UO: R. C. Lewontin

Unto Others, a collaboration between Elliott Sober, one of the founders of the modern philosophy of biology, and David Sloan Wilson, one of the most creative theoreticians in evolutionary studies, wades into this turbulent stream [of evolutionary biology ideology] at precisely the point where so many other adventurers have been swept away: the problem of the origin of altruistic behavior…At first sight Unto Others appears to be a reformulation of the now orthodox view of the evolution of altruism. It is, however, a great deal more subversive than that, for, if its alternative scheme is taken seriously, evolutionary biologists should stop characterizing the process as one in which genes drive organisms to develop particular characteristics that maximize their fitness…Unto Others is precisely that combination of radical reexamination of a system of explanation, an examination from the roots, with a rigorous technical analysis of both biological and epistemological questions that we all are supposed to engage in. What marks off their intellectual production is not its ideology but the seriousness with which they have taken the intellectual project. The hinge of Sober and Wilson’s argument is a rejection of the prejudice that natural selection must operate directly solely on individuals. They point out that groups of organisms may also be the units of differential reproduction…A large part of Unto Others is taken up with a classic problem in philosophy and psychology that is analogous to the evolutionary question of whether the appearance of altruism at the individual level is really selfishness at the genic level. Is human altruism really egoism, or even pure hedonism, in disguise?…In the end, Sober and Wilson are entirely forthright in saying that they have consciously adopted a pluralistic perspective.”