The Biological Character of Social Theory

Authored by: Alexander Rosenberg

Handbook on Evolution and Society

Print publication date:  January  2015
Online publication date:  November  2015

Print ISBN: 9781612058146
eBook ISBN: 9781315634203
Adobe ISBN: 9781317258339


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This chapter argues that all social sciences need to take seriously their status as divisions of biology, and that, as such, they need to recognize the central role of Darwinian processes in all the phenomena they seek to explain. The argument is formulated in terms of a small number of relatively precise premises that focus on the nature of the kinds and taxonomies of all the social sciences. The analytical taxonomy of the social sciences is shown to require a Darwinian approach to human affairs, though not a nativist or genetically driven framework. The fundamental role of Darwinian processes in human cultural evolution establishes limitations on the explanatory aspirations of alternative theories in the social sciences, including especially rational choice theory, the currently most fashionable explanatory approach in several social and behavioral sciences. An apparently widespread objection to a biological approach to human affairs proceeds from the denial that there are "replicators," and in particular "memes," in human affairs. This objection is shown to be misdirected. The chapter goes on to expound a general account of how Darwinian processes operate in human affairs by selecting for strategies and sets of strategies humans employ. The last section shows how a great deal of social science can be organized in accordance with Tinbergen's approach to biological inquiry, an approach required by the fact that the social sciences are all divisions of biology and in particular the studies of one particular biological species.

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