud of it. Her readers were served up with the criticism. Any claim that I was influenced by Wilson is simply false. Midgley has a lot to say about metaphor. and I can end constructively by explaining why it was unnecessary for her to say it. moreover. hollow laughter seems the only appropriate response. p. and only incidentally trying to break new ground (although I think both Wilson and I would be disappointed if we were thought to have broken no new ground). in her Introduction (p. of course. In my opinion [8] Wilson was rather remiss in virtually ignoring Maynard Smith’s game-theoretic concept of the evolutionarily stable strategy. This was the only change Sociobiology caused in my entire text. in reputable journals. The claim that I drew material from Hamilton and Maynard Smith is. 1978). 458).g. Like E. this is not strictly accurate. and p. I was trying primarily to synthesize and interpret our field (it wasn’t called sociobiology then). I beg him or her to scan a few random sentences of Midgley’s paper and judge the provocation. O. Both Wilson and I would have been sadly remiss if we had not given great prominence to Hamilton’s ideas on kinship and other topics. She thought that I .form I obtained a copy of Sociobiology. in fact. Only after The Selfish Gene had gone to press did I read Wilson’s excellent work from cover to cover. with an author. Wilson. Worse. a date. remember.131) will be found criticisms of the concept of the selfish gene’. a real book. and acknowledged my debt to them. Incidentally. thinking it unnecessary to break a butterfly upon a wheel. But Mr Mackie’s article is not the only indication I have lately met of serious attention being paid to his fantasies’ (p. and a publisher—a book that they might go away and judge for themselves against her criticism. are we to make of her publisher’s claim on the dustjacket that Midgley’s comments on ‘Wilson’s concept of "the selfish gene are the most serious and sustained criticism of Wilson yet published’? Let me not end on a negative note. a fact which probably annoys him even more than it annoys me (he tells me he finds my ideas reductionist). Her concluding footnote would be hard to match. In Beast and Man (e. named but without a responsible author. the concept of ‘the selfish gene’ is solemnly attributed to Edward Wilson. As for the statement that Wilson is ‘not directly interested in individual psychology at all’. xxii). Whatever does Midgley think the ballyhoo. who is a professional in the field under discussion. the ‘Sociobiology Study Group of Science for the People’ are all about? If anyone remains in doubt. true. a field in which the critic herself is most charitably described as trying hard): ‘Up till now. I recommend Wilson’s On Human Nature (Harvard University Press. and managed to slip into my final draft a brief mention of it (a criticism of Wilson’s treatment of the theory of kin selection: I prophesied that he would muddle people. but it is an orphaned concept. and even then (early 1976) I must have been one of the first people in Britain to do so. when Midgley says she has not ‘attended to’ me before. What. the political demonstrations. in the circumstances. I have not attended to Dawkins. for its patronizing condescension toward a fellow academic (a fellow academic. Concluding Remarks If the reader discerns in my reply signs of what appears to be undue rancour. and to George Williams and Robert Trivers. without being trusted with the information that ‘the selfish gene’ being criticized is. but a voluntarily contributed article. 140 of Midgley’s Beast and Man shows my forecast to have been amply fulfilled). It is not an invited book review.

Beast and Man. Dawkins. D. ‘Split Genes and RNA Splicing’. H. Midgley. ‘This horrendous concept .is so desperately at odds with almost every other view that Man has of himself. of two technical sentences from these pages of Williams: ‘I use the term gene to mean "that which segregates and recombines with appreciable frequency" '. p. . what has gratified me is that the anticipated bleak reception has. Doolittle and C.the total prostitution of all animal life. H. 61-76. Hassocks: Harvester Press. 1979. Orgel and F. Na lure 284 (1980). For my part. ‘Gene-juggling‘. and such unpersuasive ones. the Phenotype Paradigm and Genome Evolution’. But that was no metaphor. provided certain key words are defined in the particular ways favoured by biologists. its derivation from Williams is not word for word.would defend my selfish genes by claiming that they were intended only as a metaphor. 2 She recommends her own book (M. including Man and all his airs and graces. I believe it is the literal truth. Zeitschrift fur Tierpsychologie 47. Sapienza. 4 It is hard to resist a flourish as I quote almost exactly the same words from a recent. Nature 284 (1980). Crick. Watson) of the modern molecular concept of the gene: ‘The theory of the "selfish gene" will have to be extended to any stretch of DNA’ (F. London: Gollancz. 1966). and assumed that I was speaking metaphorically when I wrote. Of course it is a hard truth to swallow at first gulp. C. but I have conveyed the clear message of pp.[9] New College. 3 R. ‘We are survival machinesrobot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes. Crick. 22-25 of his Adaptation and Natural Selection (New Jersey: Princeton University Press. ‘Selfish DNA: the Ultimate Parasite’. forward-looking review by Francis Crick. been confined to so few quarters. and ‘a gene could be defined as any hereditary information for which there is a favorable or unfavorable selection bias equal to several or many times its rate of endogenous change’. 270). F. Science 204 (1979). 171). As for my definition of the gene. ‘Selfish Genes. Oxford References 1 M. Philosophy 54 (October 1979). Crick’s point is elaborated in two further molecular biological papers whose titles betray no coy reticence about applying the word ‘selfish’ to DNA molecules! (L. E. to the blind purposiveness of these minute virus-like substances . in the event. architect (with J. 1979) ‘For a fuller discussion of sociobiological ideas…'. ‘Replicator Selection and the Extended Phenotype’. C. Midgley. My definition is a rendering. W. that Dawkins’ book has received a bleak reception in many quarters. for laymen. Nevertheless his argument is virtually irrefutable’ (The Mighty Micro. ix). As Dr Christopher Evans has remarked. This is a truth which still fills me with astonishment’ (The Selfish Gene.

Glass (eds) (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins. Gould is a well-known palaeontologist who would probably be surprised at Midgley’s description of him as ‘a geneticist’ (Beast and Man. D. They know nothing of such abstract concepts as "the good of the species". ‘The Elementary Units of Heredity’. 757-759). Like Monsieur Jourdain. Midgley might be amused at the following from Hull’s manuscript: ‘Although he is likely to be shocked. we have discovered no higher principle in nature’ (S. In view of her spirited remark that I should either learn to do metaphysics or retreat out of sight altogether. 9 Some of the more constructive arguments in this paper are developed further in my forthcoming book. And that. Dawkins (1976. for instance: ‘Natural selection dictates that organisms act in their own self-interest. D. Benzer. D. is all there is to it. Studies in the Concept of Evolution. Hamilton.. 6 D. 1957). H. 1977. ‘Caring Groups and Selfish Genes’. Gould. W. as is clear from his reviews of both our books (and by the way. who was astonished to discover that he had been speaking prose all his life. The Extended Phenotype (Oxford: W. Dawkins may well be equally surprised to discover that he has committed an act of metaphysics. Gould. L. 1978). if not offended. 1982). J. 66). 261). nobody in the world is better qualified to review either of them): W. 1977. Natural History 86 (December 1977). 8 In Hamilton’s opinion too. W. might be surprised at some of the things Gould has written elsewhere. review of The Selfish Gene (Science 196. . ‘The Units of Evolution: a Metaphysical Essay’. J. Freeman & Co.’ 7 S. 975-983). 1978) has made an important contribution to the metaphysics of evolution in his explication of "replicators". Hull. Midgley. Hamilton. The Chemical Basis of Heredity. for all its baldness. J. in press). U. Harré (eds) (Hassocks: The Harvester Press. in turn. They "struggle" continuously to increase the representation of their genes at the expense of their fellows. Jensen and R.5 S. at being told so. McElroy and B. review of Sociobiology (Journal of Animal Ecology 46. Ever Since Darwin (London: Burnett Books.

which is called (somewhat misleadingly) Social Darwinism. And I welcome those parts of his book which simply explain them. And since Darwin’s theory of natural selection. since it was chiefly just a very fair and sympathetic exposition of Dawkins' views. which could be remedied by a good clear textbook. I shall have very little to say directly about Mackie’s argument. Apology is due. Herbert Spencer’s concept of the ‘survival of the fittest’ seemed to slot admirably into this . has been so long delayed. This reply must. I think we need to see. how small and transient a phenomenon we are in the cosmos. widespread and deep-rooted bunch of misunderstandings of Darwin’s ideas.[1] Mr Mackie’s sudden death in December 1981 adds a further dimension to this distress. and avoided the excesses of psychological egoism. In the first place I do not think that The Selfish Gene itself. It flows from that early.is to make possible a more realistic attitude about the place of Homo sapiens in the world. as of course he also does in his own book. But I certainly ought to have expressed them more clearly and temperately. is much the best guide we have to understanding that constitution. does avoid those excesses. however. I am distressed that my reply to Messrs Mackie and Dawkins.which I think Dawkins shares . But since the word fit can unfortunately mean deserving or suitable as well as healthy. But this still leaves two serious worries. This consists in supposing that evolution endorses the simple social ethic of devil-take-the-hindmost. not only for the delay but for the impatient tone of my article. has this project not so far been more successful? The unwillingness of many educated people to accept evolutionary concepts fully and apply them to Homo sapiens does not just flow from lack of information. Mackie himself drew only very modest conclusions from them. even when modestly interpreted. My own central philosophic concern . In the second. and doing so always makes for confused argument. incomplete though it is. of the constitution which relates us so closely to the other animal species of this planet.Selfish Genes and Social Darwinism By Mary Midgley Exchanging views in Philosophy with a two-year time-lag is getting rather like conversation with the Andromeda Nebula. One should not lose one’s temper. on any natural interpretation. as a spin-off from free-enterprise economics. That ethic was in fact already provided with a theory long before Darwin wrote. far more clearly than we now do. Why. it is urgent to try to use it fully for that purpose. We need a much more realistic idea of our own mental and physical inheritance. My basic objections remain. I therefore wholly agree with Dawkins in wanting people as fully informed as possible about the workings of evolution. explaining what made me write so crossly about The Selfish Gene. concentrate simply on explaining the background of reasons why these objections matter. I think. I think it is far too one-sided a book to be picked out and used in isolation for the re-education of moral philosophy in the biological facts of life.

The accusation is mostly now phrased as one of ‘biological determinism’. Dawkins may very well by now have grasped this point as far as it concerns Fatalism. So strong is this expectation that the slightest carelessness of language is enough to confirm it. We can only wait for evolution. provided that no one actually suggested in detail how they might work. It calls for rethinking. first to ethological thinking and then to sociobiology. especially in its Dawkinsian form. Perhaps in four or five thousand years evolution may have carried men beyond this state of things.' [3] Actually.which allowed Darwin's ideas to apply in theory even to human beings. that he has unwittingly stumbled over a myth. But any attempt at such specific suggestions was at once seen . particularly in the social sciences. both by its language and by some of its substance. And sociobiological thinking. without in any way compromising the uniqueness of the tree which has grown from those roots. though he accepted the phrase. It is a whole coherent web of powerful political and psychological ideas. whenever those methods are applied to man. The amount of reasonable alarm which this raises becomes clear to anyone who reads the indignant responses of people of radical or liberal sympathies.not universally but surprisingly widely . and points out that genetic determinism is no worse than the sociological kind. It then .framework.as Social Darwinism. It’s all a matter of evolution. ‘What are you going to do about it?’ George asked. This way of regarding evolution has not died. Youmans (an influential American popularizer of H. and to supplement what had before been merely prudential advice by deriving it from a universal law of life. One cannot exorcize this trouble merely by disclaiming the intention of drawing moral conclusions. It remains to plague us today. To correct this error. Youmans replied ‘Nothing. because the central doctrine at issue is not moral but factual. and not some mysterious personal spite. But of course what is involved is much more than a myth. actually reinforces Social Darwinism. which sounds metaphysical. rooted in large and bloody historical facts.helped out no doubt by the bizarre Lamarckism of Freud . Indeed. The Extended Phenotype contains an admirable chapter on what is called ‘Genetic Determinism’ in which he spells out well the difference between determinism and fatalism.[2] The damage was deep and lasting. Spencer’s views) in Henry George’s presence denounced with great fervour the political corruption of New York and the selfishness of the rich in ignoring or promoting it when they found it profitable to do so. Darwin himself. which shows us the roots of human co-operation. [5] This cannot help. You and I can do nothing at all.[4] He now sees. It is that conflict is universal and is in fact the only kind of interaction which is possible for us. But the quotations and examples show that the real objection is political and moral. it has been plausibly said that Social Darwinism is still the unofficial religion of the West. he says. A kind of truce was maintained in the early part of this century . But Spencer had full confidence in them. was what made me indignant. rejected such applications. The real opponent is still Spencer. what is chiefly needed is attention to the sociality of the higher animals. and toured the United States giving the explicit scientific blessing of evolutionary theory to the wilder excesses of freeenterprise capitalism. This. To sidestep it demands more than tact. Out of a vast range of possible examples I select a case which brings out specially well the fatalistic side of the error: Acceptance of the Spencerian philosophy brought with it a paralysis of the will to reform.

