Sociobiology – A Philosophical Analysis


Sociobiology is the study of animal behaviour from an evolutionary perspective. It played a major role in Darwin's Origin of Species, but then lay undeveloped until the 1960s. It proved very controversial especially when applied to humankind, with social scientists and left‐wing biologists arguing that it was racist, sexist, unfalsifiable and untrue. Some of these criticisms were well taken but in recent years sociobiology, including the human application, is much more solid and defensible.

Key Concepts:

  • Charles Darwin with his theory of evolution through natural selection is the originator of sociobiology.

  • Key mechanisms for sociobiology include kin selection and reciprocal altruism, leading to evolutionary stable strategies.

  • Edward O. Wilson gave the definitive treatment of the topic in his Sociobiology: The New Synthesis.

  • Richard Dawkins popularised sociobiology with his talk of selfish genes, ideas opposed to group selection.

  • Sociobiology has been applied to humankind to explain such topics as step‐parenting.

Keywords: Charles Darwin; sociobiology; natural selection; fasifiability; sexism


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Further Reading

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Ruse M (2003) Darwinism and its Discontents. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Skyrms B (1998) Evolution of the Social Contract. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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Ruse, Michael(Sep 2014) Sociobiology – A Philosophical Analysis. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0003450.pub2]