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Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Goodness, Altruism?

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

by David Sloan Wilson
Yale University Press/ Templeton Press, 180 pp., $27.50
The Biology of Being Good to Others by H. Allen Orr
Scientists Richard Owen and Thomas Henry Huxley studying a water-baby in a flask; illustration designed by Linley Sambourne and engraved by Joseph Swain, from Charles Kingsley’s The Water-Babies: A Fairy Tale for a Land-Baby, 1885


Altruism may seem a good thing—unless you happen to be an evolutionary biologist. Then it may seem a mixture of a mystery and a curse. The reason isn’t hard to see. How could a ruthless process like Darwinian natural selection give rise to altruistic organisms, human or nonhuman, that act in ways that are costly to themselves and helpful to others? Darwin himself was aware of the difficulty and offered some tentative solutions, but it was during the twentieth century that altruism became the subject of nearly fetishistic attention among evolutionary biologists./.../

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