Date: Sat, Aug 17, 2003
From: "Phil Roberts, Jr." 
Subject: Re: [evol-psych] Kin Selection vs. Group Selection?

Herbert Gintis wrote:

   > As I said in a previous posting, I refuse to
   > use the term "altruism" and its opposite "self-interest" in the way
   > biologists do. This is because there is no altruism in the biological
   > sense, so why waste a good word?

I don't understand this remark, Herb.

I agree there SHOULD be no biological altruism.  But that's light
years away from your claim that there simply IS no biological
altruism, particularly in the light of Dawkins' discovery of an
explanatory void (to be filled with memetics) in our naturalistic
understanding of human nature, and which certainly appears
to include lots of biological altruism (concern for the suffering
of animals, 9/11 terrorists and rescue workers, etc.) as I have
come to understand the concept:

     Unlike [Lorentz and Montagu], I think 'nature red in
     tooth and claw' sums up our modern understanding of
     natural selection admirably. (Dawkins).

   > I and my colleagues use "self regarding" and its opposite,
   > "altruistic," in the behavioral, observable way, applied to
   > phenotypes.

If I'm taking you too literally here, I apologize, but I'm one of
those lonely souls who thinks the tendency to equate 'behavioral' with
'observable' is more scientism than science if by that
you mean to exclude introspection, self reflection, etc. from the
mix, and has resulted in a grotesque underappreciation of the
centrality of self-esteem in everything we humans think and do,
at least to the extent that my own mind is not atypical.

   > If I save a baby from a burning building, at a risk to my life,
   > and then I disappear before being given a medal or being rewarded 
   > with piles of  money, I have committed an altruistic act.  Note 
   > also, that the word "self-interest" is ambiguous. If I get 
   > pleasure from helping old ladies across the street they way you 
   > do by eating caviar, my act is self-interested. But it is not 
   > self-regarding. Rather, it is prosocial, because it increases 
   > the payoff to group members. We call this altruistic, but only 
   > in the sense that it is prosocial.

Based on the assumption that man actually expends most of his effort and
energy on EMOTIONAL concerns (self-worth) rather than physical concerns,
I would say a better way of carving up this universe would be in terms
of a distinction between emotional selfishness and physical selfishness.
In particular, I don't like 'prosocial' because it too readily lends
itself to the conclusion that these tendencies are present in us
because they were biologically adaptive at the group level, making
it all the more difficult for those of us who regard most human
altrusim as maladaptive to get a word in edgewise:

     Even with qualifications regarding the possibility
     of group selection, the portrait of the biologically
     based social personality that emerges is one of
     predominantly self-serving opportunism, EVEN FOR THE
     MOST SOCIAL SPECIES, for all species in which
     there is genetic competition among the social co-
     operators, that is, where all members have the chance
     of parenthood (Donald Campbell).

                      Phil Roberts, Jr.

Why We Turned Out Like Captain Kirk Instead of Mr. Spock:
     The Psychodynamics of Genetic Indeterminism