In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

BOOK REVIEWS Man, the Promising Primate: The Conditions ofHuman Evolution. By Peter J. Wilson . New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1980. Pp. 185. $12.95. In his preface Wilson, a cultural anthropologist, states his view of the central problem in the study of man's evolution: "Reductionism is viable only as long as we remain outside the subject of study, but as soon as the fact that we study a subject becomes a critical part of the enterprise, reductionism is neither an independent nor a sufficient answer. Organisms are not reduced to genes, it is we who reduce organisms to genes and part of what we want to explain is why this is so. The short answer to this problem is that such thinking constitutes human evolution. The following essay is an elaboration of this argument." The target is thus, Why does man alone puzzle about himself? It is man's thinking we must examine, not only his biological adaptations. I found the author's analysis of this point of view original and insightful. The aspect of human social behavior central to the argument is the biologically peculiar, if not unique, position of the male. In animals generally, especially in mammals, the primary bond making social life possible is that between mother and offspring. From this bond the male is more or less completely excluded. The pairing bond which unites male and female, however essential biologically, plays only a minimal role in social life. Man is one of the few animals in which the male is well integrated into social life. It is Wilson's contention that this confladon of the primary and the pairing bonds in human society has generated the distinctive element, the family, as the basis of human sociality. How has this been produced? Current anthropological theory stresses the biological advantage of exogamy as leading to the development of the incest taboo as a universal characteristic of human societies. Kinship, also universal in human societies, is thought to be derived as a means of maintaining the incest taboo. Wilson's view reverses this relationship. He holds that the recognition of kinship was primary, and it secondarily generated the incest taboo to maintain it. It was thus not the genetic advantage ofincest avoidance that was central in the emergence ofthe distinctive human family but the emergence of a mentality that made kinship recognition possible. This led both to kinship and the incest taboo and started man on the road to the development of culture. As the common denominator of both bonds, the female must balance and maintain them in spite of their conflicts. As Wilson puts it, "If one bond is realized at one time, some guarantee or promise must be given that the other bond will be realized at some future time." Hence the "promising primate" of the Permission to reprint a book review printed in this section may be obtained only from the author. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine ¦ Autumn 1981167 author's title. How was this capacity to offer promises achieved? The author suggests that this emerged through the evolution of a self-consciousness capable ofprojecting a promise offuture compensation to the male for his sacrifice in the pairing bond, thus enlisting him into the family. The argument continues, "To offer a promise is to presuppose cognizance ofa self that exists now and will exist in the future." Thus the basic transformation that makes human social life distinctive is the emergence of self-consciousness of the individual as a unit capable of imagining the consequences of behavior. Wilson thus weaves together the items of (1) integration of the male into the family, (2) self-consciousness, and (3) imaginative anticipation and planning for the future. He regards these as the foundation of cultural life. In order to maintain kinship organization, males on reaching adulthood must be "transformed" into fathers. A simple way to do this is that which Wilson observed in his studies of Caribbean cultures. There sexual relations are not bound closely to marriage. The mother ofthe child simply designates the male of her choice to be the recognized father. Where fatherhood is closely tied to institutionalized marriage, the male as father is drawn into...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 167-169
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.