Thesis ID: CBB416193584

The Blank(Ish) Slate: Biology's Return to Analyses of Human Affairs (2017)


Intellectuals today frequently incorporate biology into their analyses of human affairs. The fact that they do so is rarely acknowledged, much less questioned. However, when one learns the history of the relationship between biology and the social sciences, today’s casual use of, and often dependence on, biological factors becomes a mystery. In the early 1900s thinkers of all stripes looked to biology—specifically the evolution of human beings—for guidance. Then, after the horrors of the holocaust became clear, Western society rejected the notion of innate biological differences between people and championed instead the paradigm of behaviorism, or the notion that all human beings are “blank slates” upon which culture scripts its values and ideas. How, then, did it come to pass that biological thinking returned to analyses of humans? In this paper I argue that two evolutionary biologists, William Hamilton and Robert Trivers, relied upon the insights of population genetics to demonstrate the evolutionary logic of cooperation and sacrifice, and that in doing so they gave the emotional and political “green light” to reintroduce biology to various fields.

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Authors & Contributors
Emanuele Coco
Barbujani, Guido
Puar, Jaspar K.
Wade, Michael J.
Valles, Sean A.
Thompson, Paul
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Biology and Philosophy
Mefisto: Rivista di medicina, filosofia, storia
Revista Brasileira de Historia
Perspectives on Science
W.H. Freeman/Spektrum
University of Chicago Press
Duke University Press
University of Pennsylvania
Population genetics
Science and race
Hamilton, William Donald
Dobzhansky, Theodosius
Wynne-Edwards, Vero Copner
Penrose, Lionel
Mayr, Ernst
Time Periods
20th century
21st century
19th century
20th century, late
United States

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