he says. as part of the animal creation. Since my main controversial business is to prevent this blocking. why use that word rather than a more suitable one? It is true (and I should have made it clearer) that this question should be put here to a whole school of biologists. well-known technical term. then. and receives a poetic celebration there unparalleled in other sociobiological writings. When it does that. readers of a given species must naturally apply such theories to their own case. ‘altruistic’. Any writer who lays all the emphasis on conflict is inviting misunderstanding. Selfish. since ‘philosophers of all people know that words may be redefined in special ways for technical purposes’(557). I have some sympathy with Dawkins when he repeatedly disclaims interest in human psychology. He correctly points out that biologists writing on evolution do now use the term in what he calls this ‘special. It is because the word ‘selfish’. As B. not just to Dawkins. this upset me. It cannot be one which falls. He wants us to treat such redefinition as normal. [6] behaviourists in general do well to . and to show people that they can use Darwin’s methods on human behaviour without being committed to a shoddy psychology and a bogus political morality. even if they were not asked to. 558). though most of them do not rest anything like so much weight on this particular word. he guarantees it. Accordingly. viz. drawn from everyday morality. A restricted sense ought to be one which forms part of the normal meaning of the word. In the first place he actually invites a human application. a use which not only suggests psychological egoism to the surrounding peasants. And if he adds to this a language like the sociobiological one.becomes possible for us to see ourselves. If they are inclined to suspect before they start that everything good in their own species is exclusive to it. without distortion or reduction. accounts of evolution which emphasize only what they regard as evil are bound to confirm their opinion. that the book struck me as exceptionally likely to block the acceptance of Darwinism. The question whether this usage is a bad one must be separated from that of what we can do about a bad usage once it exists. as this does. ‘spite’ and ‘manipulate’. with this sense. The use is a specially unlucky one for people who really do not want to talk about motivation. and doubly so when I found this particular book-out of the enormous wealth of books now available on evolution . is the key term of The Selfish Gene. Is this language however a mere formality? Dr Dawkins tells us that he is obviously not using the word selfish in any sense which could excuse this interpretation. Foremost among the snags of this sociobiological language is the equivocal use of words like ‘selfish’. but clearly at times misleads the writers themselves. means here something like ‘actually self-preserving in the long run’. referring only to behaviour. and they have a right to expect that it will make sense there. But that does not mean that no standards apply to their manufacture. and wants its complications kept out of the way of evolutionary theory. F. right outside it. a harmless. restricted sense’. But this is scarcely possible.being recommended on its own as a source for moral philosophy. In the second. it becomes reasonable to ask. It is true that philosophers are used to special technical definitions. ‘a philosopher who wishes to understand biologists must therefore learn this basic feature of biological language’ (IDSG. Is it a bad one? I suggest that it plainly is. It is. Skinner rightly remarked. But the question ‘why say selfish rather than selfpreserving or self-replicating or self-perpetuating or competitive or the like?’ is still serious. to that which in fact increases an entity’s own chance of survival.

but attractively familiar. Physicists can only use these terms because their new use is so far removed from their old one that there can be no possibility of interpreting their sentences in the old sense. the force of habitual usage is far too strong for that. The effect is that the evolution of human traits is becoming increasingly unthinkable and indescribable. many if not most of the remarks made about it in the new sense admit of an interpretation in the old sense which sounds. Nobody wants to deal with them. not on a fixed range of acts. as well as politer. above all. before the special definition has yet been introduced. to suppose that a real bias towards psychological egoism made this use seem actually enlightening and suitable. (It appears on p. ‘tyranny of the selfish replicators’ (p. (It can be seen at work for instance in the tendentious use sometimes made by crusading economists of terms like freedom. But this is not Dr Dawkins’s practice in The Selfish Gene. While the use remains. there are some obvious precepts which writers normally follow. In any case. Avoid doing this with particular care at the outset of the book. because the attempt to explain action in puritanically behaviouristic terms has proved so disappointing.) To minimize the danger of misunderstanding in these cases. if anything. to whom The Selfish Gene is explicitly addressed. One could of course attribute it merely to clumsiness. 4. 2). It is by no means enough. the other way. Enormous problems arise. it poses a problem of a familiar kind for biologists who want to talk to the general reader. as Dawkins himself now remarks (558) the taboo on taking animal subjectivity into account when discussing motivation is at present breaking up. But one thing which they cannot effectively do in it is to talk about man. do not use it in your title. Biologists who don’t want trouble simply avoid the topic. cut off by this linguistic reinforcement of its Wilberforcian barrier from the terms used to describe the rest of nature. The use is probably doomed along with other perverse behaviouristic uses. since the special economic sense of such terms is only a restricted one. Do not combine the word with others which must fix it in the everyday sense (as in ‘ruthless selfishness’ (p. I mention only the last point.). not a total change of meaning. Would it be a good idea for a physicist to publish a book called The Charm and Strangeness of Quarks? Dawkins gives the example of charm in his justification and it is an interesting one (IDSG. many biologists do contrive to use this language without disaster. But it has always seemed to me more plausible. in such cases. simply to give a new definition and repeat it from time to time. etc. If you feel a purple passage coming on. And the term selfish is one which centres its normal meaning on motive.) Instead. When a term is drawn from everyday speech like this. So far from this being the case with selfishness. however. By these and similar precautions. 3).avoid using terms suggesting motives. Avoid examples which can conceivably look like examples of the everyday sense. And it is certainly a real question why such rankly misleading language was ever chosen. But this case is much less extreme. not only intelligible. however. Without wasting time illustrating this again at length. make sure that you keep this word out of it. They read as ordinary statements and developments . This means that it cannot possibly avoid taking on again the familiar sense which was supposed to have been purged away from it. He has returned the transplanted language to its home ground. For instance: avoid all emotive uses. So it can scarcely be a ‘basic feature of biological language’. constantly correct the reader’s inevitable bias by adding near-synonyms which take out the heat and move the meaning. And. Any writer who attempts this runs into impossible difficulties. the title. 557).

Instead. He now comments ‘That was no metaphor. was talking about the causal story. neutral textbook of evolutionary biology. Jekyll writes about half the book. though he does not discuss or analyse these questions. and meant to be ignored by serious readers? It is printed without any health warning to the reader not to swallow it. he now emphatically repeats what he takes this answer to be. and he would scarcely mention the first if he did not think that his answer served for that as well.) What concerns me is the meaning of this and the argument by which it is supposed to follow from the theory of evolution. with those powers of exposition. since the other words have not been discussed. What then actually are these claims? The book’s first chapter. Points such as the bias of examples and the over-abstractness of models now come under a quite different standard of criticism. But Dawkins. used to wrap popular science for the benefit of publishers. As to the meaning. G. 572-573) (This caveat can apply only to gene and selfish. one quite sensible point emerges. does repeatedly answer at least the second of them in his book. called ‘Why are People?’ opens with this remarkable manifesto: Intelligent life on a planet comes of age when it first works out the reason for its own existence… We no longer have to resort to superstition when faced with the deep problems: Is there a meaning to life? What are we for? What is man? After posing the last of these questions the eminent zoologist G. perversely enough. 1 my italics). he does not know what he is saying? Much of Dr Dawkins’s reply is devoted to spelling out fully the technical meaning of what he has said. This is a truth which still fills me with astonishment (p. I not only took him for granted but thought that his presence actually made things worse. which my lurid imagination has no right to saddle with any wider implications? Is the non-technical part of it just a bit of standard flannel. Simpson put it thus: ‘The point I want to make now is that all attempts to answer that question before 1859 are worthless and that we will be better off if we ignore them completely’ (p.of psychological egoism. It runs: We are survival machines . I am entirely prepared to believe that these interpretations come as a complete surprise to Dawkins in his capacity as Dr Jekyll. and I ought to have paid tribute to him before. Simpson. How can a writer who can do this work so admirably then go on to spoil it with irrelevant rhetoric? And how is it possible for readers to feel that. The ones that really need attention. Is his purpose then actually just a scientific one? Is the book really just an unpretentious.robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes. however ill-expressed. I believe it is the literal truth. and accordingly my criticisms. of course. and to claiming that I have misunderstood it in bringing non-biological objections. and gaps in the argument are therefore far graver. ix). for doing it so well. The claims being made are immensely larger. the honourable and singleminded expounder of biological truths. Arguments which would be perfectly in place in purely theoretical biological discussions (such as those of John Maynard Smith) have a quite different function here. He must mean that all of them received in 1859 a new and revolutionary answer. become relevant. In response to my complaint about loose use of metaphor. are machine. vehicle and blindly programmed. provided certain key words are defined in the particular way favoured by biologists’ (IDSG. of course. . which does not involve the first two questions.

The official one concerns the units of selection. What he feels when in their grip is the truth. He really is not capable of acting. A meaning can be found for this special status. as in some sense the starting-point of explanation. How is this fatalism really intended? Can it be read as mere determinism. To this unofficial message we must return. To a certain extent it can be used in wider contexts. This use is not entirely clear. because fatalism is one of the strongest and most seductive of popular thought-schemes. use their wholes as survival machines or ‘vehicles’ . True. People. but it is a lot clearer than the reversed one in which genes. since literal programming can only be done by agents. First. And fatalism of the most extreme sort seems central to the meaning of these numerous passages. conscious external agent has been found. why should we pick out genes from the rest of the causal process? Genes are pieces of matter. because he has a universal excuse. The message which any unsophisticated reader must receive is that he is a helpless pawn in the hands of his physical inheritance and can therefore stop trying.like people buying cars. The personification of the controlling force is merely a way of dramatizing their helplessness. evolutionary selection has . but that those who have so far believed themselves to be agents are shown not really to be so. But this use depends on taking some larger unit. and this time it is involved in current controversy. It is best approached by considering what it means to call organisms ‘survival machines’ for genes. which declares that all human effort is useless. that we have not programmed ourselves. This claim has two stages. and conscious ones at that. and the sense of agency which he has at other times is a delusion. this language gets obscure. The survival or other benefit of those organisms then supplies the purpose needed for all mechanical talk.any states of discouragement and depression which may overwhelm him are veridical. are contingently related to their cars. working for its good. such as the biosphere or a part of it.but it is a small one . but it is usually used to describe the relation of parts to whole organisms. 64. is not that a new. ignorant and selfdeceiving. since we are only pawns in the grip of an alien power. And to say that the remark about survival machines is ‘literal truth’ seems to put the matter past doubt. But this point cannot be made in the language of fatalism. of the physical and chemical forces working within them. The point of describing them as programmers must be to pick them out as originators. If we are merely expounding determinism. Since people sometimes believe the books they read. Outside that context.that is. and of the behaviour of previous organisms. The language of ‘mechanisms’ and the like is of course common in science. It can mean simply that genes are specially useful in causal explanation. The fatalistic point. a scientific belief in regularity with all reference to the distinctive agency of the genes removed? It will not normally be so read. We are not selfcreating beings inventing our own destinies from scratch. We are weak. of course. and ought to make a much greater effort to understand our limitations.) But determinism allows of no such ultimate power. ‘programmed’ along with the rest of the organism . Or to look at it another way . Paralysis of the will is his real condition. in phrases like ‘the mechanisms of evolution’. but again it is rather a small one.namely. this seems a message which one should think twice about printing. which are parts. (‘Genes exert ultimate power over behaviour’. as the whole whose part is in some sense its ‘mechanism’. taking shape and acting in a particular way as a result of environmental pressures. p. after all.

should be considered the fundamental ‘unit of selection’.) Second. exclusively self-benefiting model. nearly all of them. Instead. It used to be somewhat casually assumed that they would do so if they benefited the group or species (‘group-selection’). behind which the reality is always competition and hostility. two further units. following J. Kin-selection has practical importance because it refutes psychological egoism. might all this have to do with the meaning and purpose of life? Now in the case of kin-selection there is a clear answer. who have emphasized social motivation: They got it totally and utterly wrong. ‘what evolution selects’ is not individuals or groups. in its later stages. p. S. unable to face the gory facts of evolution: . though many people still dispute it. however. (This seems to me plainly true and important. A hot controversy then developed over which entity. corrected it. Haldane and his followers pointed out that. D. It shows that we cannot actually be creatures designed only to pursue each our own individual safety and advantage. has pointed out that Dawkins’s ‘replicating’ unit (the gene) is far too parsimonious to be equal to its work. 2). But how could there only be one ‘important thing in evolution’? Again. They got it wrong because they misunderstood how evolution works. because such creatures would have become extinct as soon as they grew complex enough for their children’s development to require a long and demanding nurture. Dawkins. both are ‘selected’. traits which benefit others at the expense of the individual displaying them . Haldane. of course.that is. I do not know of any good reason for this. in a very sympathetic discussion. Hull.that is. sociobiology does its best to conceal its central discovery by cloaking it in unsuitable egoistic language. and by hunting for an entity which can still be made to fit the old. this was not enough. Was it the individual or the gene? A philosopher’s first response to this query will probably be to wonder why any single unit should be expected. and real gratitude is due to the sociobiologists who. however. the traits will be lost.can evolve. B. I think it is clear that this controversy about ‘units of selection’ has slipped. to supplement it. mediating between the gene and the environment. Thus Dawkins attacks Lorenz and his followers. It is not obvious why there should be any contest between individuals and genes. ‘Kin selection’ works only through the survival of kin. if the trait was to be genuinely inherited. into a piece of mistaken metaphysics. he brackets Lorenz with Ashley Montagu as a soft-headed ignoramus. and then the ‘lineage’. Since theorists like Hobbes have built a great deal of our political theory on psychological egoism it would be a good idea to spell out this message plainly. The problem is about how ‘altruistic’ traits .[8] These additions would make it possible to describe those aspects of biological change which do not take place within or between genes . though in slightly different senses. rejects this. About groups. Unless enough owners of these traits survive to breed.[7] Once this was clear the notion of direct ‘group selection’ was largely dropped except for certain special cases. however useful they might have been. They made the erroneous assumption that the important thing in evolution is the good of the species (or the group) rather than the good of the individual (or gene) (SG. which is the organism. but genes. if not the group or species.formed our nature. The effect is to convey the notion that altruistic and sociable behaviour is somehow an unreal facade.[9] What. however. and has offered to make metaphysical sense of it by adding. first the ‘interactor’. a genuine mistake was made. however.

