Front Page Titles (by Subject) Sociobiology\'s Program and Weaknesses - Literature of Liberty, April/June 1979, vol. 2, No. 2
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Sociobiology's Program and Weaknesses - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, April/June 1979, vol. 2, No. 2 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Sociobiology's Program and Weaknesses
“Sociobiology and Its Critics.” Commentary 68 (July 1979): 39–47.
Although the present development of sociobiology has caused some debate in academic circles, many of the ideas go back to the Greeks and were based on common sense. “The discipline carries the implication that mankind's social institutions and mores are the product not simply of tradition, historical accident, ideology, or the machinations of ruling classes, but of dispositions and drives of the human animal that have developed in the process of biological evolution and belong to the species' genetic heritage.”
Perhaps the basic book is Edward O. Wilson's Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (1975). In Wilson's view, sociobiology seeks to bring the insights of Darwinian theory to a new level of comprehensiveness and precision. But this is a call for something not yet in existence. Though less extreme than the statements of Konrad Lorenz or Robert Ardrey in making pronouncements about contemporary political and social problems, Wilson must also bear some of the blame for the criticism along these lines which have come his way.
Sociobiology's core doctrine, in Wilson's approach, is a program to unify biology, the social sciences, and the humanities. It is based on a classic form of philosophical materialism and is joined to what used to be called “evolutionary ethics.” These doctrines go back to such atomists as Democritus and Lucretius, but Wilson's scientific materialism is of a special kind. Wilson espouses the traditional form of reductive materialism, although he veers away from some of its consequences and thereby adds to the confusion. Wilson believes his ideas are “more radical in their implications, and more contrary to views that are widely held, because he reads a meaning into them which, in my opinion, they do not and cannot have.”
A major reason biology cannot be unified into such disciplines as the humanities, is because those studies use terms (such as love, hate, and envy) that cannot be dealt with adequately in science. “I am not persuaded that his own version of evolutionary ethics is an improvement over nineteenth-century versions.”
Many of Wilson's terms such as “Altruism” have little cash value when applied to the insect world. Wilson is most vague and guarded when he comes near to what should be the basic question concerning sociobiologists: “what proportion of human behavior is physiological and genetic in its causes? How much of what we commonly explain as a product of history and convention, like monogamous marriage, private property, or organized warfare, is in reality bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh, and not subject to change except with extraordinary effort and unpredictable consequences?” Often on these contemporary questions Wilson's answers, such as they are, are rather conventional but in “biological wrappings.”
What caused the major debate after Darwin was the notion that evolution was a process with no preordained end, a profoundly anti-teleological idea. This disturbed even Darwin. One would hope that as an emerging new area of scientific inquiry sociobiology will in the future offer more insight into this fundamental question than has thus far been the case.