Dowling College PHL 042 Spring 2003 Dr Christian Perring
Notes and Study Questions on Richard Dawkins
Dawkins tries to explain the way that society works by appealing to theories of human and animal evolution. This is called "sociobiology" or more recently, "evolutionary psychology." His hypothesis is that an individual is a selfish machine, "programmed to do whatever is best for his genes as a whole." This sort of approach to explaining human behavior has led to a great deal of controversy.
"Natural selection" is the process by which evolution works. It is sometimes called "survival of the fittest." The basic idea is that in each generation of a species, there is some genetic variation among the members of the species. The individuals best suited to a particular environment are the ones that will be able to reproduce most successfully, and so they will propogate themselves, while other individuals will be less successful, and they will have fewer offspring. After a number of generations, less successful genetic variants may even cease to exist altogether.
In this chapter, Dawkins discusses how animal aggression works. He explains that some species are in direct competition with each other for resources, while other species are not in direct competition. But even those species not in direct competition will have an impact on each other. He uses the example of moles and blackbirds.
· Why are moles and blackbirds not in direct competition with each other?
· Why might moles and blackbirds have an effect on each other in a rural environment?
· What feature of animal fighting was noted by Konrad Lorenz?
· Does Dawkins agree that animals are not as violent in their fighting as they could be?
· What kinds of costs does Dawkins say that outright pugnacity can have?
· What kinds of costs does Dawkins say that selective pugnacity can have?
· What conclusions does Dawkins draw about the effectiveness of aggression as a way of serving the interests of one's genes?
· Are the strategies Dawkin's discusses ones that the animal plans out consciously? If not, then how does an animal find a strategy?
· According to the evolutionary-stable strategy, what is the best strategy for an individual?