as I do. read it as a warning. and they state a principle which is entirely necessary for understanding the behaviour. and the motivation which makes it possible has only been able to prevail because it actually promoted differential survival. On all such views. There is not ‘group-selection’.unless.Unlike both of them. Let us try to teach generosity and altruism. not because it met a pre-existing standard of value. And since most social animals. But the important thing is that this is an empirical question about existing behaviour. I think that ‘nature red in tooth and claw’ sums up our modern understanding of evolution admirably. and he says that this has been shown to be an error. which cannot be settled in advance by any theory of selection processes. Be warned that if you wish. and that Kipling’s lines are meant to formulate it. Let us understand what our selfish genes are up to. including wolves. then it has somehow managed to develop. this comes in practice to very much the same thing. because we are born selfish. Neither is the amount of destruction and waste which has accompanied the process. by surviving champions of vitalism. claiming no implications about human psychology? The following passages seem relevant If you would extract a moral from this book. But there is kin-selection. This assumes that there is only a single ‘law by which nature works’. he says. however. Neither of these. 456). quotes Kipling’s line on the Law of the Jungle: The strength of the Pack is the Wolf. has an acceptance of the undoubted bloodiness of nature got to do with the victory of gene-selection? Dawkins insists on a pre-Socratic. correctly following Dawkins’s argument. Groups have to figure there. perhaps. you can expect little help from biological nature. have groups which consist largely of kin. But they are not. and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack. What. is ‘the law by which nature works’. meaning selection which works directly for the good of the group. equally with the extreme ‘red in tooth and claw’ notion of jungle behaviour. Solitary hunters like jaguars are different in innumerable ways.[11] The lines are simply about wolves and other equally social creatures. Is The Selfish Gene. then extends beyond it is something I cannot go into here. really just a straightforward scientific treatise on these processes. Evolutionary processes must be such as to make this possible. p. to build a society in which individuals co-operate generously and unselfishly towards a common good. to which Lorenz is implacably opposed. The redness of tooth and claw. How far social behaviour. since that law actually turns upon the self-preservation of gene-clones’ (TLJ. References to groups do not of course have to displace those of genes and individuals. then. however. Mackie. This makes it impossible to discuss the motivation of group-living creatures. because we may then at least have a chance to upset their designs . having developed toward kin. the mentality and even the physique of these animals. notably in communicative power. Mackie’s question ‘whether the good of the group or the species would ever figure in a correct evolutionary account’ of such creatures cannot therefore have the negative answer which he gives it (TLJ. If altruistic behaviour occurs. but they do have to supplement them. does not vary by a single shade according to different views about the units of evolutionary selection. 460). the social life of animals has developed gradually out of solitary life.[10] That origin is disputed by no one . black-or-white antithesis: universal self-interest or universal altruism.

(SG, 3). We have the power to defy the selfish genes of our birth…We can even discuss ways of deliberately cultivating and nurturing pure, disinterested altruism, something that has no place in nature, something that has never existed before in the whole history of the world (215). If we take seriously the view that we are nothing but gene-machines, the advice given seems as futile as inviting a chess-machine to play leap-frog. Besides, and more to our present point, it must surely be needless. The existence of altruism at an ordinary level has been admitted throughout the book and often stressed. So it cannot be this altruism which ‘has no place in nature and has never existed in the world’. Nor can the point be just the cliché that we are not generous, altruistic or co-operative enough. Of that obvious, but not very exciting, fact psychological egoism is the exciting, but false, overstatement. But what is really mysterious is how, either in its mild or its extreme form, this point can be the moral of a book which is not supposed to be about motives at all, let alone human motives. It can only be so if the controversy about units of selection - which really is central to the book - is seen as also deciding the true nature of motivation. The victory of gene-selection is taken to establish egoism, to prove that existing forms of altruism, though present, are not what they seem, and are really only forms of self-interest. The new kind, which we are invited to invent, will be something completely different. The conjecture that human beings may even be capable of this ‘genuine, disinterested, pure altruism’ (215) is presented as a rash one. The kind we have now, then, is a sham. Dr Jekyll, of course, disowns this view (5). But Messrs Hyde and Hyde, the poet and moralist, cannot possibly get on without it. In its absence, no large and dashing views about the meaning and purpose of life would emerge at all. As it is, what are those views? As far as I can see, they can amount only to one thing, namely, to a demand for a total distrust of feeling. The reader is told that all his natural feelings - but particularly those outgoing ones which seem to link him with others - are false and misleading guides. They are not really aspects of himself at all, but devices placed in him by alien beings in order to manipulate him. Or, less mythologically, but no less alarmingly, they are the physical effects produced by parasites which have lodged irremovably in his body, and whose chemistry continually distorts his mental processes in a way adapted only to secure their own survival.[12] Now for people to fear their feelings and regard them as alien forces is nothing new. It is already one of the commonest causes of human misery and confusion. The trouble, of course, is that all hope of developing better feelings depends on acknowledging the existing ones honestly as parts of oneself. But if they are not part of oneself, this is impossible. Besides, if genes really have the ‘ultimate power’ they are credited with, all such escape routes must surely be blocked and all possible feelings would be equally alien. What alternative are we supposed to turn to? We might hope to have recourse to culture (‘let us try to teach generosity and altruism’). But Chapter 11 explains that culture is itself a product of a further set of alien and parasitical entities, called ‘memes’ or genes of culture, which are just as ruthlessly selfish as genes. Nothing seems left to us except that well-worn asset our conscious foresight’ (215), our power of planning for our own good. But since what we count as good will depend on our natural feelings and our culture, that is not very helpful. We have no real alternative to the paralysis of complete despair. University of Newcastle upon Tyne

References 1 See their Discussion Notes, ‘Genes and Egoism’ by J. L. Mackie and ‘In Defence of Selfish Genes’ by Richard Dawkins, in Philosophy No. 218 (October 1981). These answered my article ‘Gene-Juggling’ (Philosophy N0. 210 (October 1979)), which referred to ‘The Law of the Jungle’ by J. L. Mackie (Philosophy No. 206 (October 1978)). Initials used henceforward refer to these articles and to Richard Dawkins’s books, The Selfish Gene (Oxford University Press, 1976) and The Extended Phenotype (London: W. H. Freeman and Co., 1982). 2 For this painful story, see Richard Hofstadter, Social Darwinism in American Thought (New York: Braziller, 1959), Ch. 2, ‘The Vogue of Spencer’, and James R. Moore The Post-Darwinian Controversies (Cambridge University Press, 1979), Ch. 7, ‘The Vogue of Herbert Spencer’. 3 Hofstadter, op. cit., 47. 4 Chapter 2, much of which is reprinted under the title ‘The Myth of Genetic Determinism' in New Scientist 93, No. 1287 (7 January 1982). 5 Dawkins gives this disclaimer at SG, p. 3, but unfortunately goes on to neutralize it. He writes: ‘My own feeling is that a human society based simply on the gene’s law of universal selfishness would be a very nasty society in which to live. But unfortunately, however much we may deplore something, it does not stop it being true.’ This seems to concede the factual point I now discuss, not only about genes but about people. 6 See The Behaviour of Organisms (New York: Appleton Century, 1938), Chapter 1, 6-7. Skinner adds ‘The sole criterion for the rejection of a popular term is the implication of a system or of a formulation extending beyond immediate observations’. 7 The most comprehensive and convenient source for this history is Edward O. Wilson’s Sociobiology (Harvard University Press, 1976) which gives many other sources. The latter stages of the dispute can be followed in The Extended Phenotype. 8 ‘Units of Evolution, a Metaphysical Essay’, in The Philosophy of Evolution, U. J. Jensen and R. Harré (eds) (Brighton: Harvester Press, 1981). Hull’s extreme politeness, in the remarks which Dawkins cites (IDSG, 570), does not obscure the fact that what Hull is pointing out is a metaphysical difficulty raised by the doctrine of gene-selection, a difficulty which, if not cured, will sink it. It is not really too hard to commit a single ‘act of metaphysics’. What is hard is to extract oneself from its consequences. 9 In some parts of the new book, especially at the opening, he concedes that geneselectionism’ may be only one way of looking at things, a refreshing alternative idea which does not need to establish itself as an exclusive ruler. But most of the time, zeal for its final victory seems to remain undiminished. 10 Dawkins seems to think that I doubt this, for he attributes to me (IDSG, 558) ‘the old, biology A-level reflex’ of ‘explaining animal adaptations, altruistic behaviour among them, as "for the good of the species" ‘.He bases this charge on my remarks that ‘what is maladaptive…damages the species’ chance of surviving’, and that ‘there is a problem about evolution which runs "Can a species survive if each member of it sometimes does things which do not (in fact) pay him?"' (Beast & Man, 149). The first of these remarks seems to be a matter of logic, and the second simply states in neutral terms the central

question of sociobiology, as it affects species. The idea that there might be a direct, Lamarckian mechanism, ensuring that what helped the group or species would prevail regardless of the fate of individuals, never occurred to me, so I took no trouble to deny it. I rather suspect that others accused of ‘group-selectionism’ may be in the same boat, including Lorenz. 11 What Kipling gives is, he says, only ‘a few of the laws that apply to the wolves . . . specimens of the simpler rulings’ which Baloo gave to Mowgli (see ‘The Law of the Jungle’ in the Second Jungle Book, and the story before it, ‘How Fear Came’). 12 This idea may seem to recall an interesting science-fiction story by Cohn Wilson, The Mind Parasites, where human faults are found to be the work of mental parasites which are (I think) then eliminated by some kind of transcendental DDT, returning the human race to the innocence which was its original condition. But Dawkins’s idea is much more obscure than this, as well as more sinister. It shows all contents of the mind, equally and indiscriminately, as parasitical. Dawkins cites with approval a colleague’s remark that ‘When you plant a meme in my mind you literally parasitize my brain…in just the same way that a virus may parasitize the genetic mechanism of a host cell. And this isn’t just a way of talking’ (SG, 207, my italics). But the idea of parasite and host requires separate, distinct individuals. If each individual is only a locus for innumerable warring parasites, how is there anyone to talk of ‘my brain’ or of you as the parasitizer?

