The self-interest vision may require something like altruism to establish its own distinctiveness, but for the vision itself, altruism is an embarrassment. This is evident in the all out assault on altruism in sociobiology, an assault that extends to the ordinary, as well as the biological, sense of the term. It is also buttressed by attempts to understand ethics without reference to anything like altruism. From various directions attempts have been made to base ethics on self-interest, in the conviction that this is the only serious motivation that people can be expected to respond to today.
The infamous instance of self-interest ethics is the social Darwinism championed by Herbert Spencer. “Survival of the fittest” became not only a summary of the understanding of the processes that made life possible, but also an ethical mandate indicating the inevitable course that would be sustained by the future unfolding of these processes. This biologizing of ethics has been refined and reinforced through the much more precise mechanisms of sociobiology. The most prominent pioneer of this development, E. O. Wilson, proposes that “the time has come for ethics to be removed temporarily from the hands of philosophers and biologized. ”1 He expects that this will produce “a biology of ethics, which will make possible the selection of a more deeply understood and enduring code of____________________