The Theory of the Selfish Gene Applied to the Human Population

Advances in Anthropology 11 (3):179-200 (2021)
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In a study drawing from both evolutionary biology and the social sciences, evidence and argument is assembled in support of the comprehensive appli- cation of selfish gene theory to the human population. With a focus on genes giving rise to characteristically-human cooperation (“cooperative genes”) in- volving language and theory of mind, one may situate a whole range of pat- terned behaviour—including celibacy and even slavery—otherwise seeming to present insuperable difficulties. Crucially, the behaviour which tends to propa- gate the cooperative genes may be “at cost” to the genes of some who may be party to the cooperation itself. Explanatory insights are provided by Trivers’ parent-offspring conflict theory, Lack’s principle, and Hamilton’s kin selec- tion mechanism. A primary observation is that cooperation using language and theory of mind is itself interdependent with full human conceptualization of a world of objects and of themselves as embodied beings. Human capaci- ties inhering in, or arising out of, the ability to cooperate are also responsible for a vitally important long-term process, the domestication of animals and p- lants. The approach illuminates the difference between animal and human sexual behaviour, and the emergence of kinship systems. Again, recent pat- terns of population growth become much more explicable. It is argued that the gene is the single controlling replicator; the notion of the meme as a sec- ond independent replicator is flawed.

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Richard Startup
Swansea University


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