(1983) Philosophy 58, 365-377

A New Religion
By David Stove I Dolphins and some other animals have lately turned out to be more intelligent than was formerly thought, and present-day computers are capable of some amazing things. Still, if the question is asked, what are the most intelligent and all-round-capable things on earth, the answer is obvious: human beings. Everyone knows this, except certain religious people. A person is certainly a believer in some religion if be thinks, for example, that there are on earth millions of invisible and immortal nonhuman beings which are far more intelligent and capable than we are. But that is exactly what sociobiologists do think, about genes. Sociobiology, then, is a religion: one which has genes as its gods. Yet this conclusion seems incredible. Was not religion banished from biological science a long time ago? Why, yes. And is not sociobiology a part of biological science (even if a very new part, and a controversial one)? No. Sociobiologists really are committed to genes being gods, as I will show in a moment. But first consider the following. We would all say, because we all know it to be true, that calculating-machines, automobiles, screwdrivers and the like, are just tools or devices which are designed, made, and manipulated by human beings for their own ends. Now, you cannot say this without implying that human beings are more intelligent and capable than calculators, automobiles, screwdrivers, etc. For if we designed and made something as intelligent and capable as ourselves, or more so, it would be precisely not just a tool which we could manipulate for our own ends: it would have ends of its own, and be at least as good at achieving those ends, too, as we are at achieving ours. Similarly, suppose someone says that human beings and all other organisms are just tools or devices designed, made and manipulated by so-and-so’s for their own ends. Then he implies that so-and-so’s are more intelligent and capable than human beings. With that in mind, consider the following representative statements made by leading sociobiologists. Richard Dawkins, easily the best-known spokesman for this movement, writes that ‘we are . . . robot-vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes',[1] and again that we are ‘manipulated to ensure the survival of [our] genes’.[2] The same writer also says that ‘the fundamental truth [is] that an organism is a tool of DNA’.[3] (That is, of the DNA molecules which are the organism’s genes.) Again, Dawkins says that living organisms exist for the benefit of DNA’.[4] Similarly, E. O. Wilson, an equal or higher sociobiological authority, says that ‘the individual organism is only the vehicle [of genes], part of an elaborate device to preserve and spread them…The organism is only DNA’s way of making more DNA’.[5]

manipulation by genes.[10] Genes also manipulate the behaviour of other organisms. The expression ‘their genes' is probably not perfectly orthodox. For example. but it cannot manipulate them.I will mention in a moment some other passages in which sociobiologists imply that genes are beings of more-than-human intelligence and power. spider-genes (not spiders) manipulate webs. think what this kind of description commits the user of it to. Manipulation is the central idea of this book (as the author himself acknowledges). but that implication should be clear enough already from the passages just quoted. over and over again. Genes manipulate external objects. and agents.[8] Action at a distance. Dawkins. at that. and so on. termite-genes (not termites) manipulate mud to make their mounds. Where sociobiologists differ from other people is just that they also say.[9] No job is too big for them. sometimes protests that he does not at all believe that genes are 'conscious. It is in Richard Dawkins’ book. in us and around us. It must be admitted that sociobiologists sometimes say other things which are inconsistent with statements like the ones I have just quoted. that is still not enough to constitute manipulation. According to the Christian religion. not only the bodies and behaviour of the organisms in which they sit. According to Dawkins. things which imply that genes are conscious purposeful agents. The Extended Phenotype. Genes are here represented as manipulating. for example. The moon causally influences the tides. For example. that the apotheosis of genes has been carried furthest. purposeful agents’. the exceptionally loud begging-cry of the young cuckoo. of so much intelligence and power that human beings are merely among the tools they make and use. is no trouble at all to genes. If you and I are competing to catch the greater number of fish from our boat. being rather too apt to suggest that genes are part of our equipment. Just as maternity implies parenthood but not conversely. induce the parent reed-warblers to give it more food than they give to their own young. cars. and screwdrivers stand in to us. either: beaver-genes can easily build a lake miles wide. Once the eggs hatch. even though your mishap improves my chances of winning the . this is a case of the genes of the cuckoo-parents manipulating the behaviour of reed-warbler parents. and I by accident knock you overboard. human beings and all other created things exist for the greater glory of God. and the victims of their manipulation need not at all be of the same species as the organisms which carry the manipulating genes. and its exceptionally colourful 'gape’. but just about everything under the sun. to the advantage of the former and the disadvantage of the latter. beings to whom we stand in the same humble relation as calculators. Even if causal influence results in some advantage to the influencing agent. a certain kind of cuckoo deposits its egg among the eggs laid by a reedwarbler. in their own interest. Of course genes are not conscious purposeful agents: everyone will agree with that. human beings and all other living things exist for the benefit of their genes. the religious implication is unmistakable: that there exist. then I influence your behaviour but do not manipulate it. All the same. according to sociobiology.[7] and more specifically. something which is usually considered to be difficult or impossible. beaver-genes (not beavers) manipulate logs and water to make a dam. so manipulation implies causal influence but not conversely. whereas (according to sociobiology) we are part of theirs.[11] Now. from the strict sociobiological point of view.[6] But these disclaimers are in vain.

and decide to take steps to improve their reproductive performance. by nest-parasitism. let us suppose that a cuckoo is clever enough for that. as we just saw in the boat case. to prevail on reedwarblers. at that. Well. to implement this idea. They might ascribe to the genes of the cuckoo exactly the same causal influence as sociobiologists do. to be able to think up a way of achieving this purpose. nothing more than an extremely complex example of causal influence. to precise specifications. be a feat of manipulation. But would even you be able to think of a way of getting the host-birds not only to feed the young cuckoos. let us suppose that we did think up such a way. or breed them. and that young cuckoos have not yet acquired their special adaptations for it. Suppose that nest-parasitism has not yet evolved among birds. not only far beyond cuckoo capabilities. Even then. In these circumstances. would you or I be clever enough to think of nest-parasitism as a means to this end? I know I never would. causal influence plus resulting advantage are not enough to constitute manipulation. could he think up a way of achieving it which did not involve any cuckoo’s ever going even within a mile of a reed-warbler? No: there is no one who will credit cuckoos with so great an intellectual feat. and that in particular we came up with the brilliant idea of endowing young cuckoos with exceptional voice and gape. there must be the element of intended purposeful causal influence. to be capable of. Well. without having to go near . the hardest part of the job would still remain: that is. Cuckoos (we will suppose) raise their own young. Can a cuckoo have a purpose as complicated as that of it-feeds-its-own-young? That must be extremely doubtful. But the feat of manipulation in question would not only be too hard for cuckoos: it would be too hard for us. We cannot build young cuckoos. this seems hardly possible. Manipulative ability of any kind is not highly developed in birds. and cuckoos are distinctly below the bird-average in this respect. Now. hardly any of them can even build a nest. To constitute manipulation. but beyond present human capabilities. What distinguishes the sociobiologist’s description of the case is his insistence that those genes are manipulating the reed-warblers’ behaviour for their own benefit. The causal influence must also be purposeful or intended. cuckoos do benefit. we might become anxious about the survival of cuckoos. not just to have this brilliant idea. in a case like nest-parasitism. then. But. But is that condition satisfied in this case? If the nest-parasitism of cuckoos is a case of manipulation. Still. but perhaps you would. For he would need. He would need to be cleverer still. But how is a cuckoo to do whatever engineering is required? He has no hope. it is certainly a staggeringlyclever one: far too clever for cuckoos. but to feed them better than their own offspring? A way. in particular. but to be able to implement it. Yet even if a cuckoo could manage that part too. but are extremely slapdash parents. but we could not do this. human beings are as pre-eminent on earth for engineering ability as they are for intelligence. Still. and reedwarblers lose. which does not require any human cuckoo-helper ever to go near a member of the host-species? With all due respect to human intelligence. It would. Most biologists would see.competition. And no genetic engineer could as yet undertake this particular task with rational confidence of success. After all. the hardest job would still lie ahead of him. In particular.

Yet this feat is one which. to feed cuckoo-young at the expense of their own young. and have practised ever since without the smallest difficulty. it is no more likely to die when it is a million years old than when it is only a hundred. But. beavers manipulate logs to build a dam. But then.[12] and so on. vying for our acceptance. but it is one of the religions which are obviously false. any invisibility which genes can still be said to possess is invisibility of no very deep or interesting kind. Tertullian said that he believed the Christian religion because of its absurdity. It is an intensely depressing thought that the brightest and best things the universe has to show are certain members of our species. But they do not do any such thing. and religious people often remind the non-religious of this fact. This may seem strange. are always thought of as being immortal. and if religion is terrifying. if they used the word ‘manipulation’. it is no help. (It is not at all like the invisibility of numbers. But alas. makes no distinction whatever between the manipulation which he ascribes to genes. as its ordinary sense does. indeed. in addition to being thought of as more intelligent and powerful than we are.them. every other religion possesses the same claim on our belief (if absurdity really is a claim on our belief). however. One of them is depression. something which is incomprehensible to us might nevertheless be true. The only way in which sociobiologists could avoid this implication would be. It leaps from body to body down the generations. in which he says (as we all say) that pigeons manipulate twigs and other nest-materials. (Dawkins. But this is not something peculiar to sociobiology. Of course. abandoning a succession of mortal bodies before they sink in senility and death. that every religion (or at any rate every one I know of) is incomprehensible when it is not obviously false. Gods.[13] II Most people would like some religion to be true. because there are always many competing incomprehensibilities. The only part of it that is true is the doctrine that genes are invisible. for example. if Dawkins is right. It was therefore to be expected that sociobiologists would wish to ascribe this attribute too. to genes. The genes are the immortals…'. there are various things which can outweigh terror. Here is a passage from Richard Dawkins on this subject. Given present-day microscopy. atheism is depressing. when they ascribe manipulation to genes. for example. which August Weismann first published about a hundred years ago. though it is a fact. The ‘gene…does not grow senile. though. and the ordinary sense of the word. The implication could hardly be plainer: cuckoo-genes are more intelligent and capable than human beings. from religious and other sources.) Sociobiologists have consciously and avowedly revived the doctrine of the ‘immortality of the germ-plasm’ (or of the ‘germ-line’). correctly describes his own overall position as . when you consider that every religion is and must be more or less terrifying. Dawkins. in some sense which does not imply purpose. at least to the naked eye and to old-fashioned microscopes. Everyone agrees that genes are invisible. The same presumably holds a fortiori for human genes. Sociobiology is not incomprehensible. The trouble is. manipulating body after body in its own way and for its own ends. cuckoo-genes first performed long ago.

). and DNA molecules have exactly as much intelligence and purpose as (say) H2O or NaC1 molecules: namely none. is an exceedingly misleading expression. But then. But it is not so. do not have a natural life-cycle ending in death. the superior durability of a life-form. and every time it happens. having said in the passage quoted earlier.. carp would be more god-like than horses. Not a very robust kind of immortality. a great deal is now known. They are just molecules of DNA. On the contrary. was prudent enough to add at once that they are not really. In the god-hood stakes. we might have known that there must be some physical mechanism by which parental characters are transmitted to offspring. that they are not even starters. for thinking that sociobiology is false. and it would be a close-run thing between human beings and elephants. it has only served to drive those elusive beings still further into the shade. etc. They differ from almost all other molecules in having a strong tendency to produce copies of themselves. Genes thus lack both the durability and the life which would be needed to justify calling them the immortals’. The main reason. can only serve to bewilder oneself and other people. But this truth was never anything to write home about.are not transmitted any further. like every other part of science. for example. is the simple one I gave at the beginning: that it is obvious that human beings are the most intelligent and capable things on earth.namely. When you die. and much more durable than in fact they are. if not accompanied by superior intelligence and capability. true only in a highly special and indeed idiosyncratic sense. But genes are not human. Of the details of this machinery. then many of his genes . that the genes are the immortals’. does not count for much. The extinction of a species (that is. after all. and it therefore can be properly applied only to something living.[15]) The grain of truth in the doctrine of gene-immortality is that genes. Genes are so far from being the winners in the intelligence-capability stakes. The word ‘immortal’ means ‘alive and not subject to death’. by encouraging misplaced feelings of awe towards genes. if I were a gene. But even if they had been alive. that is also the end of every gene-line which any cell of yours had been carrying-on until then. this would do little to make the gene-religion credible. at least all the ones on his Y-chromosome . you are not a node on any gene-line which extends into the future. since genes are not organisms. and (as far as I know) have never even been thought to be so.extreme Weismannism'[14]) But that famous doctrine is. however. The ‘immortality’ of genes or of gene-lines. this! In fact I would be thinking seriously. if not an obvious falsity. If you have no children at all. But this part of science has not brought any gods to light. of bringing a suit for misleading advertising against Richard Dawkins and the Weismann estate. is a common-enough occurrence in evolutionary history. If a man has no sons. ever since we first noticed that the offspring of human beings are human. unlike most organisms. and always was. Therefore (etc. (Dawkins himself. that the offspring of mice are mice. every gene-line peculiar to that species comes to an end too. its last member dying). If it did. It need not have been gene-replication. such as DNA molecules. To apply it to things which are not alive. . are not alive. then. but it did have to be some sort of machinery for producing the-same-thing-again.

reprinted in Paladin Books. 4. under these crushing handicaps. cit. which was driven out of biology by nineteenth-century Darwinism. 12 Op. p. 13 The Selfish Gene. would still be hopelessly miscast in the role of the world’s greatest manipulators. III It is logically possible (as should go without saying). 210. 5 Sociobiology: the New Synthesis (Harvard University Press. 1979).. 3 The Extended Phenotype (Oxford and San Francisco: Freeman & Co. 57. but means. 9 Op. 6 The Selfish Gene. cit. 158. 7 See The Extended Phenotype. that the sociobiologists are right and I am wrong. 11 Op. 200. 36. sans tissues. whether they are or not. x.. will have been put back by . 8 Op. and did possess intelligence and purpose. even if they were alive. If they were capable. science has actually now brought us what the human heart has always yearned for but never before achieved: knowledge of beings which. or philosophically. because for more than two thousand years science has been at war with religion. 1986). 13. 2 Op. . It is a question of fact. cit. ch. This seems hardly conceivable. 126. 1976. 68-70. 164. 185. 1982). not only influence and intention-to-influence.. cit. 59. are proper objects of our reverence and worship. References 1 The Selfish Gene (Oxford University Press. sans nerves.. cit. sans organs.. about the proposition that genes are the most intelligent and capable things on earth. in virtue of their immense superiority to ourselves. If they are. Religion. 15 The Selfish Gene.of all people . sans brains…sans everything. Manipulation requires. cit. There is nothing objectionable a priori. and nothing else.. of any sort of manipulation. ch. 3. it will be an immense historical irony.the extremists of neo-Darwinism. 1975). 10 Op. 4 The Blind Watchmaker (Longman. 14 The Extended Phenotype. they really would have a good deal of the god about them. 36.Genes. Yet what means of manipulation have genes got? They are sans limbs. Yet if the sociobiologists are right.

