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Kilborne, B. (1989). The Problem of Altruism. Freudian-Darwinian Solutions: By C. R. Badcock. Oxford/New York. Oxford University Press, 1986. 206 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 58:317-320.

(1989). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 58:317-320

The Problem of Altruism. Freudian-Darwinian Solutions: By C. R. Badcock. Oxford/New York. Oxford University Press, 1986. 206 pp.

Review by:
Benjamin Kilborne

ALTRUISM AND AGGRESSION. BIOLOGICAL AND SOCIAL ORIGINS. Edited by Carolyn Zahn-Waxler, E. Mark Cummings, and Ronald Iannotti. Cambridge/London: Cambridge University Press, 1986. 337 pp.

It is a well-known fact that writers associated with the eighteenth century Scottish enlightenment, such as Malthus, influenced both Darwin and Spencer, and, as a result, were instrumental in the development of the theories of the survival of the fittest. Sociobiologists have recently focused on the question of what "the fittest" means, and have striven to refine prior arguments about the predominance of biology over culture—some would say of "nature" over culture—through a re-examination of the concept of altruism. E. O. Wilson defined altruism as "the central problem of sociobiology" (quoted in Badcock, p. 18). The debate over selfish genes and altruistic kin has led C. R. Badcock, in The Problem of Altruism, to elaborate an ambitious theory which claims to synthesize Freud and Darwin and to provide a new sociobiological foundation for psychoanalytic ideas. This debate also gives rise to Altruism and Aggression: Biological and Social Origins, edited by Carolyn Zahn-Waxler, et al. Both books have in common the emphasis on a sociobiological argument for the value of altruism independent of any moral system. Altruism, so the argument goes, suits biological (and, by extension, psychological) needs.

This appears to be a reversal of the emphasis on aggression and selfishness which has generally characterized sociobiological positions in such books as The Selfish Gene. However, argue the authors of these two volumes, sociobiology has recently sought to establish firmer links with psychology, recognizing that it cannot do without theories of the mind (and/or brain). Interestingly enough, the case for altruism as the key problem for sociobiology has been made for some time.

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