Evolutionary theory tells us about our biological past; can it also guide us to a moral future? Paul Farber's compelling book describes a century-old philosophical hope held by many biologists, anthropologists, psychologists, and social thinkers: that universal ethical and social imperatives are built into human nature and can be discovered through knowledge of evolutionary theory.
Farber describes three upsurges of enthusiasm for evolutionary ethics. The first came in the early years of mid-nineteenth century evolutionary theories; the second in the 1920s and '30s, in the years after the cultural catastrophe of World War I; and the third arrived with the recent grand claims of sociobiology to offer a sound biological basis for a theory of human culture.
Unlike many who have written on evolutionary ethics, Farber considers the responses made by philosophers over the years. He maintains that their devastating criticisms have been forgotten—thus the history of evolutionary ethics is essentially one of oft-repeated philosophical mistakes.
Historians, scientists, social scientists, and anyone concerned about the elusive basis of selflessness, altruism, and morality will welcome Farber's enlightening book.
Paul Lawrence Farber is Distinguished Professor of the History of Science at Oregon State University, and author of books in both history of science and biology.