In any large school of thought. I give quotations or other information which will. especially about our species. however. where the proposition is a general one. obviously false in the case of our species. in the sense that they believe our species to have originated. I give below ten propositions which are all Darwinian beliefs in the sense just specified. that their names alone will be sufficient evidence that the proposition is a Darwinian one. My ten propositions are nearly in reverse historical order. and believed either by all of them. by very many people long before Darwinism. as may be learnt from any history of biology. Of course most educated people now are Darwinians. 1. was born. were contributed to Darwinism by the theory of ‘inclusive fitness’. suffice to establish its Darwinian credentials. and from the inferno-scene . it can only be from ignorance: from not knowing enough about what Darwinism says. or at least by ultraDarwinians. The truth is. at least in Darwinian circles. For Darwinism says many things. Some of the ten propositions are quotations. more pedestrian though no less obvious. including Man and all his airs and graces. If they do. Each of them is obviously false: either a direct falsity about our species or. then. but by evolution from other animals. What is needed and sufficient. I believe. And finally I get back to some of the falsities. beginning in the 1960s. Where the proposition is a paraphrase. not in a creative act of the Divine Will. . or at least by the more thoroughgoing ones. all the others are paraphrases. It had been believed. ‘the total prostitution of all animal life. and are believed either by all of its adherents.which the 'selfish gene’ theory makes of all life. But believing that proposition is not enough to make someone a Darwinian. What is needed to make someone an adherent of a certain school of thought is belief in all or most of the propositions which are peculiar to that school. of the Darwinism of the 19th or early-20th century. is belief in all or most of the propositions which are peculiar to Darwinians.like something by Hieronymus Bosch . at least. or at least by an educated person who retains any capacity at all for critical thought on the subject of Darwinism. to make a person a Darwinian. genes. Then I go back a bit to some of the falsities which. The quotations are all from authors who are so well-known. I start from the present day. which are too obviously false to be believed by any educated person. think of themselves as Darwinians. or Darwin. I think. as spokesmen for Darwinism or ultra-Darwinism. there is always a minority who adhere more exclusively than most to the characteristic beliefs of the school: they are the ‘purists’ or ‘ultras’ of that school. Thus. to the blind purposiveness of these minute virus-like substances’.So You Think You Are a Darwinian? By David Stove Most educated people nowadays.

a good book on subjects like universals or induction. pp. 198-9.’ This profound communication. advises the audience not to take his advice. is too well-known to need evidence of it adduced here. but I do not see what there is to stop him. and an admitted one. which says that the degree of altruism depends on the proportion of genes shared.This is a thumbnail-sketch. It was not written by Dawkins. This quotation is from Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene. are forms of sibling-altruism. Since then it has been accepted by Darwinians almost as one man and has revolutionized evolutionary theory. they were ‘totally prostituted to the blind purposiveness of their genes Still. for example. Those genes must have brains all right. as a widely admired spokesman for ultra-Darwinism. as well as purposes. This very-believable proposition is maintained by Robert Trivers in his book Social Evolution. you will say. Hamilton in The Journal of Theoretical Biology in 1964. D. of course. and so. to the readers whom he was at that point engaged in manipulating. (who are nowadays usually called ‘sociobiologists’). p. if genes can have brains and purposes. or induction. Professor Trivers is a leading light among ultra-Darwinians. 2 '…it is. This acceptance has made Professor Hamilton the most influential Darwinian author of the last thirty years. Homosexuality in social animals is a form of sibling-altruism: that is. even if only through their slaves. His admirers even include some philosophers who have carried their airs and graces to the length of writing good books on such rarefied subjects as universals. 4. is a grotesque way of looking at human life. But in fact. Whether he also believes that suicide. . was actually sent by Dawkins. but he quoted it with manifest enthusiasm in a defence of The Selfish Gene which he wrote in this journal in 1981. Dawkins’ status. and self-castration. At least. of the contents of The Selfish Gene (1976) by Richard Dawkins. your homosexuality is a way of helping your brothers and sisters to raise more children. or the mind. (in The Extended Phenotype. and frees her to have another child more quickly. though it might easily have come from any used-car salesman reflecting on life. In all social mammals. Obviously false though this proposition is. after all. in many medieval plays. This proposition is an immediate consequence. 110. I do not know. to [a mother’s] advantage that her child should be adopted’ by another woman. for the reason which Dawkins gives on the same page: that another woman’s adopting her baby ‘releases a rival female from the burden of child-rearing. even when engaged in writing those books. (1985). 5. you ‘have to hand it’ to genes which can write. But it is impossible to deny that it is the Darwinian way. they must. from the point of view of Darwinism it is wellfounded.’ This. 57). Dawkins can scarcely have gratified these admirers by telling them that. (1982). of course. DNA molecules no more have such things than H20 molecules do. 3. Much as the devil. This theory was first put forward by W. p. and an accurate one. the altruism (or apparent altruism) of siblings towards one another is about as strong and common as the altruism (or apparent altruism) of parents towards their offspring. of the theory of inclusive fitness. All communication is ‘manipulation of signal-receiver by signal-sender. What is there to stop anyone believing such propositions? Only common sense: a thing entirely out of the question among sociobiologists. it is.

'…no one is prepared to sacrifice his life for any single person. in The Origin of Species. but their insertion is certainly authorized by the theory of inclusive fitness. 61: ‘of the many individuals of any species which are periodically born. 78-9. is supposed to bring about the struggle for life among con-specifics. a central part. without openly contradicting itself. animals in general have an exuberant tendency to increase in numbers.' This is a quotation from the epoch-making article by Professor Hamilton to which I referred a moment ago. and one which Darwinians are logically locked-into. while it is or may be true of most species of organisms. hence natural selection. But it would not have mattered if he had not happened to say in print such things as I have just quoted. Still. or ‘each organic being’: this means you. p. In every species. As is well known. are both repeated unchanged in all the later editions of the Origin. Compare Darwin in the Origin. because of the constant tendency to increase. Again.that is. R. from the first edition. he had got the idea of population permanently pressing on food. or eight firstcousins. For there can clearly be no question of Darwinism making an exception of man. and as Darwin himself stated. ‘many more individuals of each species are born than can possibly survive’. 8. or four half-brothers.is extremely high.6. Proposition 8 is not a peripheral or negotiable part of Darwinism. Darwin had adopted (as I have said) Malthus’s principle of population: that population always presses on the supply of food. Compare Darwin. but both of the passages just quoted are repeated in all of the five later editions of the book which were published in Darwin’s lifetime. ‘each organic being is striving to increase at a geometrical ratio’. Do you know of even one human being who ever had as many descendants as he or she could have had? And yet Darwinism says that every single one of us does. or p. The italics are not in the text. It is the thing which. according to the theory. from T. Because of the strength and universality of the sexual impulse. These page references are to the first edition of the Origin. p. pp. to everyone who understood his theory. ‘Every single organic being’. like proposition 7. and again. that a universal striving-to-the-utmost-to-increase is an essential part of that theory: in fact it is the very ‘motor’ of evolution. 66: ‘every single organic being around us may be said to be striving to the utmost to increase in numbers’. but everyone will sacrifice it for more than two brothers [or offspring]. Malthus’s Essay on Population (1798). For in order to explain evolution. 7. but what Malthus’s . Nor are the two words which I have put in square brackets. child-mortality . by creating pressure of population on the supply of food. 5. And this principle does require child-mortality to be extremely high in all species. these passages. Every organism has as many descendants as it can. is obviously not true of ours. This much is obvious. and tends to increase beyond it. the proportion of live births which die before reproductive age . that every organism has as many descendants as it can. On the contrary it is. For it was always obvious. but a small number can survive’. He also says the same thing in other places. (1859). and hence evolution.

According to Malthus’s principle. in percentage. is at all times already as large as its foodsupply permits. people (or flies or fish or whatever) will reproduce if they can. there are 350 applicants. delivers a child-mortality of at least 70%. (as Darwinians say): that is. It was undoubtedly reasoning of this kind from Malthus’s principle which led Darwin to believe that in every species ‘but a small number’ of those born can survive. of any species. So Darwin must have meant. Suppose that this population is already ‘at equilibrium’. since there are 350 females of reproductive age. To use this phrase of 30-or-more surviving. we have just seen that Malthus’s principle. while the highest adult death-rate which we can suppose with any approximation to realism is about 10%. And no one. in any advanced country. and 30 times to get 9 of them there. In any average year.not even Darwinians . there will be 350 births this year. that child-mortality in all species is more than 70%. a woman would have to give birth 10 times. the young are always born into ‘a world already possessed’. ‘but a small number’ surviving. would be absolutely out of the question. What did Darwin mean by these phrases. which make up only 1% of all births. would be nothing but an outlandish joke. (as Malthus once put it). It would be already stretching language violently. It says that the tendency to increase is so strong that every population. to call even 23 (say). the number of births will greatly exceed the number of adult deaths.principle says is something far more definite. except what has been learnt in the last 350 years. in fact a conservative one that 700 of them are of reproductive age. Consider a schematic example. Yet a woman’s getting 9 of her children to puberty has never at any time been anything to write home about. (I neglect multiple births. by the statements I quoted above. or else is rapidly approaching that impassable limit. Suppose .a very realistic supposition. But I do not think that. of 1000 human beings. in any average year. It is important to remember that no one . principally concerning certain European countries or their colonies. surviving out of 100. Which is to say. That is. So 100 adults will die this year. The absolute record is about 32 births. would dream of calling 30 or more. So. there is simply not enough food to support any greater number of the newborn than is needed to replace the adults which die. Which is obviously false in the case of our species. is already as large as its food can support. No doubt human child-mortality has often enough been as high as 70%. But if we agreed to set . or at least minimum-percentage. But such is the strength of the tendency to increase that. to set all of this knowledge aside. Which means of course that.knows anything at all about human demography. to get 3 of her children to puberty. in a typical case. because it concerns only an ‘exceptional’ time and place. or more than 70%. on the average. there will this year be a child-mortality of 250 out of 350. to suppose child-mortality 70% or anywhere near it.) As for the last 100 years. either in 1859 or now. A Darwinian may be tempted. and often enough higher still. 'but a small number’ surviving. but to fill their places. the great majority of those born must soon die. But there is no food to support more of these than are needed to replace the adults who die this year. this can ever have been usual. as being of no ‘biological’ validity. Suppose there is a population. at any rate within historical times. indeed is sure to be tempted. For under a child-mortality of 70%. (assuming that the food-supply does not increase). with a constant food-supply. whereas a woman who gives birth 30 times has always been a demographic prodigy. terms? Well. surviving out of 100. or that ‘many more’ are born than can survive.

is quite explicitly universal. a more-privileged class would always be a more prolific one. like Malthus’s principle. and that ‘many more individuals of each species are born than can possibly survive’. Darwin agreed. The rule should be stated. as far as I know. by depending on Malthus for his explanation of evolution. but in terms of privilege. For he said (as we saw) that ‘of the many individuals of any species which are periodically born. indifferently. But now. the last 350 years are times. etc. But he also said that famine . and The poor get children. 9. Malthus had said that the main ‘checks’ to human population are misery principally due to ‘famine. Their theory. for example. then the members of the more fortunate class will have (on the average) more children than the members of the other class. It is notorious. as early as 1820. that ‘the primary or fundamental check to the continued increase of man is the difficulty of gaining subsistence’. And Darwinians would then be no more entitled than anyone else to tell us what the ‘real’. that child-mortality is extremely high. In the 1860s and ‘70s W. is one which generalizes about all species. disease. and pestilence’ . while man is a species. as I said earlier. and others. there is not a single exception. and that if food were doubled in Britain. And Darwin’s assertion. and even proverbial. Everyone knows that. R. foeticide. That this proposition is false. this means us.all this knowledge aside. thus: that the more privileged class is the less prolific. Therefore. war. and superior wealth does not quite always confer privilege. and war. only on the supply of food.and vice: by which he meant contraception. Again. had saddled himself with Malthus’s mistake . William Godwin. if food-supply is indeed the fundamental determinant of populationsize. population would quickly be doubled. pointed out that Malthus had managed to get the relationship between privilege and fertility exactly upside-down. Greg. And yet the exact inverse of it. The more privileged people are the more prolific: if one class in a society is less exposed than another to the misery due to food-shortage. near enough. pointed out that Darwin. a more-privileged class always suffers less from deficiency of food than a less-privileged class does. rate of human child-mortality is. or the ‘natural’. and that population-size depends. and European countries are places. second edition. is not just obvious.that is. but a small number can survive’. the only result would be that no one knew anything whatever about human demography.usually outweighs all the other checks put together. deficiency of food . In any case. and all places and times. The rich get rich. 1874). is an inevitable consequence of Darwinism all right. or rather. as a popular song of the 1930s had it. homosexuality. He wrote (in The Descent of Man. not in terms of wealth. just as proposition 9 says. To this rule. Not that the song is exactly right. or of any particular part of human history. because privilege does not quite always require superior wealth. Alfred Russel Wallace. Darwinians cannot without contradicting themselves make an exception of man. proposition 9. is the exact reverse of the truth.

