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Human Altruism

To the author of "So Cleverly Kind an Animal" the only legitimate explanation of why human beings are altruistic is found in genetics, and specifically in "kin selection." Kin selection is a theory which refutes the Darwinian argument that "Individual advantage . . . is the only criterion of success in nature" (261). However, countering Darwin in actual human experience is activity which includes giving one's life for another. Kin selection is used by the author to expand human activity to include and explain altruism---actions which are not merely advantageous to the individual. However, along with Darwin, the author sees as legitimate explanations for human behavior only those theories which are based on genetics. He argues that altruism is genetically caused and is advantageous not to the individual but to the species. As the author writes, "Kin selection . . . seems to explain the key features of social behavior in ants, bees, and wasps" (265). That is, it explains why these insects behave in ways which are non-advantageous to themselves as individuals, but advantageous to the species. The author asks how kin selection might explain human altruism:

How can it help us understand the contradictory amalgam of impulses toward selfishness and altruism that form our own personalities. . . . Our altruistic tendencies . . . may have arisen by the same Darwinian route via kin selection. Basic human kindness may be as 'animal' as human nastiness" (265-266).

The author says kin selection gives us a genetic explanation which could replace Freud's argument that we suppress out selfishness only in order to have order in civilization. Everything the author writes aims at explaining altruism in biological rather than sociological or psychological terms, which he sees as less scientific and more arbitrary than genetics. At the same time, he concedes that social and other non-genetic factors---"upbringing, culture, class, status, and all the...

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Human Altruism. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 10:16, August 08, 2020, from