That Complex Whole: Culture and the Evolution of Human Behavior

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Westview Press, Aug 13, 1999 - Social Science - 160 pages
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When evolutionary biology stretched out a tentacle called sociobiology and began to probe human behavior back in the 1970s, there was no room for neutrality. Advocates of the new science hailed the dawn of a new era in our understanding of human behavior, while opponents wrung their hands with concern over the new field’s potential to transform and even destroy anthropology and other social and behavioral sciences. Twenty years later, little has changed. Anthropology and its sister disciplines are still intact and thriving, though they seldom make use of insights from evolutionary biology. Cultural anthropology in particular has recoiled from the biological threat by moving away from the sciences and toward the humanities. During that same time, a new generation of scholars in biological anthropology, psychology, and other fields has made great progress by using evolutionary theory to understand human behavior, applying it to everything from mating and parenting to the study of mental illness. The success of this research program is threatened, however, by its lack of a serious role for the concept of culture.That Complex Whole: Culture and the Evolution of Human Behavior is an effort to develop a scientific study of human behavior that is at once evolutionary and cultural. In a lively, readable style, it deals with such serious, scholarly issues as how to best define culture, the question of whether culture is present in other species, human universals and human diversity, the relationship between culture and behavior, and cultural and moral relativism. It covers existing models of the relationship between cultural and biological evolution, including the concept of the meme and the new science of memetics, as well as the author’s own work on the role of culture in human communications that draws upon the study of animal signals.

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Page 43 - If it could be proved that any part of the structure of any one species had been formed for the exclusive good of another species, it would annihilate my theory, for such could not have been produced through natural selection.
Page 3 - Tylor's definition, almost a century ago, that "culture, or civilization, is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society," innumerable definitions of culture have been formulated, but they all seem to be aimed at the same thing.
Page 39 - IN the animal ovum, as well as in the seed of a plant, we recognise a certain remarkable force, the source of growth, or increase in the mass, and of reproduction, or of supply of the matter consumed; a force in a state of rest. By the action of external influences, by impregnation, by the presence of air and moisture, the condition of static equilibrium...
Page 49 - Consequently, every time that a social phenomenon is directly explained by a psychological phenomenon, we may be sure that the explanation is false.
Page 17 - No practical biologist interested in sexual reproduction would be led to work out the detailed consequences experienced by organisms having three or more sexes; yet what else should he do if he wishes to understand why the sexes are, in fact, always two...
Page 70 - there is not a single system of marriage, postmarital residence, family organization, interpersonal kinship, or common descent in human societies that does not set up a different calculus of relationship and social action than is indicated by the principles of kin relation.' (Sahlins 1977: 26) Kinship institutions define who is and is not of the same 'kind...
Page 20 - Fofoa and I would pinch one another and say: 'We spend the nights with boys, yes, with boys!' She must have taken it seriously but I was only joking. As you know Samoan girls are terrific liars when it comes to joking. But Margaret accepted our trumped-up stories as though they were true. . . . We just fibbed and fibbed to...
Page 40 - Which of the following statements would be most likely to begin the paragraph immediately following the passage? (A) Wilson has raised a problem in ethical philosophy in order to characterize the essence of the discipline of sociobiology. (B) It may not be too much to say that sociology and the other social sciences are the last branches of biology waiting to be integrated into neo-Darwinist evolutionary theory.
Page 39 - Culture is a thing sui generis which can be explained only in terms of itself.
Page 40 - It may not be too much to say that sociology and the other social sciences, as well as the humanities, are the last branches of biology waiting to be included in the Modern Synthesis. One of the functions of sociobiology, then, is to reformulate the foundations of the social sciences in a way that draws these subjects into the Modern Synthesis.

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About the author (1999)

Lee Cronk is associate professor of anthropology at Rutgers University. He is the author of That Complex Whole (Westview Press, 1999).

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