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Darwin-L Message Log 2:37 (October 1993)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

Note: Additional publications on evolution and the historical sciences by the Darwin-L list owner are available on SSRN.


<2:37>From LANGDON@GANDLF.UINDY.EDU  Fri Oct  8 11:54:50 1993

Date: Fri, 8 Oct 1993 11:54:50 -0500
From: "JOHN LANGDON"  <LANGDON@GANDLF.UINDY.EDU>
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: Re: altruism?

Someone asked what altruism is.

Altruism in the dictionary means a regard and attention for others over self.
In sociobiology, it refers to actions that one performs for the apparent
benefit to others and at a cost to oneself. The problem: natural selection is
expected to work against any individuals with such tendencies, favoring the
beneficiaries over the giver. Nonetheless altruistic acts are observed with
surprising frequency among both human and non-human societies.

Sociobiology really got off the ground on this topic, with its notions of
inclusive fitness and the need to incorporate degree of relatedness (or genetic
similarity) into any calculation of cost and benefit. The "solutions" to the
biological problem lie in analyzing the contexts of altruistic acts and
deomonstrating (or at least hypothesizing) that the actions in question
actually benefit the genes (inclusively defined) of the altruistic individual
more than they cost him or her-- in other words, demonstrating that the acts
are not really altruistic after all.

The quality and detail of the arguments must be understood in the context of
each case. Some of these sociobiological models, such as for ants and bees, are
quite convincing. Others, such as for human behavior, often require conjecture
amounting, in my opinion, leaps of faith.

JOHN H. LANGDON      email LANGDON@GANDLF.UINDY.EDU
DEPARTMENT OF BIOLOGY    FAX  (317) 788-3569
UNIVERSITY OF INDIANAPOLIS   PHONE (317) 788-3447
INDIANAPOLIS, IN 46227

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