The Darwinian Heritage and Sociobiology

By Johan M. G. Van Der Dennen; David Smillie et al. | Go to book overview

8
Marx, Darwin, and Human Nature

Lucio Ferreira Alves

In 1975, Harvard biologist Edward Wilson published Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, a book of encyclopedic proportions that was defended and attacked with equal enthusiasm by biologists and social scientists. Wilson defined sociobiology as the systematic study of the biological basis of all social behavior in all kinds of animals, including humans. Concerning humans, it refers only to the application of the evolutionary theory to the study of human social behavior. To put it another way, the role of sociobiology is to examine how the diversity of human societies reflects the adaptation of individuals to their social and ecological environments. Thus the social sciences are placed within a framework constructed from a synthesis of evolutionary biology, genetics, population biology, ecology, animal behavior, psychology, and anthropology ( Wilson, 1975, 1976).

Because Wilson was merely extending the neo-Darwinian theory into the study of social behavior and animal societies, the criticism the book received from other biologists was overwhelmingly favorable. However, social scientists (here to be understood in the academic sense) and Marxists (here to be understood in their ideological sense) attacked the book vigorously. Wilson had not expected much reaction from the former, and he did not even think about the latter. As he admitted, he underestimated the Durkheim--Boas tradition of the autonomy of the social sciences and the ideological character of Marxist criticism. These criticisms surprised him, but he was unprepared to deal with ideological arguments ( Wilson, 1978b).

Three years later, Wilson ( 1978a) wrote On Human Nature, a book totally dedicated to human social behavior. At the end of the book, he said that the

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