trying to get Darwin to respond to criticism was always exactly like punching a feather-mattress: ‘suddenly absolutely nothing happened’. that Darwin and Malthus were wrong. It is perfectly obvious that all these critics were right. Such a thing simply could not happen. Well. to which he had at least given some publicity. And the old problem for Darwinism. R. the more privileged people are the less fertile. was an indirect admission that those critics were right. of course. comparative infertility is a sure sign. that the more privileged have always and everywhere been the less fertile. a species of organisms in which comparative infertility is a regular and nearly-necessary aid to success? Fisher’s constant description of the fertility-rates in civilized countries as ‘inverted’. instead of blaming their theory. the only rational conclusion to be drawn is. So how can there be if Darwinism is true. Fisher acknowledges the fact that there has always been. obviously. But the eugenists never drew the obvious conclusion. But Darwin never took any notice of the criticism. consistently with Darwinism. and proposition 9. But this is evidently just a re-phrasing of the problem. of course. people are enabled to succeed better in civilized life. had been right. who died in 1962. for a Darwinian such as Fisher. such a thing as the social promotion of infertility? In every other species of organisms. if Darwin and Malthus. with typical Darwinian effrontery. The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection. and consequently they never turned their indirect criticism into a direct one. A. From this fact. in his important book. a ‘misfire’. even if he did nothing to solve . The eugenics movement. That is. and he deserves to be so: he was in fact a sociobiologist ‘born out of due time’. of blaming the fact. after all. deserves a word to itself. or some thing of that kind: as though the organism in question had gone wrong. and could not bring themselves to say. of course. This is the habit. The question. when all that has actually happened. their realisation that the middle and upper classes in Britain were being out-reproduced by the lowest classes. is that Darwinism has gone wrong. rather than a solution of it. that Darwinism has got things upside-down. But he can hardly be said to have made the falsity of proposition 9 any less of an embarrassment for Darwinism. the fewer children they have. discussed the relation between privilege and fertility at length. It is a perfect example of an amazingly-arrogant habit of Darwinians. Fisher. A later Darwinian and eugenist. For what galvanized the eugenists into action was. of comparative failure. or even think. or even the very criterion. they were fervent Darwinians to the last man and woman. But instead of that Fisher. When Fisher called the birth-rates in civilized countries ‘inverted’. Any such fact Darwinians call a ‘biological error' an ‘error of heredity’. (of which I have collected many examples in my forthcoming book Darwinian Fairytales). which was founded a little later by Darwin’s disciple and cousin Francis Galton. concludes that civilised people have got things upside-down! Fisher. exactly contrary to Darwinian theory. all he meant was that.about population and privilege. His explanation of this fact is that civilized countries have always practised what he calls ‘the social promotion of infertility’. that Darwinism is false. is how there can be. Well. (1930). in all civilized countries an inversion (as he calls it) of fertility-rates: that is. is nowadays the idol of ultra-Darwinians. when some biological fact inconsistent with Darwinism comes to light.

Of course this ‘problem’ is no problem at all. we may feel sure that any variation in the least degree injurious would be rigidly destroyed. however slight. asceticism. would expect the highly-privileged to be great breeders? No one. no further evidence is needed to show that proposition 10 is a Darwinian one. perhaps there has been enough time: perhaps even twenty times over. of . fondness for alcohol. How long does it take for natural selection to destroy an injurious attribute. without even going past the first letter of the alphabet. dietary. For ultra-Darwinians. Adoption. The rule is: ‘When your theory meets with a refutation. altruism. or to lessen the number of children we have. for anyone except ultra-Darwinians. adoption. 80-81. the proposition is (saving Darwin’s reverence) ridiculous. that could be so: perhaps there has not been enough time. the love of animals. The problem (to put it vulgarly) of why ‘the rich and famous’ are such pitiful reproducers as they are. the importance attached to art. even if it leaks like a sieve. All of them are of extreme antiquity. except an ultraDarwinian. It is an entirely self-inflicted injury. Some of them are probably older than our species itself. may we really feel sure that every attribute in the least degree injurious to its possessors would be rigidly destroyed by natural selection? On the contrary. Since this passage expresses the essential idea of natural selection. But they react to it in accordance with a well-tried rule of present-day scientific research. And then again. over others. and demand additional money in order to enable you to solve it.’ This is from The Origin of Species. or both. which are not only ‘in the least degree’ injurious to their possessors. If variations which are useful to their possessors in the struggle for life ‘do occur. to shorten our lives.it. the infertility of the privileged is a good deal more than a problem. remains to this day the central problem for sociobiologists. call it instead "a problem". just as no one but an ultra-Darwinian would expect women to adopt-out their babies with maximum expedition. susceptibility to aneurism. Each of these characteristics tends. replies the Darwinian. and as such deserves no sympathy. the more of these challenging ‘problems’ you can mention. Exactly the same words occur in all the editions. and concerning which there is not the smallest evidence that they are in the process of being destroyed. but seriously or even extremely injurious to them. Why has not this ancient and gross ‘biological error’ been rigidly destroyed? ‘There has not been enough time’. Who. commonly occurring in our species. can we doubt (remembering that many more individuals are born than can possibly survive). on the other hand. Indeed. respect for ancestors. or whatever. which have not been ‘rigidly destroyed’. the more money you are plainly entitled to demand. Any educated person can easily think of a hundred characteristics. Well. would have the best chance of surviving and of procreating their kind? On the other hand. Here are ten such characteristics. for example is practised by some species of chimpanzees: another adult female taking over the care of a baby whose mother has died. pp. 10. such as adoption or fondness for alcohol? I have not the faintest idea. whether sexual. more or less strongly. Abortion. that individuals having any advantage. anal intercourse. But is it true? In particular. It is a refutation.’ Experience has shown that this rule is just the thing for keeping a ‘research program’ afloat.

But then. and can never fail to punish such an attribute with rigid destruction? Why.course. I therefore have no positive ground whatever for believing either that there has been enough time for adoption to be destroyed. namely. and which will still be equally available to Darwinians a million years hence. that adoption has not been destroyed. to rely heavily on the ‘not-enough-time’ defence of their theory against critics. either. Darwinians nowadays are much more reluctant than they formerly were. who might consider that it proceeded in a circle’. if adoption (for example) is still practised then. Anyway it ought not to be necessary: ten obvious Darwinian falsities should be enough to make the point. Mercifully. But on that scale. it is only because they have no idea of the multiplied absurdities which belief in Darwinism requires. like so much else in Darwinism. The point. who have pointed out that it is not good scientific method. or another one after that. is that Darwinians themselves do not really believe it. Well. for thinking that there has not? Why. So how come the Darwinian is so confident that there has not been enough time? What evidence can he point to. even in the least degree. or that abortion is. injurious to its possessors in the struggle for life. nothing but this. of the terrifying giant named Natural Selection. The Darwinian has no positive evidence whatever. just that. They have benefited from the strictures of philosophers. that if most educated people now think they are Darwinians. But (as Descartes said in another connection) ‘this reasoning cannot be presented to infidels. and there is a great mountain of evidence against it. it is an obvious fairytale.and watch his face. to defend Darwinism by a tactic which would always be equally available whatever the state of the evidence. concerning proposition 10. It would not be difficult to compile another list of ten obvious Darwinian falsities. on this matter. . the thing would be tiresome both to read and to write. and taking for granted the very point which is in dispute. or adoption . or that there has not. of course he does not believe it! Why would he? There is not a particle of evidence in its favour. that there has not been enough time. then. What becomes. despite its being an injurious attribute! But this is palpably arguing in a circle. at least as far as our species is concerned. which can never sleep. can never fail to detect an attribute which is. everyone else is in the same state of total ignorance as I am. Absolutely the only thing it has in its favour is that Darwinism says it must be so. The cream of the jest. Ask a Darwinian whether he actually believes that the fondness for alcoholic drinks is being destroyed now.

The truth is ‘the total prostitution of all animal life.[3] People who do not know better will think that there must be something right in his criticisms. D. (W. I supposed that biologists or philosophers of biology would have been quick to respond.) 3. on this occasion. by perpetuating that unfortunate standard we do philosophy a great disservice. genes. Hamilton. Stove presents a list of ten Darwinian falsities. Perhaps people professionally involved with evolutionary theory have better things to do. People who do know better may think that philosophy richly deserves its exile to the margins of serious intellectual pursuit. 269) 7. '…it is. p. the altruism (or apparent altruism) of siblings towards one another is about as strong and common as the altruism (or apparent altruism) of parents towards their offspring. or eight firstcousins. 1964) 6. (ibid.a collection with accolades by no less than David Lewis and Stephen Stich on the cover. to the blind purposiveness of these minute virus-like substances’. Darwin himself spoke wearily of ‘the standard of criticism not uncommonly reached by theologians and metaphysicians when they write on scientific subjects’. So I hope a very brief comment by a philosopher may do something to restore our tattered dignity. I think. including Man and all his airs and graces.I Rather Think I Am A Darwinian By Simon Blackburn When I read the late David Stove’s essay ‘So You think you are a Darwinian?’ in this journal. your homosexuality is a way of helping your brothers and sisters to raise more children. but … everyone will sacrifice it for more than two brothers (or offspring). . although in this paper I shall confine myself to replying to his arguments as they have appeared in this journal. or four half-brothers. … no one is prepared to sacrifice his life for any single person. Homosexuality in social animals is a form of sibling-altruism: that is.[2] A book-length expansion of his views is now published. All communication is ‘manipulation of signal-receiver by signal-sender’ (ibid. The Selfish Gene) 2. The Journal of Theoretical Biology. But not.) 4. Stove’s essay is also reprinted in a collection of his works . after all to a mother’s advantage that her child should be adopted’ by another woman. The ten are: 1. In all social mammals. (ibid. (Richard Dawkins. Every organism has as many descendants as it can.[1] But the last eighteen months have shown no sign of this happening. (Robert Trivers. and tells us that there are many more. Social Evolution) 5. and in some circumstances silence is indeed the best reaction.

for the proposition is obviously false about our species. would have the best chance of surviving and of procreating their kind? On the other hand. obviously false in the case of our species. Hamilton. the ‘ultras’ either think that all of them are. indispensable and characteristic theses of Darwinism. this is surely false. whose paper ‘The Genetical Evolution of Social Behaviour’ has been the fountainhead of much modern evolutionary theory. the proportion of live births which die before reproductive age . (p. which is obviously false: ‘either a direct falsity about our species or. over others. or eight firstcousins. 269) Stove scrupulously explains that the italicization is his own. In every species child-mortality . can we doubt (remembering that many more individuals are born than can possibly survive). which also serves to introduce the basics. For whereas Darwinism claims that some features of living things are adaptations. as a recipe for misapplication of it. we may feel sure that any variation in the least degree injurious would be rigidly destroyed. or in other words those who have been most enthusiastic in applying Darwinian explanations to a whole variety of behavioural or other features of people and animals. we expect to find that no one is prepared to sacrifice . in the words he gives: … no one is prepared to sacrifice his life for any single person. But rather than go through his ten Darwinian falsities. D. But although he urges that it is fair to attack a doctrine or approach by attacking its ‘ultras’. in his order. This is not so much an extreme version of Darwinism. The sixth of the parade is supposed to come from W. If variations which are useful to their possessors in the struggle for life ‘do occur. and so is the insert in square brackets. These he calls ‘ultras’. The ultras are also apt to deliver glib interpretations of the significance of Darwinism. whose behaviour is determined strictly by genotype. in the world of our model organisms. But here is the actual quotation from Hamilton: To express the matter more vividly. that individuals having any advantage. but … everyone will sacrifice it for more than two brothers [or offspring]. However. Stove tells us. where the proposition is a general one. It is one of the characteristic Darwinian propositions. then the members of the more fortunate class will have (on the average) more children than the members of the other class. all taken from the writings of the ‘ultra’ Richard Dawkins.8. (Charles Darwin)’ These ten are billed as central. and war. I shall start with the worst example. or four half-brothers. The more privileged people are the more prolific: if one class in a society is less exposed than another to the misery due to food-shortage. Stove also notices that some of them are only held by some evolutionary biologists. The publisher’s advertisement for Stove’s book also claims that Stove has ‘falsified’ the ‘prediction’ that an animal will sacrifice itself for three siblings. at least’. disease. 10. however slight. and this point becomes important when we return to the first three falsities that Stove presents. But they are scarcely necessary to justify his own scathing denunciation of Hamilton’s view.is extremely high. they must be badly astray. in a sense we define below. so if Hamilton and Darwinians believe it.[4] Here again is the quotation Stove uses. And the unwary reader might well think Stove has a point.that is. or at least that certain favourite (alleged) features of people or animals are. 9.

