counter create hit Does Altruism Exist?: Culture, Genes, and the Welfare of Others - Download Free eBook
Ads Banner
Hot Best Seller

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

Availability: Ready to download

A powerful treatise that demonstrates the existence of altruism in nature, with surprising implications for human society Does altruism exist? Or is human nature entirely selfish? In this eloquent and accessible book, famed biologist David Sloan Wilson provides new answers to this age-old question based on the latest developments in evolutionary science.   From an evolutio A powerful treatise that demonstrates the existence of altruism in nature, with surprising implications for human society Does altruism exist? Or is human nature entirely selfish? In this eloquent and accessible book, famed biologist David Sloan Wilson provides new answers to this age-old question based on the latest developments in evolutionary science.   From an evolutionary viewpoint, Wilson argues, altruism is inextricably linked to the functional organization of groups. “Groups that work” undeniably exist in nature and human society, although special conditions are required for their evolution. Humans are one of the most groupish species on earth, in some ways comparable to social insect colonies and multi-cellular organisms. The case that altruism evolves in all social species is surprisingly simple to make.   Yet the implications for human society are far from obvious. Some of the most venerable criteria for defining altruism aren’t worth caring much about, any more than we care much whether we are paid by cash or check. Altruism defined in terms of thoughts and feelings is notably absent from religion, even though altruism defined in terms of action is notably present. The economic case for selfishness can be decisively rejected. The quality of everyday life depends critically on people who overtly care about the welfare of others. Yet, like any other adaptation, altruism can have pathological manifestations. Wilson concludes by showing how a social theory that goes beyond altruism by focusing on group function can help to improve the human condition.


Compare
Ads Banner

A powerful treatise that demonstrates the existence of altruism in nature, with surprising implications for human society Does altruism exist? Or is human nature entirely selfish? In this eloquent and accessible book, famed biologist David Sloan Wilson provides new answers to this age-old question based on the latest developments in evolutionary science.   From an evolutio A powerful treatise that demonstrates the existence of altruism in nature, with surprising implications for human society Does altruism exist? Or is human nature entirely selfish? In this eloquent and accessible book, famed biologist David Sloan Wilson provides new answers to this age-old question based on the latest developments in evolutionary science.   From an evolutionary viewpoint, Wilson argues, altruism is inextricably linked to the functional organization of groups. “Groups that work” undeniably exist in nature and human society, although special conditions are required for their evolution. Humans are one of the most groupish species on earth, in some ways comparable to social insect colonies and multi-cellular organisms. The case that altruism evolves in all social species is surprisingly simple to make.   Yet the implications for human society are far from obvious. Some of the most venerable criteria for defining altruism aren’t worth caring much about, any more than we care much whether we are paid by cash or check. Altruism defined in terms of thoughts and feelings is notably absent from religion, even though altruism defined in terms of action is notably present. The economic case for selfishness can be decisively rejected. The quality of everyday life depends critically on people who overtly care about the welfare of others. Yet, like any other adaptation, altruism can have pathological manifestations. Wilson concludes by showing how a social theory that goes beyond altruism by focusing on group function can help to improve the human condition.

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

  1. 4 out of 5

    Shayan Foroozesh

    It must be a good book. It must be! Because 1) it is written by D. S. Wilson, and 2) it is about my favorite subject tackled in an evolutionary way. Of course everything cultural brought under the spotlight of evolution grabs my attention. The conversation between Tom Stoppard and D. S. Wilson about altruism, the subject of his latest book (this one I mean), is quite excellent: https://evolution-institute.org/artic... It must be a good book. It must be! Because 1) it is written by D. S. Wilson, and 2) it is about my favorite subject tackled in an evolutionary way. Of course everything cultural brought under the spotlight of evolution grabs my attention. The conversation between Tom Stoppard and D. S. Wilson about altruism, the subject of his latest book (this one I mean), is quite excellent: https://evolution-institute.org/artic...

