Dawkins Silenced
Retrospectives on Hayek

Biological Ethics

By Jonathan B. Wight

Following up on Dawkins, a friend just recommended Robert Sapolsky’s new book, Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst (2017). 

SapolskySapolsky is a neuroendocrinologist and professor of biology and other departments at Stanford.  Unlike Dawkins, who posits that greed is the only instinct that survives the evolutionary process, Sapolsky takes a more nuanced (and I think modern) approach to see humans as evolving along complex lines that entail empathic cooperation as well as competition.  

I obviously haven’t read the book yet but I did peruse its epilogue.  One quote immediately stood out, because it agrees with my preconceptions (and the way I teach economic development):

Biology

At various points when writing Ethics in Economics I joked to friends that in next thirty years, economics departments would be merging with biology and psych departments.  That seems to be where we are heading, and that would not be all a bad thing, except that the concept of “exogenous preferences” might disappear, as well as the concept of free will. 

Everything is always and everywhere about context, especially the social context:

Biology2

The key point--even as we continue to struggle along--is to be humble about what economists think we know about human behavior, and brave enough to leave our silos to find out what other disciplines have discovered while many economists have had their heads in the proverbial sandbox for the past century, playing only with other economists.  (Is that too harsh--certainly--but I'm not responsible!  It was my genes interacting with my environment that made me write it.  Blame Sapolsky!)

More later….

[Thanks to journalist and environmental author Stephen Nash for the link.]

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