could persist in human populations. for example. or four half-brothers. to Haldane’s earlier answer to the question of how the gene for sickle cell anaemia. Hamilton went on to apply the model to solve a famous problem for Darwinian theory: how it can be that in species of hymenoptera (ants. It was the first formal presentation of the concept of ‘inclusive fitness’: roughly. but AS or SA means that one of the two much more often goes back. compared with those with an allele that does not code for such behaviour. people with the heterozygote (AS) have other advantages over those who are AA. This is a possibility theorem. So. But if on the other hand he did not see how the omission matters then Stove is in effect committing one of the very fallacies that critics claim lie at the heart of vulgar or ‘pop’ sociobiology. Stove presents a mathematical truth about Hamilton’s model as a contingent falsehood about human beings. . or eight first-cousins … (p. the person having received the S gene from each parent. and that of inferring the identity of kinds of behaviour and of evolutionary history. the extent to which the genetic material of an organism is represented in future generations. from genetic models (other fallacies imputed include that of inferring the existence of a gene ‘for’ any aspect of the phenotype. which is almost always lethal. under stable evolutionary conditions. In particular. It is as if there is an urn in which a proportion of balls are S. from superficial analogies across species). just because it exists. will actually lead to more of an individual’s genetic material being represented in the next generation than a non-sacrificial alternative. bees and wasps). Drawings are made two at a time: SS means none go back. However. AA means one of the two quite fairly often goes back. Why does the omission matter so much? Hamilton’s paper was centrally a contribution to population genetics. but that everyone will sacrifice it when he can thereby save more than two brothers. sterility of the worker can actually increase its genetic representation in future generations: the sterile worker ‘farms’ its mother to produce more sisters. which is that of inferring actual propensities to behaviour and their explanations.his life for any single person. and a proportion A. 16) By missing out the first twenty-five words. such as we are. Hamilton saw that this measure will sometimes increase if a gene ‘codes for’ self-sacrificial behaviour. In fact. the condition requires the homozygote (SS). sacrifices of the type described. then I think he can only be defended in the words Sir Peter Medawar used of Teilhard de Chardin in his famous review in Mind. So from the standpoint of ‘inclusive fitness’ sterility can be adaptive and it would not be weeded out by evolution. and that explains why S persists in the population in the urn. similar. whose members get half their genetic material from each parent. the S gene is more prominent in precisely those populations that are more at risk from malaria. The answer is that although 80% of people with sickle cell anaemia die before reproducing. to whom it is more closely related than it would be to its own offspring. If Stove knew what he had done. then we would expect animals in which it is present to become predominant in a population. given the particular way genetic material flows through the population. notably resistance to malaria. 1950: ‘its author can be excused of dishonesty only on the grounds that before deceiving others he has taken great pains to deceive himself’. if there is a variant of a gene (an allele) that ‘codes for’ such behaviour. sterile workers exist? Why would evolutionary pressures not have weeded them out? The answer is that sterility could have evolved under pressure of selection because. in a population.

for instance. Even the ‘ultra’ Dawkins. But he did not think that opportunity is always offered (in fact. but centrally with the reproductive success of organisms that possess them.[5] Interestingly. Why not? Obviously. then the frequency of the occurrence of the one allele will rise compared to that of the other. there would be costs in terms of interference with other interesting and potentially adaptive mechanisms such as that of reciprocal altruism regardless of kin. It does not as it were allow you to say that whatever is right. Why does opportunity not always offer? Genes flow through populations through time. constraints of costs and materials. This is just definition and mathematics. he specifically discusses circumstances favourable or unfavourable to the operation of natural selection. offers a list of six ‘constraints on perfection’. So the first reason why opportunity does not always offer is that it is history and chance that determine whether one allele and another exist. obviously. in chapter 4 of the Origin). one reason alone suffices: the naturalized epistemology is too demanding. Darwin was well aware of the general nature of these constraints. Or even: don’t sacrifice yourself at all under any circumstances. or in other words the fact that evolution has to work by degrees on what is already present. This means is that if the difference between the presence of one allele at a locus and the presence of another allele. therefore it is an adaptation. and one factor responsible for the features of species and their members at any time.Now return to self-sacrifice. for example. so that whatever is. their numbers in any generation varying with many factors. But furthermore. But quite apart from this. the biological patchwork apt to be generated by historical constraints. then the property is called an adaptation. whenever and wherever opportunity offers. The empirical and testable question whether a particular trait is in fact an adaptation. is right. therefore it will exist. or any other species should behave self-sacrificially in just the way Haldane and Hamilton described. and himself suggested the principle of ‘functional change in structural . and finally the existence of ‘malevolence’ in the environment: perfection in the python is death for the monkey. That is. He also thought that natural selection is but one agent of change. Nothing in the theory so far predicts that we. and if that difference causes superior reproductive success of the organism. Nor does it allow you to say that because some trait exists. and get into the competitive situation in which natural selection can operate in the first place. and discusses still others. Darwin himself was not a Panglossian: he thought that natural selection is 'insensibly working. it is obviously extremely hard to recognize the degrees of relatedness that Hamilton describes. If this is what explains the presence of the phenotypical difference. at the improvement of each organic being in relation to its organic and inorganic conditions of life’. A likely economical solution might be an approximation or kludge: sacrifice yourself more readily for animals that look like your parents or that smell familiar. In some circumstances. imperfections at one level arising because of adaptations at another. and to adjust any behaviour efficiently to reflect them accurately (especially remembering the smaller fractions involved as degrees of relatedness decrease). nothing in Darwinian theory allows you to say that because some pattern of behaviour would increase the amount of some type of genetic material in future generations. we don’t know the costs that would attach to having behaviour determined by any more accurate device. is. All this is standard theory. The six are: time lags (animals are often out of date). the available genetic variation that exists for evolutionary pressure to work upon. causes a difference in the properties of the organism carrying the gene.

could perhaps do better for their genes by just confining themselves to these laudable activities. any such thing. in terms of it (in fact. but at the same time to promote an interpretation of the biological facts that is actually inconsistent with it (but formed the core of his populist appeal). But one of the points of Trivers’s work is to show that a pattern of behaviour can exist without an organism planning. mating. and so on. be likely to stabilize or increase in a population not because of direct reproductive success. or could do. as Dawkins pointed out in his rebuke to Mary Midgley in this journal a long time ago. as Stove implies (p. possessed by ‘virus-like substances’ within us. Where does this leave Stove? He certainly finds a familiar target in his first quotation from Richard Dawkins. if they are the expression of a genetic variation. Stove is perfectly within his rights to join many commentators in finding Dawkins’s language completely inappropriate. warning. Now although Trivers’s work is relatively unguarded it is not to be criticized as expressing outright psychological falsity. such as that of R. Trivers speculates that the rate of homosexuality in populations is one such. infanticide. I shall opt out of the reproductive race. Dawkins’s peculiar vision of us as mere vehicles for purposive genes is of his own making. His problem is that he wants to say this. or even having the capacity to plan. How can I do that best? I know.[6] What he should not do is read the unhappy rhetoric back into the doctrines of evolutionary biology. Hamilton’s result certainly led to the search for kin-related sacrificial and altruistic behaviour in nature. by coupling only with others of my own sex. then presumably gays would spend less time cruising and more time nurturing siblings. or unable to pursue our own purposes. or ‘inclusive fitness’: patterns of fighting. 269) that homosexuals are ‘really’ saying to themselves: ‘let me promote the reproductive success of my relations. suggesting the we do find direct expression of ‘inclusive fitness’ in patterns of behaviour. or need to do. although of course they may coincide). caring. the relevant example in his book Social Evolution is lesbianism amongst gulls). It led to the search for other traits that might. and hence no purposes and no self-interest.[8] The idea is that there are patterns of behaviour that can be interpreted as illustrating an unconscious calculus of genetic flow. It also led to various incautious claims that the phenotypical trait. hidden purposes. for nothing in evolutionary biology supports the image of ourselves as blind. then he might have performed a useful service. had Stove confined himself to pointing out that nothing in the literal science gives any license to us to think that we do. although the anthropological consensus is that this is not so (typically social kinship matters to us more than blood ties. Thus he believes that our only hope in moral and political affairs to 'defy the selfish genes of our birth’ and ‘rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators’. if this were homosexual psychology. Trivers does not suppose. It is not a tenet of Darwinism. nor do they justify the rhetoric of us as prostituted to other.[9] All the homosexuals are doing is finding members of the .continuity’ to explain the evolution of incipient forms of structures that only gain their present use later. and giving up sex altogether). But Stove is not within his rights to ignore Dawkins’s technical use of terminology. but only through factoring in Hamilton’s indirect effects.[7] Hamilton’s result led to work. nieces and nephews (and in fact. adoption. here a propensity to adjust behaviour to degrees of relationship. and it is this that is at work in the second and third thesis. Dawkins knows and often says that genes have no brains. Trivers that Stove goes on to cite. Of course. is found in various human contexts.' Sure enough.

It is applying the genetic model in any particular way that leads to falsifiable empirical science. A kind of organism that did breed to its biological limit could easily be selected against: most obviously if all its many offspring promptly starved. for example. and the anthropological evidence is that cultural norms show great flexibility and variation in what counts as an ‘appropriate’ pattern of childbearing.same sex attractive. in which it means bears or begets as many children as is biologically possible for it to do (Stove must mean this. Psychologically and culturally the empirical evidence shows massive flexibility within whatever limits there are. But more interesting behaviour is a different matter. There are certainly genetic. and hence for growing the general-purpose cognitive and emotional engine called the brain. Unfortunately it is simply untrue that Darwinism implies that every organism has as many descendants as it can. where fewer would have survived. without openly contradicting itself’ (p. The correct response is that these are not the only alternatives. the human being falsifies a central plank of Darwin’s theory. To take the classic example: if we lived only in an English speaking environment. says Stove. or the distance we can fly. But the theorist asks: why they are doing this? And how is it possible that a gene for doing it (if it is an adaptation) should survive. 271).[10] This kind of defence may seem too good to be true. A priori then. and perhaps more. we might conclude that there is a ‘gene for’ speaking English. So. when it is obviously harmful to direct reproductive success? The answer might. and it may be appropriate here to make one remark about the question of whether Darwinism is an empirical.[11] Stove’s main further point (supposed to refute all but the final one of the ten falsities) is that human beings obviously do not reproduce as prolifically as they can. Darwinism is better seen as a framework within which the right questions can be asked. in the sense given above. and the empirical work comes in discovering which ones these are. or the subsequent calculations of mortality rates become irrelevant). heritable. Stove says roundly: ‘there can clearly be no question of Darwinism making an exception of man. and there are many classic studies showing how it can be done. We would clearly have been misled. testable scientific theory. which is that ‘every organism has as many descendants as it can’. just as gravity puts limits on the size we can grow. just as it shows it linguistically. just like the sterility of worker bees or ants. at best there might be a gene for learning whichever language is spoken by those around us. or the size of our long or short term memories. Perhaps the threat of ‘genetic determinism’ is less troublesome once we realize that in many respects we may only be determined to be flexible. and observed the remarkable rapidity with which infants learn English. This is certainly true. instructions for growing proteins. But it does imply that some are. This is why Stove’s gloss is . in the sense Stove intends. It does not itself tell us which phenotypical properties are adaptations. But it might not be: the explanation is speculative. in principle be given by the Hamiltonian calculation. and faces all the obstacles I have mentioned. homosexuality in humans is at least as likely to be a consequence of various social and cultural factors as any kind of adaptation. or whether it deflates into the tautology that survivors survive. Equally certainly the brain imposes some limits: limits on what we can see or hear. A theory such as this is speculative because we have to know the heritability and the plasticity of human patterns of behaviour before even beginning to theorize about which features of it are adaptations.

Would we expect the Breeders to displace the Trimmers? Not at all. Suppose the population is one of Trimmers. Perhaps the parental investment in breeding leads to less investment in upbringing. quite apart from its description in the Origin of Species (e. . and the status quo is thereby maintained. which talks of the striving (tendency would have been better) to maximize numbers. is one that many people simply do not have. something which can sometimes best be done by restraint in child-bearing. forced on them by the swarming armies of purposive genes inside them. remained widows during a whole season rather than pair with another bird’ (chapter 21). Birds produce few eggs. Again Stove might more reasonably have applied the fact that many human beings don’t care to reproduce to Dawkins rather than Darwin. and are less able to survive. Darwin considered sexual selection (the differential preference of members of one sex for members of the other) as a major agent of evolutionary change through time. Breeders are trying to rear ten or fifteen. and therefore fail to be sexually selected by the healthiest partners. A bird. concern sexual selection in animals and human beings. In fact. we do. to restrain their rate of reproduction to roughly two children per couple. two thirds of the entire book (and it is not short). so that breeders are not intelligent or strong. That is. the vivid case of several peahens who. producing a small number of intensively cared-for offspring leads to one kind of selection (K-selection). for instance. in biological theory. So Stove is in the extraordinary position of holding that Darwin’s most discussed agent of evolutionary change is in fact inconsistent with a central. and don’t care for them at all. refrains from mating with another bird who is not preferred. But when thinking about Darwin himself. more healthy. parts two and three of The Descent of Man. and care for them intensively.g. who devote a great deal of energy to breeding up to their biological limit of ten or fifteen children per female. let alone reproducing prolifically. Darwin describes in chapter 14. the actual number in the population remains the same: this is Malthus’s grim truth. ‘when debarred from an admired male. Suppose that a propensity to breed or to trim is controlled by a single gene. in chapter 4). Their children are less likely to get fed properly. To understand this situation let us suppose a constant environment in which the number of human beings cannot grow significantly beyond its present level.not at all equivalent to the quotation from Darwin that he actually gives. fish produce huge numbers of eggs. but whereas they have presumably no control over the mechanisms that regulate the size of their clutch. and so on. But by exercising sexual selection an animal refrains from the indiscriminate urge to reproduce whenever biologically possible. it is distinguished at least by degree. We are like birds. from producing the largest possible number of offspring (r-selection). Perhaps Trimmers find the reversion to Malthusian controls on population sufficiently abhorrent to mount other strategies against the Breeders. a good way of ridding oneself of his image of us as robots under the control of our purposive genes is to reflect that the goal of reproducing at all. who find it less costly. We know that in the end. more prone to disease. are therefore weaker. comparable to human breeding of domesticated animals. indispensable tenet of the theory. we must remember that. that is. So the question is going to be: who is dying? The environment is one in which two people can be replaced by two people. Suppose the population now is invaded by a number of Breeders. and returns later to. Nor need there be any huge psychological cost. as if such people were constantly fighting a strong innate urge to reproduce.

