THE SELFISH GENE TO
A PHENOMENON such as Dawkins' The Selfish Gene1 can be seen from many points of view and set in many contexts. Its popular success, its influence on generations of students and scholars, and its permeation of the intellectual life of many countries could all be taken as starting points. Instead, this article will begin by focusing very narrowly on the originality and intellectual significance of the ideas in The Selfish Gene, and how they stand up today in the light of further research. I will consider the book's reception, and give reasons for the variability of esteem in which it is held.
For my purposes, the core arguments of The Selfish Gene are (i) the introduction of the concept of a replicator, which allows what was then the most logically rigorous exposition of Darwin's theory of natural selection, (ii) the link between replicator selection and selfishness, in a technical sense, and (iii) the suite of links that establish in turn each of the then new theoretical ideas in adaptationist biology in terms of the selection of replicators.
George Williams2 had developed Darwin's argument of natural selection by verbal and conceptual means, but Dawkins' forensic analysis in terms of replicators provided for biology a new understanding of the Darwinian logic. The properties of fidelity, fecundity, and longevity explained what kinds of objects could be replicators, and why DNA was such a powerful one. This was new theory in biology, and it was followed by another crucial