  2. 5 out of 5

    John Kaufmann

    Almost 5-star territory. Big-idea book. Wilson has long been one of the primary advocates for group-level selection. Here he lays out how altruism, which is hard to explain in standard evolutionary theory, can be explained as the result of multi-level selection (the new terminology for group-level selection) without any intent of altruism. Wilson walks through an example (with simple arithmetic) of how a group with more altruisists can outcompete a group of selfish individuals and thus foster mo Almost 5-star territory. Big-idea book. Wilson has long been one of the primary advocates for group-level selection. Here he lays out how altruism, which is hard to explain in standard evolutionary theory, can be explained as the result of multi-level selection (the new terminology for group-level selection) without any intent of altruism. Wilson walks through an example (with simple arithmetic) of how a group with more altruisists can outcompete a group of selfish individuals and thus foster more altruists in the entire population. Some of the rationale is difficult; Wilson does a pretty good job of explaining it, but it was tedious at points - I got bogged down momentarily, but the big idea kept my ploughing my way through. The end result was very rewarding.

  3. 5 out of 5

    angela

    Read this for a review journal and was pleasantly surprised as the subject matter was not on my list of interest. After reading the book, would like to read Wilson's other book, Darwin's Cathedral... as I think his writing style is accessible to the layperson and reads well, not dry. I found the economics chapter rather interesting, esp. his thoughts on Wall Street and Ayn Rand. If you are on the fence, read it, interesting and painless.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Larkin Tackett

    The answer to this question is a definitive yes, but not surprisingly needs a more nuanced response when digging into the motivations and context of altruistic decisions. "Selfishness beats altruism within groups. Altruistic groups beat selfish groups. Everything else is commentary." Evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson wrote this as a summary of sociobiology in a different article, but could have been the description of this book too. He makes the case that action versus feelings, distal ( The answer to this question is a definitive yes, but not surprisingly needs a more nuanced response when digging into the motivations and context of altruistic decisions. "Selfishness beats altruism within groups. Altruistic groups beat selfish groups. Everything else is commentary." Evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson wrote this as a summary of sociobiology in a different article, but could have been the description of this book too. He makes the case that action versus feelings, distal (environmental factors) vs. proximate (physical basis), or the number of other prosocial folks around are additional factors that should be used to determine the deeper reasons of altruistic acts.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Dhaneesh Kumar

    It was a very enjoyable and invigorating read. The first half of the book was difficult to navigate, but with time and effort most of the essential machinery and arguments developed there made the second half of the book--which looked at altruism in different situations--very intriguing. This book makes me want to read more into the subject which I believe is one of the objectives of the book. Looking forward to reading the references listed to gain more insights to supplement what I have alread It was a very enjoyable and invigorating read. The first half of the book was difficult to navigate, but with time and effort most of the essential machinery and arguments developed there made the second half of the book--which looked at altruism in different situations--very intriguing. This book makes me want to read more into the subject which I believe is one of the objectives of the book. Looking forward to reading the references listed to gain more insights to supplement what I have already gained in this book.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Icha Irdhanie

    very detailed and after reading this book, it made me want to be more pro society,, faith in humanity restored!!!!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    What can evolution teach us about crafting social policy? When we think of evolution and public policy, sometimes we think of the social darwinism that arose in the late 19th century -- and still dominates a fair amount of policy thinking today. But social darwinism is pretty maladaptive from a societal perspective. David Sloan Wilson explores the role that altruistic actions (in consequence, more than intent -- purely altruistic intent is something that, as he points out, almost never appears i What can evolution teach us about crafting social policy? When we think of evolution and public policy, sometimes we think of the social darwinism that arose in the late 19th century -- and still dominates a fair amount of policy thinking today. But social darwinism is pretty maladaptive from a societal perspective. David Sloan Wilson explores the role that altruistic actions (in consequence, more than intent -- purely altruistic intent is something that, as he points out, almost never appears in culture or religion) are an essential part of group cohesion. Cooperation, he argues, is a key part of what differentiates us as a species: "Alone among primate species, we crossed the threshold from groups *of* organisms to groups *as* organisms." And as he likewise notes, "Understanding how groups become functionally organized is a prerequisite for making the world a better place." The conditions for such functional organization are pretty much what one would expect (and are ancillary to most of his arguments), but Sloan Wilson's systematic approach to the issue is what makes the book such a worthwhile read.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Hageman

