Since Gintis is a senior economist and I have read some of his previous books with interest, I was expecting some more insights into behavior. Sadly, he makes the dead hands of group selection and phenomenology into the centerpieces of his theories of behavior, and this largely invalidates the work. Worse, since he shows such bad judgement here, it calls into question all his previous work. The attempt to resurrect group selection by his friends at Harvard, Nowak and Wilson, a few years ago was one of the major scandals in biology in the last decade, and I have recounted the sad story in my article ‘Altruism, Jesus and the End of the World—how the Templeton Foundation bought a Harvard Professorship and attacked Evolution, Rationality and Civilization -- A review of E.O. Wilson 'The Social Conquest of Earth' (2012) and Nowak and Highfield ‘SuperCooperators’ (2012).’ Unlike Nowak, Gintis does not seem to be motivated by religious fanaticism, but by the strong desire to generate an alternative to the grim realities of human nature, made easy by the (near universal) lack of understanding of basic human biology and blank slateism of behavioral scientists, other academics, and the general public.
Gintis rightly attacks (as he has many times before) economists, sociologists and other behavioral scientists for not having a coherent framework to describe behavior. Of course, the framework needed to understand behavior is an evolutionary one. Unfortunately, he fails to provide one himself (according to his many critics and I concur), and the attempt to graft the rotten corpse of group selection onto whatever economic and psychological theories he has generated in his decades of work, merely invalidates his entire project.
Although Gintis makes a valiant effort to understand and explain the genetics, like Wilson and Nowak, he is far from an expert, and like them, the math just blinds him to the biological impossibilities and of course this is the norm in science. As Wittgenstein famously noted on the first page of Culture and Value “There is no religious denomination in which the misuse of metaphysical expressions has been responsible for so much sin as it has in mathematics.”
It has always been crystal clear that a gene that causes behavior which decreases its own frequency cannot persist, but this is the core of the notion of group selection. Furthermore, it has been well known and often demonstrated that group selection just reduces to inclusive fitness (kin selection), which, as Dawkins has noted, is just another name for evolution by natural selection. Like Wilson, Gintis has worked in this arena for about 50 years and still has not grasped it, but after the scandal broke, it took me only 3 days to find, read and understand the most relevant professional work, as detailed in my article. It is mind boggling to realize that Gintis and Wilson were unable to accomplish this in nearly half a century.
I discuss the errors of group selection and phenomenology that are the norm in academia as special cases of the near universal failure to understand human nature that are destroying America and the world.
Those wishing a comprehensive up to date framework for human behavior from the modern two systems view may consult my book ‘The Logical Structure of Philosophy, Psychology, Mind and Language in Ludwig Wittgenstein and John Searle’ 2nd ed (2019). Those interested in more of my writings may see ‘Talking Monkeys--Philosophy, Psychology, Science, Religion and Politics on a Doomed Planet--Articles and Reviews 2006-2019 3rd ed (2019), The Logical Structure of Human Behavior (2019), and Suicidal Utopian Delusions in the 21st Century 4th ed (2019)