Stove’s calculations of infant mortality rates in a stable population in which people do reproduce as often as they can. but the theory itself. Darwin knew that we get diseases. such as sterility or susceptibility to malaria are weeded out. I should repeat that none of this is any kind of defence of any of the interpretations. 5 R. or from genetic model to actual behaviour. ch 3. 3 Darwinian Fairytales (Aldershot: Avebury Books. or evolutionary psychology. in the tendencies of some human population at some time) back to genetic determination. The single example above. for instance. Injurious traits such as alcoholism and aneurism are not inevitably weeded out. The Extended Phenotype. 'The Genetical Evolution of Social Behaviour’. 1994. restraints on permissible periods of intercourse. just as he knew that we have parasites. typically a success in one organism is a difficulty for another. and so on. and. it simply depends on taking a rhetorical passage of Darwin’s for a non-negotiable literal tenet of the science (p. (Oxford University Press 1982). and eventually die. The sociobiologists or ‘ultras’ may sometimes commit these fallacies (perhaps the second underlies falsity number five. The Journal of Theoretical Biology VII . There is no ‘theorem’ of Darwinian biology that if a variation appears that has larger clutches it will oust the others: it all depends on what happens next. To anticipate misunderstandings. which I have not attempted to defend). I believe philosophers need to understand that his weapons were hopelessly ill-adapted to doing this. 'So You Think You are a Darwinian?’ Philosophy 69.1964. 267—277. But we simply share it with them if we fail to distinguish their misinterpretations of Darwin’s legacy from the legacy itself. . 271-272). or misinterpretations of Darwinian theory that go under the banners of sociobiology. How could it possibly be? As we have already said. 1992. Stove. 275). ironically. 4 W. any more than things which are more clearly under genetic control. it is work such as Hamilton’s or Haldane’s that explains why. 1995). long periods of suckling. 1-52. of the persistence of a gene for the horrible disease of sickle cell anaemia should be enough to show why evolutionary biology is committed to no such optimism.[12] University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill References 1 D. C. Hamilton. in which he finds Darwinism inconsistent with the existence of injurious attributes in animals. Dawkins. the point about the evolution of a flexible. 233-240. 2 Cricket versus Republicanism (Sydney: Quakers Hill Press. As for Stove’s last thrust. just as in birds there are mechanisms that regulate the size of clutches of eggs. by late marriages.Because he misinterprets Darwin. 1996). D. are quite beside the point (pp. In his paper Stove chose not to attack the perversions of Darwinian theory. Of course all human societies take steps to control their fertility. On the contrary. This is the not the first of Stove’s appearances in this journal on the subject: see also ‘A New Religion’ Philosophy 67. multi-purpose brain is precisely intended to unsettle any crude inference from human phenotype (as discovered.

The quotations are from pp. 35-37. 1973) is one of the most revered. That Dawkins is in a muddle is evident from the assertion that ‘we. Lewontin. every time we climb a ladder.6 R. L. interesting as it is in its literal science. But in this sense it is not true that we ‘alone on earth’ rebel against our genes. Dawkins was trying. Quarterly Review of Biology. it is a little cheeky of me to say that I was simply using the term ‘Nazi’ in a technical sense in which it means ‘bit of chemical that replicates itself over time’. Steven Rose. its wider reputation. Trivers. Like many others. 1981. The Evolution of Melanism (Oxford University Press. 1979. 1976). 10 The superficiality of the genetic story is scathingly criticized in Not in Our Genes. Of course we can think up a sense in which it might be true: we 'rebel’ against our genetically coded height. 1984). One wonders what Stove’s explanation of the relative frequency of black and speckled moths in town and country would be. The Nazi Within. . The second and third of Stove’s list of Darwinian falsehoods depend upon misreading technical uses of terms 'advantage’ and 'manipulation’ as they are used in Dawkins’s writings. M. 448) that Dawkins failed to answer. A bear sheltering in a cave is rebelling against its genetically coded tendency to freeze in bad weather. 332. 198-200. Trivers. for example. that is our brains. 1985) . 46. say. 12 I would like to thank James Maclaurin and David Braddon-Mitchell for helpful conversation and biological information. 556-573. Leon Kamin. Philosophy 56. one would have thought. This is also why there is something a little disingenuous in simply sheltering behind the claim that words like 'selfish’ or ‘advantage’. Philosophy 54. 439-458. and R. are separate and independent enough from our genes to rebel against them’: a remarkable feat. See also p. the real point buried in Midgley’s paper (p. 260-261. But see also the previous note. ‘Gene Juggling’. ‘The Evolution of Reciprocal Altruism’. 8 R. 9 R. I think. (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. 7 R. Dawkins ‘In Defence of Selfish Genes’. Kettlewell. to derive some sweeping human or philosophical interest from the biology and of course it was the belief that he had done that which gave the book. Dawkins The Selfish Gene (Oxford University Press. Social Evolution (California: Benjamin/Cummings. 200-201 of the 1989 edition. Midgley. 11 H. L. but failing. We don’t rebel against our brains by using them. or ‘purpose’ or 'manipulate’ are being used in a technical sense. in just the same sense. This is. If I write and profit from a book on popular biology which I call.

'So you think you are a Darwinian?'[1] was essentially an advertisement for his book. in fact. asserts many things about the human and other species that are known to be false.[2] The central argument of the book is that Darwin's theory. and vice versa. the other being the belief that kin altruism is caused by shared genes. There is then an increased production of earnest causal explanations of why we love our children. if the critic puts pressure on the causal balloon perhaps about the weakness of sibling altruism compared with parental. but protects itself from refutation by its logical complexity. is a purely logical question. A great number of ad hoc devices. scaling up from varieties to species.[3] Now. applied to the theory of inclusive fitness at one point.Stove's Anti-Darwinism By James Franklin Stove's article. or even continuous variations in the fossil record. about the Hobbesian bad times that are had by all. or the absence of sibling altruism in bacteria . and so on.perhaps by ridiculing the selfish theory of human nature . One does not directly observe chance genetic variations leading to the development of new species. or phrenologists are not allowed to 'answer' philosophers' doubts about the relation of their theories to the evidence by saying. etc. in both Darwin's and recent sociobiological versions. I'm a doctor'. Then.air is forced into the causal balloon. individually and collectively. and that its relation to empirical evidence is distant and multi-faceted. Marxists. are used to protect the theory.then the illusion balloon is forced to expand. There will now be an increased production of cynical scurrilities about parents manipulating their babies for their own advantage. In this way critical pressure. In a characteristic sally. 'Trust me. it is uncontroversial to assert that Darwinism is a logically complex theory.. Stove writes of the sociobiologists' oscillation on the meaning of kin altruism: Any discussion of altruism with an inclusive fitness theorist is. . It is therefore no answer to Stove's attack on Darwinism to sermonise. as Blackburn does. or astrologers. but must rely on subtle arguments to the best explanation. and the theory as a whole is never endangered. can always be easily absorbed at another point. etc. Darwinian Fairytales.[4] about how disgraceful it is for philosophers to delve in matters that do not concern them. one balloon being the belief that kin altruism is an illusion. or Freudians. or is reinterpreted as competition between some hidden entities like genes or abstract entities like populations. why hymenopteran workers look after their sisters. If co-operation is observed where the theory predicts competition. then competition is referred to the time of the cavemen. exactly like dealing with a pair of balloons connected by a tube. Evolutionists have no such rights either. The strength or otherwise of these arguments. he claims. If a critic puts pressure on the illusion balloon . and in general.

whose behaviour is determined strictly by genotype . then there can be no objection to taking the predictions of the model as literally asserted of the organisms. '.'. to that extent Darwinians are asserting something apparently contentful. then withdrawing it under pressure.. read off the results of Hamilton's 'model'. as being true descriptions of biological reality. everyone will sacrifice it (for) more than two brothers. since his claim is precisely that Darwinians save their theory by weakening contentful assertions they appear to have made.. then he has said nothing about biological evolution... What is the point of 'model organisms' unless they model organisms? As Blackburn himself says. It was a point not lost on Stove. But this does not help the Darwinian evade Stove's attack. If they don't mean 'all'. and the like. obviously. But Professor Hamilton could hardly object to this omission.. why do they say it.[5] Blackburn points out that the original quote began. it is perfectly true that models do not fit real cases perfectly.Stove's article listed ten propositions that were. in the world of our model organisms.' He is then much scandalized at Stove's omission of the phrase 'in the world of our model organisms'. In a case like Newton's theory of . For his disciples such as Dawkins constantly do the same thing: that is. To answer Stove. Stove listed as one of the 'Darwinian falsities': …no one is prepared to sacrifice his life for any single person. but were obviously false. 'To express the matter more vividly. 'Hamilton went on to apply (my italics) the model to solve a famous problem for Darwinian theory: how it can be that in species of hymenoptera. or eight first-cousins. But. sterile workers exist?' If Hamilton is speaking about a purely mathematical world of model organisms.. 'all communication is manipulation of signal-receiver by signal-sender'. The problem is most evident in his answer at the point where he thinks Stove has most grossly misrepresented the Darwinians. No doubt the reason is. or four half-brothers. asserted by Darwinians. he claimed.'every organism has as many descendants as it can'. but . but that everyone . who wrote: It is true I have omitted a qualification which Hamilton prefixed to the words just quoted: namely. whose behaviour is determined strictly by genotype. it is fair to ask that others criticize him only after having all his own words on the subject to hand. But there is little comfort for Darwinians in this line of thought. And this particular model would be ill-advised to compare itself with respectable mathematical models. while if real organisms satisfy the assumptions of the model. 'in every species child-mortality is extremely high'. and indeed were characteristic of Darwinian theory.[6] If Stove is to be criticized for omitting the words of others.is satisfied everywhere in fact.behaviour being determined strictly by genotype . if not to dress up a logically flabby theory as much more falsifiable than it is? Yet this is exactly the strategy Blackburn uses in attempting to refute Stove. we expect to find that no one is prepared to sacrifice his life for any single person. and treats this correction as a full answer to Stove. that would be to fall into Stove's trap. To the extent that organisms do satisfy the model. Of course. and a degree of looseness of fit has to be allowed to any theory. and to the extent that organisms do not satisfy the model. in the world of our model organisms. it would be initially natural to claim that the 'all' in these statements was not seriously meant. to that extent failure of the predictions tells against the theory. The statements are all universal generalizations . that they believe that the proviso .

and the predictions of the theory can be measured to be true to within so many percent. 605-616. S. that a robin red breast cannot tell the difference between his first cousin and a bit of red wool on a wire. 3. whereas observation shows the true figure is 8. and that 'nothing in Darwinian theory allows you to say that because some pattern of behaviour would increase the amount of genetic material in future generations. 267-277. 7. therefore it will exist'. Blackburn strives to assure us that Darwinian theory deals only in possible explanations.gravity. Philosophy 71. 1. 6.16. 1994.C. and it is quite easy for Darwinism to explain why some species have low birthrates. The Journal of Theoretical Biology. 5. 152 . D. Philosophy 69. 4. at p. It is not as if the model predicts that animals will sacrifice themselves for 8 first cousins. 'So you think you are a Darwinian?'.3. D. All of which is true. and confirms Stove's central thesis that Darwinism can 'explain' anything. Dawkins does not really mean what his extreme rhetoric seems to mean. even though they are trying to maximize their descendants. 167. Nothing could be further from the situation that obtains with Hamilton's 'prediction'. University of New South Wales 1. 'W. while Trivers' explanation of lesbianism in gulls is merely 'speculative'. as Stove says. 1996). 1964. Hamilton. 156. there is a clear sense of numerical approximation. Darwinian Fairytales. It is sad that he is no longer around to enjoy such 'refutation'. 'I rather think I am a Darwinian'. 1-52. 'The Genetical Evolution of Social Behaviour'. 1994. Darwinian Fairytales (Aldershot: Avebury. Blackburn. Stove. 2. The truth is more.[7] In the rest of his paper.

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