    Wow. Where to even begin with this book, it's actually one of the most straight-forward, succinct explanations of the evolutionary foundation for altruism I could have expected, with just enough depth to secure understanding by the reader but not overload them with evolutionary jargon and a plethora of more resources that need to be investigated to satisfy said understanding. I think it has greatly sharpened my ability to explicate my own worldview. The seemingly obvious distinction between altru Wow. Where to even begin with this book, it's actually one of the most straight-forward, succinct explanations of the evolutionary foundation for altruism I could have expected, with just enough depth to secure understanding by the reader but not overload them with evolutionary jargon and a plethora of more resources that need to be investigated to satisfy said understanding. I think it has greatly sharpened my ability to explicate my own worldview. The seemingly obvious distinction between altruism 'defined at the level of action' and psychology-based altruism, 'defined at the level of thoughts and feelings', is so critical to consider when thinking about the pragmatics of altruism within a society. Because the latter is so much less transparent when it comes to empirical research, it's often in our best interest to maintain our focus how altruism manifests itself in a way that we care about, namely that of actions within society. As with any moral judgements, the psychological intentions seem to be important insofar as they are predictive of future behavior/actions. The apt analogy used by Wilson, that worrying about psychological-altruism being possible or not, is akin to obsessing whether your friend pays you back for a loan with cash or check. What we mainly care about is getting paid back, just as we mainly care about the actions of others we interact with. The distinction between ultimate and proximate causes of altruistic actions, as analogous to adaptations within the evolution of biological creatures, was also a fantastic parallel to better understand how altruism can and should be discusses. There is also a great coverage of the the relevant views that Adam Smith held, with respect to economics and the 'invisible hand effect', how we have the capacity to 'play our role without knowing our role', and where the limitation lie with this idea in economics, individual evolutionary fitness, and group-based selection. With this, Wilson goes on to beautifully disembowel the ideology that is 'Ayn Rand fundamentalism', highlighting exactly where the extrapolation of 'greed for the individual as being necessarily beneficial to society as a whole' goes awry. He then precisely highlights the parallels of such an ideology as a secular religion with those of classical theologies, and why they are equally incorrect yet remain effective at various levels of groups within a society, based on the allure they have (namely that being selfish is moral..woot! and by being altruistic, I achieve eternity in paradise..woot!). This is explained alongside the origin of the term 'altruism', as coined by Auguste Comte, living with a pre-darwinian worldview seeks to develop a humanist morality that was superior to contemporary theologies, and why his attempt failed to catch on, while the false ideologies continued to flourish. The only caveat I have in this 5-star rating is that I recognize the idea of group selection within the field of evolutionary biology has been an extremely controversial topic for decades, and any easy pitfalls I might fall into as a non-expert reader are certainly things I would be vulnerable to. Namely, the claim is the depending on the dynamics of the group/society, individual altruism can be detrimental to the individual, but allow the group to outcompete other groups. "Selfishness [typically] beats altruism within groups. Altruistic groups beat selfish groups. Everything else is commentary." This parallel is noticed in bees, ants, and many other species where a collective of individuals can be seen as a 'superorganism'. Nonetheless, Wilson does his due diligence in explaining why the paradigm-shift reluctance persisted for so long regarding group selection theory, and why it doesn't undermine selfish gene theory, inclusive fitness theory (kin selection), and evolutionary game theory. Overall, I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the scientific origins of altruism, as well as an overview of how its manifested in religious communities, political ideologies, and at various tiers within any social hierarchy.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Lindsey

