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PERSPECTIVES IN BIOLOGY AND MEDICINE Volume 26 ¦ Number 1 · Autumn 1982 THE IMPORTANCE OF HUMAN INDIVIDVAUTY FOR SOCIOBIOLOGY BERNARD D. DAVIS* It is obvious that genes contribute to differences in human behavior. But because we cannot define their role with precision, and we cannot modify them as readily as we can modify the environment, an extreme environmentalism has long prevailed in the social sciences and in liberal circles.1 In the last few years, however, Edward O. Wilson's Sociobiohgy [2] has stimulated a broad renewal of interest in the role of genes in human affairs. Like The Origin ofSpecies, this book defines a new field, ofwide social as well as scientific interest, by synthesizing a large accumulation of scientific information. Unlike Darwin, however, Wilson is the product ofan age that has become very conscious of the impact of science on society, and he speculates about the future social implications of his field in considerable detail. Indeed, in On Human Nature [3] he presents these implications with some zeal, not simply as an inevitable by-product of advances in sociobiology but as part ofthejustification for regardingit as a major discipline. Wilson argues that if we wish to acquire a deep understanding of human social behavior we should not rely only on the intuitive insights of the humanities and on the phenomenological observations of the social sciences; we must also look into past evolutionary origins and into present genetic determinants. I agree. However, I would like to discuss a Paper presented at the Symposium of Institute on Religion in the Age of Science, Star Island, New Hampshire, July 1979, and originally published in Zygon 15:275-293, 1980. We are grateful to the editors ??Zygon for their permission to reprint it here. *Bacterial Physiology Unit, Harvard Medical School, 25 Shattuck Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02115. 'This environmentalism is also an overreaction to the naive hopes early in this century for rapid contributions of genetics to the social sciences. This history has been well reviewed , from the point of view of a sociologist seeking a balance, by M. Bressler [I]. Copyright is not claimed for this article. Perspectives in Biology and Mediane, 26, 1 · Autumn 1982 \ 1 main difference: Wilson, with the comparative approach of a naturalist, concentrates almost exclusively on the universal characteristics of each species, while I would emphasize implications ofour genetic diversity for several of the issues that he discusses. In particular, Wilson predicts that sociobiology will provide a firm foundation for ethics, while I would suggest that because of the genetic diversity of our species scientific knowledge will not be able to displace political negotiation in the development of our rules. Similarly, emphasizing that religions express a deep-seated, inescapable aspect ofour biological heritage, Wilson struggles bravely to reconcile their aims with the scientific outlook, but in the end his projected solution—a new religion based on evolution as our presiding myth—ignores the wide diversity in our emotional patterns and needs. Finally, as the architect of a new field Wilson understandably concentrates on its future directions. But even our present knowledge of our evolutionary origins, and particularly of the resulting genetic diversity, could help us to build our social policies on a more realistic base. His predictions of long-term future benefits might be more convincing if he started with this more immediate possibility, In thus advocating greater attention to the present, I am no doubt reflecting my initial training in medicine, a field with a much shorter temporal perspective than evolutionary biology. But I am encouraged to proceed by the thought that this pragmatic background may be useful for discussing the possible applications of biology to the equally pragmatic problems of social behavior. Integrative Reductionism On Human Nature offers us an exciting vision: When we understand the neurobiological basis of human motivation and action we will be able to fashion value systems that are based on this reality rather than on illusions and false preconceptions. Wilson presents this proposition as a logical extension ofintegrative reductionism. This is an aspect ofscience in which the initial analysis of a phenomenon, in terms of its obvious units, leads to much deeper understanding when we can further interpret the properties and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 1-18
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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