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On Human Nature (1978)

by Edward O. Wilson

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Sociobiology Trilogy (3)

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1,0291320,337 (4.08)26
In his new preface E. O. Wilson reflects on how he came to write this book: how The Insect Societies led him to write Sociobiology, and how the political and religious uproar that engulfed that book persuaded him to write another book that would better explain the relevance of biology to the understanding of human behavior.… (more)
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» See also 26 mentions

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2/28/22
  laplantelibrary | Feb 28, 2022 |
pretty interesting tying the social sciences back to the hard sciences like biology and genetics.

pretty bold proposal to think that a study of the genetics and Darwinian evolution will eventually be able to describe the human condition and our potential futures.

one thing he only briefly mentioned but got absolutely right was how the brain is the most amazing thing.
  royragsdale | Sep 22, 2021 |
Short, terse, concentrated and to the point without extraneous bullshit, florid language, personal anecdotes or dramatising. Joy to read. Unlike Jared Diamond not falling for wishful thinking and not afraid to touch on difficult topics - although writing this a few decades ago didn't carry the same kinds of risks as it does today. ( )
  Paul_S | Dec 23, 2020 |
If you are interested in thinking about human nature from the perspective of biology (or sociobiology, as Wilson defends), this is one of the books where you should start. Though a bit dated (understandably, for it was published in 1978), the discussion started with this book (or openly stated with its publication) is still very contemporary, for there is still a huge gap between the so-called Human Sciences (with its many socio studies varieties) and its more mythical (or ideological) premises, and the hard sciences, that fully accept (or to a great extent) the evolutionary theory as the basis for their work and understanding.

What Wilson wants with this book is to make the biological knowledge as the basis for all social sciences, as it is already happening in many fields (evolutionary psychology, behavioral economics, etc.). If you are already acquainted with the history of the evolution (almost a pun) of the social sciences at large, probably this book with look a bit quaint, since it misses (again, understandably) many of the subtleties of the contemporary discussions around these problems. However, if you, like me, do not have such a thorough knowledge about these issues, this book comes very handy, as it serves as a good introduction to the historical development, as well as to the scientific basis, to the problematic leading to Wilson's sociobiological proposal. ( )
1 vote adsicuidade | Sep 8, 2018 |
Recently reissued for the 25th anniversary of its publication, Edward O. Wilson’s On Human Nature doesn’t wear that well. The main problem is that this isn’t a scientific work; it’s philosophy. Wilson seems to be attempting to write a kinder, gentler exposition of Sociobiology for the “intellectual” crowd (subtly echoing C.P. Snow’s complaint that, inexplicably, scientists are not considered “intellectuals”). It doesn’t really work. Wilson forgoes rigor for anecdotes, possibly feeling that they will be more accessible; thus we have various accounts of behavior among hunter-gatherer tribes, insect societies, and other social animals and how this is explained by natural selection. The catch here is that while a rigorous mathematical treatment can only be disproved by more mathematics, an anecdote can be dismissed by another anecdote. Wilson, in fact, gives an example – when he talked about altruism in Sociobiology one of his critics immediately came up with “How do you explain Mother Teresa?”. In On Human Nature he answers that criticism with a discussion of the fitness value of religious belief; a better counter would have been “Statistics”.


Wilson discusses aggression, sexuality, altruism and religion but only with various “just so stories”; they are all perfectly plausible but are unlikely to convince anybody who needs convincing. While he’s a literate and engaging writer, if you’re seriously interested in this sort of thing you’re better off with Dawkins or Pinker. ( )
1 vote setnahkt | Dec 16, 2017 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Edward O. Wilsonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Barrett, JoeNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Epigraph
What though these reasonings concerning human nature seem abstract ad of difficult comprehension, this affords no presumption of their falsehood. On the contrary, it seems impossible that what has hitherto escaped so many wise and profound philosophers can be very obvious and easy. And whatever pains these researches may cost us, we may think ourselves sufficiently rewarded, not only in point of profit but of pleasure, if, by that means, we can make any addition to our stock of knowledge in subjects of such unspeakable importance.
Hume, An Inquiry Concerning
Human Understanding
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Preface -- On Human Nature is the third book in a trilogy that unfolded without my being consciously aware of any logical sequences until it was nearly finished.
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Our intimate social groupings contain on the order of ten to one hundred adults, never just two, as in most birds and marmosets, or up to thousands, as in many kinds of fishes and insects.
(p. 20)
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In his new preface E. O. Wilson reflects on how he came to write this book: how The Insect Societies led him to write Sociobiology, and how the political and religious uproar that engulfed that book persuaded him to write another book that would better explain the relevance of biology to the understanding of human behavior.

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