    Wilson uses this short, rambling book to extend his position that the group selection debate is settled, suggesting it's time to get on with revisiting topics such as altruism through the lens of multilevel selection theory. Wilson recounts the growing scientific consensus on his core question to confirm that, Spoiler Alert, altruism exists. This isn't news exactly; in a 2007 paper Wilson and EO Wilson concluded that "Selfishness beats altruism within groups. Altruistic groups beat selfish group Wilson uses this short, rambling book to extend his position that the group selection debate is settled, suggesting it's time to get on with revisiting topics such as altruism through the lens of multilevel selection theory. Wilson recounts the growing scientific consensus on his core question to confirm that, Spoiler Alert, altruism exists. This isn't news exactly; in a 2007 paper Wilson and EO Wilson concluded that "Selfishness beats altruism within groups. Altruistic groups beat selfish groups. Everything else is commentary." Apparently, more commentary is necessary because DS Wilson continues to beat the drum. Although Wilson states his book is intended for all audiences, it is loaded with concepts and terminology that demand some prior knowledge. He also assumes interest in the 50-year academic "controversy" about group selection theory. The third chapter, 14 of the book's 149 pages, is an essay on "equivalence", revisiting the group selection controversy to advance the idea that two theories can co-exist. This may be interesting to his academic audience...but really? 14 pages? Like many who missed the "controversy", only joining the conversation in the past 10 years, I came to this book agreeable to the premise of multilevel selection. Nonetheless, I am not convinced Wilson makes the case for altruism except narrowly defined as an evolved prosocial behavior. "Selfishness beats altruism within groups. Altruistic groups beat selfish groups." Sure, so altruism is any adaptive thing that increases the fitness and success of the group. The fact that human groups everywhere, always have altruistic-type behaviour baked into their organizing functions reveals the essential role of that adaption. As revealed in this book and most of Wilson's work, the challenge begins when we try to put that diverse thing into words, to attempt to rationalize something we can see. And, of course, there is disagreement on definitions. Ultimately, much of this book reads like a tiresome fight over semantics. Rather disappointing given Wilson is so adamant that it's time to move on. Bonus points for the slap-down of the Ayn Rand cult.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Per Kraulis

    The answer to the title's question is, unsurprisingly, "yes", but the argument supporting the answer is certainly not trivial. Wilson arrives at the answer only after careful analysis, e.g. by making a distinction between altruism in action and altruism in thought. The book is based on the notion of group selection in evolution, a concept recently rehabilitated by, among others, the author himself. Group selection, or more generally, multi-level selection, can occur under fairly well-defined cir The answer to the title's question is, unsurprisingly, "yes", but the argument supporting the answer is certainly not trivial. Wilson arrives at the answer only after careful analysis, e.g. by making a distinction between altruism in action and altruism in thought. The book is based on the notion of group selection in evolution, a concept recently rehabilitated by, among others, the author himself. Group selection, or more generally, multi-level selection, can occur under fairly well-defined circumstances, overriding or modifying "ordinary" individual selection. Rather than disproving the selfish gene theory, Wilson clarifies why and how that theory is not and cannot be the whole answer. Wilson also ventures into the arena of politics and philosophy, which is a dangerous thing for biologists, and evolutionists in particular, to do. But he pulls it off admirably. The discussion centers around Elinor Ostrom's theory of how the tragedy of the commons can be avoided (a prime example of altruism in action), and the connection of this concept to evolutionary mechanisms is explored. An interesting and provocative observation is that altruism is actually a modern concept, and does not figure in the major religions, at least not under the definition used by Wilson.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Rajesh Hegde

