Saturday, 14 April 2012

Review of The Cooperative Species

The Cooperative Species (Bowles and Gintis)
While it is quite mathematical and thus partly inaccessible to the lay reader (for whom I would recommend The Company of Strangers, which treads much of the same ground in a more accessible format), this book is an incredibly important work. The central thesis is twofold: that humans have social preferences as well as self-regarding ones (including punishing defectors even when this lowers their own payoff, maintaining reputation even in one-shot games and parochial attitudes to in-group members) and that human altruism evolved as a survival tool for the more violent pre-agricultural period. It is a fascinating book with broader consequences for how we perceive altruism (it helps to show the clear limits to the Folk Theorem, economic signalling and other explanations for altruistic endeavours). It is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in the science of human decision-making, but probably difficult for the non-specialist.

Dan Gibbons is a 3rd year Bachelor of Commerce (Economics) student at the University of Melbourne. He has a forthcoming publication in Intergraph: A Journal of Dialogic Anthropology (about memory and nationalism) and is currently submitting papers on the rise of modern consumerism, the role of criminology theory in literary criticism and the institutional theory of nationalism. Dan is a keen debater and public speaker.

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