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Evolution and Human BehaviorReview - Evolution and Human Behavior
Darwinian Perspectives on Human Nature: Second Edition
by John Cartwright
MIT Press, 2008
Review by Kamuran Godelek
Feb 17th 2009 (Volume 13, Issue 8)

Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection has been the subject to incommensurable controversy among scientists and philosophers alike, since the Darwinian revolution is both a scientific and philosophical revolution, and neither revolution could have occurred without the other. As Dennett (1996) accurately points out the fundamental core of contemporary Darwinism, the theory of DNA based reproduction and evolution, is now beyond dispute among scientists. Evolutionary psychology, on the other hand, occupies an important place in the contemporary discussions of Darwin in understanding and explaining human behavior. Darwinian ideas provide tools to illuminate how fundamental aspects of the way humans feel, think and interact derive from reproductive interests and an ultimate need for survival.

John Cartwright, a renowned scholar well known by his work on evolutionary psychology, genetics and animal behavior offers a well balanced approach to the subject of evolutionary approaches to human behavior in this revised and considerably expanded second edition volume. Darwinian Perspectives on Human Nature covers a wide range of topics from the emergence of Homo Sapiens as a species to contemporary issues such as familial relationships and conflict and cooperation, emotion, culture, insect avoidance, ethics and cognition and an evolutionary analysis of mental disorders. Cartwright, in this new edition expanded and updated the range and scope of the material on evolutionary biology, but his really valuable contribution in this volume is adding some new material on emotions, on cognition and reasoning and especially on ethics, thus bridging the scientific and philosophical aspects of the Darwinian revolution.

With a strongly held conviction "that science has a history and philosophy worthy of study and does not take place in social isolation" (p. xxiv), Cartwright arranges the material in seven comprehensive parts which contain historical, philosophical, psychological and sociological ramifications of the subject sandwiched between an introductory part on the fundamentals of the evolutionary approach and a concluding part on wider contexts.

Part I contains revised material from the first edition and deals with the history of the subject and its fundamental theoretical principles and insights. Part II is about human evolution and its consequences. Cartwright, in this part, deals with a crucial question of what factors led to the massive growth in brain size in hominin lineage.

In parts III through VII, he tackles with the applications and implications of evolutionary psychology and considers the psychological, sociological and historical implications of human evolution and its consequences. In Part III titled Cognition and Emotion, he adds a completely new chapter on emotions and expands the material on cognition and reasoning. The following part is titled Cooperation and Conflict where he explores both kin-directed human behavior in traditional and modern societies and also non-kin directed altruism. Since human mating behavior and mate choice is one of the most successful applications of evolutionary psychology, Part V solely is devoted to the investigation of these topics. Part V contains a chapter on incest avoidance and Westermarck effect which promises to explain why we choose not to mate with some individuals (and most notably our kin) in a thoroughly Darwinian fashion; this sets this book apart from most evolutionary psychology textbooks which pay little or no attention to the Westermarck effect.

Part VI is also new to this edition. It contains two chapters on evolutionary approach to mental disorders with the idea that evolutionary psychology can be used to account for both species-typical behavior and for occasions when mind ceases to function normally.

The last part of the book which is divided into two chapters one on evolution of culture and the other on ethics with the idea that "it is not scientifically credible that the origin of our moral convictions should lie outside the plane of human nature" (p. xxiv). Despite the traditional transcendentalist and rationalistic approaches to ethics, Darwinism seeks to understand ethical reasoning and moral behavior empirically, relating our moral sense to natural adaptations for group living.

What really sets this evolutionary psychology textbook from most other textbooks is Cartwright's unique style of dealing with these issues. In this work, he obviously tries to convey to the reader the web of complementarity that exists between genetics, evolutionary biology, anthropology, behavioral ecology and the study of the human mind.

This is a discussion of Darwin's evolutionary theory and contemporary evolutionary psychology that is exemplary in its presentation of ideas crucial to our understanding of ourselves. While its writing style is very informative as many ideas are drawn from highly complicated sources of evolutionary theory, biology, cognitive science, anthropology, psychology, sociology and philosophy, it is quite interesting and intelligible even to a lay person. I heartily recommend this book to anyone who wants to have a deeper understanding of the Darwinian perspectives on human nature. Students of psychology, human biology and physical and cultural anthropology will also find Evolution and Human Behavior a comprehensive textbook of great value.  

© 2009 Kamuran Godelek

Kamuran Godelek (Assoc. Prof. Dr.), Mersin University, School of Arts and Sciences, Department of Philosophy, Ciftlikkoy, Mersin, Turkey


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