    A very well written book on understanding altruism through evolutionary theory. Very concise and comprehensible for a layman. Although it is a standalone book, it is better to read this after you have gone through some popular books on evolution like Dawkin's Selfish gene. The author unifies all the evolutionary research done in last 3 decades to a make a good case for altruism existing in our human and nonhuman environments and how it can be further developed in the society for greater good. Th A very well written book on understanding altruism through evolutionary theory. Very concise and comprehensible for a layman. Although it is a standalone book, it is better to read this after you have gone through some popular books on evolution like Dawkin's Selfish gene. The author unifies all the evolutionary research done in last 3 decades to a make a good case for altruism existing in our human and nonhuman environments and how it can be further developed in the society for greater good. This book is inspiring for anyone involved in social justice and environmental work as they can extract insights from this book and apply them in their fields.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ann Michael

    I liked this book but I think it suffers a bit from being part of this series, Yale's Foundational Questions in Science. It is partly detailed regarding studies, research, and evolution and then in other places reads as though geared toward the more casual reader. In general, I appreciate the effort and claims Wilson puts forth concerning an evolutionary basis for altruism. Eusocial insect/mammal studies bolster a few things, but Ostrum's 8 concepts for improving prosocial behavior is perhaps the I liked this book but I think it suffers a bit from being part of this series, Yale's Foundational Questions in Science. It is partly detailed regarding studies, research, and evolution and then in other places reads as though geared toward the more casual reader. In general, I appreciate the effort and claims Wilson puts forth concerning an evolutionary basis for altruism. Eusocial insect/mammal studies bolster a few things, but Ostrum's 8 concepts for improving prosocial behavior is perhaps the most valuable (for society) takeaway here (Chapter 8).

  13. 4 out of 5

    YHC

    The author compared humans with animals, precisely with bees or ants, we know for many examples, altruism works better for groups than for individuals to survival. It pointed out Dawkins' selish genes to other cooperative species.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Oolalaa

    14/20

  15. 4 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    Sort of a short mini-book just focused on altruism. Yes, it exists, argues Wilson. Our survival relied on us being programed for self-sacrifice--to an extent.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jc

    Fantastic This is an ambitious book full of big ideas, but still a quick and fun read. The implications of these ideas leaves nothing untouched.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Martin Henson

    A brief comment on a book that impressed me a good deal. It, along with some other recent reading has made me much less a political idealist and much more a political materialist. I’m not ready to review this book yet, but I wanted to note one thing: I came away from Peter Turchin’s “Ultra society” pondering the thought that the only way to get altruism within a group is to have that group in competition (war) with others. This books makes clear that the situation is much more complex, with such A brief comment on a book that impressed me a good deal. It, along with some other recent reading has made me much less a political idealist and much more a political materialist. I’m not ready to review this book yet, but I wanted to note one thing: I came away from Peter Turchin’s “Ultra society” pondering the thought that the only way to get altruism within a group is to have that group in competition (war) with others. This books makes clear that the situation is much more complex, with such phenomena emerging even within a single group, certainly due to groups taking advantage of others’ self-destructive behaviours, and (very important) the movement of behaviours between groups.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ke Li Yew

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. .

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Mishap

    A dual purpose intent: to provide a beginning guide to the concept and to firmly establish multilevel evolution as the accepted way to discuss/study altruism. While published as simple introduction, this is not a book for general readers. Some understanding of the scientific method, evolution, and experience reading academic books is required. Indeed, half the book is spent establishing multilevel selection (in group versus between groups) and how it applies here. The second half looks at altruis A dual purpose intent: to provide a beginning guide to the concept and to firmly establish multilevel evolution as the accepted way to discuss/study altruism. While published as simple introduction, this is not a book for general readers. Some understanding of the scientific method, evolution, and experience reading academic books is required. Indeed, half the book is spent establishing multilevel selection (in group versus between groups) and how it applies here. The second half looks at altruism within everyday life, religion, and even how altruism can be pathological. He states repeatedly that the histroy of science is full of thought-altering discoveries/proofs that seem obvious to us know and the fact that altruism exists and is subject to evolutionary pressures is one such sea-change. He floats the idea that society can be directed for positive change but only with scientific guidelines through evolutionary theory and study--smacks of the downside of the sciences: hubris and even delusions of grandeur. For instance, he and some other researchers/experts designed a "school within a school" for students in the 8th and 9th grades who were failing. Studies showed that most of these students drop out of high school. So, they designed a school for them but randomly chose only half the at-risk students for inclusion. The other half were the control group and got no help--even though everyone knew if they didn't get help they would drop out! Sure, the school wasn't proven yet (it benefitted the students in the end), but I find this inexcusable. The scientific need to have a control group meant they let those kids fail and drop out just for comparison sake.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Roberta Gibson

