On Human Nature

by Edward O. Wilson

Hardcover, 1978

Status

Available

Publication

Cambridge : Harvard University Press, 1978.

Description

Presents a philosophy based on sociobiological theory and applying the theory of natural selection to human society.

User reviews

LibraryThing member keylawk
The book reveals how different characteristics of humans and society are explained from the point of evolution. Wilson challenges the tabula raza concept and other prejudices and misconceptions about the nature-nurture debate. Evolution has left its traces on the characteristics which are the speciality of human species, for example sex for pleasure, generosity, altruism and worship. The book is Darwinian, not only in its use of evolution, but in its restraint in drawing conclusions before an enormous amount of research and data has been brought to beach. He brings biological thought into social sciences and humanities.… (more)
LibraryThing member gbsallery
Staggeringly good; the product of a formidable (ha!) intellect. Calm, lucid, and bold in scope, this work explains the earlier themes of Sociobiology, with particular impact on the "anti-discipline" of sociology. Well worth a read, if you are at all interested in the biological basis of morality (or more generally, culture).
LibraryThing member ppendharkar
The book is somewhat outdated and I disagree with Wilson here and there but overall a great book.
Love Wilson. He is a great scientist and an infectious author.
LibraryThing member RamiFaour
In Human Nature, E.O.Wilson presents the theory that the anti-discipline of biology is in fact 'social science'. In a relationship analogous to that between physics and chemistry, Wilson sees biology as providing the foundation upon which the social sciences can be built. Probing the nature of the human species will, Wilson holds, will enable us to understand the nature(thoughts, behaviors, etc) of humans under different circumstances. Having accomplished this, Wilson sees the next challenge in deciding which course of action the human race will choose, and what aspects of human nature to reinforce at the expense of others. Wilson goes on to deal with six issues, such as religion and altruism, outlining how biology can explain these issues(though acknowledging it's incompleteness) in a manner in line with the 'selfish gene' hypothesis.
Though Wilson's views are important, it nonetheless seems as if their fulfillment is still hypothetical. At the turn of the twenty first century, meteorological and ecological systems are still largely unpredictable, let alone malleable. As such, the complexity of the human organism first, and human society at large, seem to be out of reach for decades to come. Moreover, at the(hypothetical) time when society does acquire these skills, it is certain that those same people will be thinking about these same issues in a different way. Ultimately, only their decisions will matter.
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LibraryThing member WillWoods
If I could give this book six stars I would.
LibraryThing member setnahkt
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.
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