Concept/Content biological determinism ("survival of the fittest"?) / fighting bears
Information caption Understanding how morality as a behavior is explained on multiple levels is valuable for correcting some widespread but misleading popular beliefs about evolution and culture. Many persons portray evolution as nothing more than a fiercely competitive "struggle for existence." They render nature and culture alike as governed by an unqualified "survival of the fittest." Such conclusions are based on the mistaken doctrine of biological determinism, the flawed assumption that all behavior reduces simply to genes (Gould 1981; Lewontin, Rose and Kamin 1984; Lewontin 1993; Rose 1997). Such a view disregards the relevance of learned behaviors at the psychological level and the regulation of behavior by interactions at the social level. Biological determinism fails by not acknowledging the role of emergence, the appearance of new dynamics at higher levels of organization (Holland 1998; Camazine et al 2001). Interactions at these levels may generate new relationships and new properties. They may create a system that functions on its own principles and can modify how component parts act. For example, social punishment limits individual "selfishness." Learning can disarm any genetically based defection. Psychology and sociology, as distinct fields, thus complement standard biology in studyng behavior. Namely, higher levels of organization limit reductionistic explanations of behavior.
Inquiry caption Natural selection is often described using the phrases "struggle for existence" and "survival of the fittest." What meanings and connotations are conveyed in these phrases? Can you identify other ways our culture portrays selfishness or ruthless competition as "natural" or inevitable? How might the widespread use of these images (and other expressions, such as "law of the jungle" or "dog-eat-dog world") affect popular perceptions about nature and about the propsect that human morality developed through evolution? How do these popular perceptions compare to current biological understanding of morality (on all three levels)?
For example, what is the role of: mutualisms between species, reciprocities among individuals within a species, and the potentials of open behavioral programs, innate sympathies, social networks of reciprocity, punishments and rewards, image scoring (or reputation), and social contexts?
Target Concept: Cultural images of nature, natural selection and evolution tend to bias how human morality is viewed in a naturalistic perspective.
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