    David Sloan Wilson defines altruism as an intentional act that improves the welfare of others at a cost to, or at least no benefit to, the actor. After introducing the ideas of superorganisms and group-level selection, Wilson quickly determines that altruism does indeed exist, but that it is a group-level rather than individual-level phenomenon. He also takes studying altruism to a new place by separating the act of altruism from any apparent motivations for acting (a necessarily murky area). He David Sloan Wilson defines altruism as an intentional act that improves the welfare of others at a cost to, or at least no benefit to, the actor. After introducing the ideas of superorganisms and group-level selection, Wilson quickly determines that altruism does indeed exist, but that it is a group-level rather than individual-level phenomenon. He also takes studying altruism to a new place by separating the act of altruism from any apparent motivations for acting (a necessarily murky area). He then looks for examples of how this works in religion, in economics, and in communities. He reveals that altruism can at times be pathological, for example in cases of co-dependency. In the final chapter on "Planetary Altruism," Wilson moves into the realm of group-level functions at the level of the world as a whole. As the author points out in the introduction, this slim volume is the first in a series of "short books on big questions" being published by Templeton Press and Yale University Press. In this case size does matter, which may be frustrating to those who want more than a concise (read narrow?) overview of the topic. Years of thought and research, or whole books are necessarily condensed into single paragraphs, in fact sometimes even into single sentences. It all feels very much like the tip of a very big (and possibly unstable) iceberg. Because of its complexity and potential for controversy, Does Altruism Exist? should be read deeply and preferably discussed/debated with others.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Tom Roth

    Nice, short book about altruistic behaviour. However, some scientific background is necessary to understand the arguments in this book, and some knowledge about evolution does help a lot to understand the book. Only problem of the book for me is that the distinction that Sloan Wilson makes at the start -the distinction altruism in terms of actions vs. altruism in terms of thought/feeling- disappears a little bit towards the end. Especially altruism in terms of thought/feelings remains problemati Nice, short book about altruistic behaviour. However, some scientific background is necessary to understand the arguments in this book, and some knowledge about evolution does help a lot to understand the book. Only problem of the book for me is that the distinction that Sloan Wilson makes at the start -the distinction altruism in terms of actions vs. altruism in terms of thought/feeling- disappears a little bit towards the end. Especially altruism in terms of thought/feelings remains problematic to explain in an evolutionary context, and the fact that Sloan Wilson only explains this by making a distinction between proximate and ultimate causes is not satisfying, because it still doesn't explain the origin of psychological altruism very well. However, I really do enjoy the fact that Sloan Wilson tries to apply evolutionary principles in other fields, such as economics, religious studies and education. This yields interesting interdisciplinary subjects with suprising results. Also, I like the fact that Sloan Wilson proposes to take multilevel selection seriously, especially in the case of human evolution.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Deepthi Vure

    The chapter altruism and religion was really eye opening for me. The idea of super organism to me is as revolutionary as the theory of evolution. Hope and pray thinkers like David Wilson get their much deserved popularity and attention.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Charles Ruddock

    Really enjoyed "Does Altruism Exist". Few could explain a theoretical framework as eloquently and it's practical applications to create a better world then Wilson

  24. 5 out of 5

    Andre

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jacob

  26. 4 out of 5

    Monique Silva

  27. 5 out of 5

    Chris Beall

  28. 5 out of 5

    vida

  29. 5 out of 5

    John Sillings

  30. 4 out of 5

    Rich

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.