Group Selection Theory: BBS Call for Commentary

Stevan Harnad harnad at phoenix.Princeton.EDU
Mon Jan 17 21:20:32 EST 1994

Below is the abstract of a forthcoming target article by:

                David Sloan Wilson & Elliott Sober

This article has been accepted for publication in Behavioral and Brain
Sciences (BBS), an international, interdisciplinary journal providing
Open Peer Commentary on important and controversial current research in
the biobehavioral and cognitive sciences.

Commentators must be current BBS Associates or nominated by a current
BBS Associate. To be considered as a commentator for this article, to
suggest other appropriate commentators, or for information about how to
become a BBS Associate, please send email to:

harnad at clarity.princeton.edu  or harnad at pucc.bitnet        or write to:
BBS, 20 Nassau Street, #240, Princeton NJ 08542  [tel: 609-921-7771]

To help us put together a balanced list of commentators, please give
some indication of the aspects of the topic on which you would bring
your areas of expertise to bear if you were selected as a commentator.
An electronic draft of the full text is available for inspection by
anonymous ftp according to the instructions that follow after the abstract.


                David Sloan Wilson
                Department of Biological Sciences
                State University of New York at Binghamton
                Binghamton New York 13902-6000
                DWILSON at BINGVAXA.BitNet

                Elliott Sober
                Department of Philosophy
                University of Wisconsin
                5185 Helen C. White Hall
                600 North Park Street
                Madison Wisconsin 53706
                ESober at VMS.MACC.Wisc.edu

    KEYWORDS: culture; evolution; group selection; kin selection;
    inclusive fitness; natural selection; reciprocity; social
    organization; units of selection.

    ABSTRACT: In both biology and the human sciences, social groups are
    sometimes treated as adaptive units whose organization cannot be
    reduced to individual interactions. This group-level view is
    opposed by a more individualistic view that treats social
    organization as a byproduct of self-interest. According to
    biologists, group-level adaptations can evolve only by a process of
    natural selection at the group level. During the 1960's and 70's
    most biologists rejected group selection as an important
    evolutionary force but a positive literature began to grow during
    the 70's and is rapidly expanding today. We review this recent
    literature and its implications for human evolutionary biology. We
    show that the rejection of group selection was based on a misplaced
    emphasis on genes as "replicators" which is in fact irrelevant to
    the question of whether groups can be like individuals in their
    functional organization. The fundamental question is whether social
    groups and other higher-level entities can be "vehicles" of
    selection. When this elementary fact is recognized, group selection
    emerges as an important force in nature and ostensible
    alternatives, such as kin selection and reciprocity, reappear as
    special cases of group selection. The result is a unified theory of
    natural selection that operates on a nested hierarchy of units.

    The vehicle-based theory makes it clear that group selection is an
    important force to consider in human evolution. Humans can
    facultatively span the full range from self-interested individuals
    to "organs" of group-level "organisms." Human behavior not only
    reflects the balance between levels of selection but it can also
    alter the balance through the construction of social structures
    that have the effect of reducing fitness differences within groups,
    concentrating natural selection (and functional organization) at
    the group level.  These social structures and the cognitive
    abilities that produce them allow group selection to be important
    even among large groups of unrelated individuals.

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