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Title: A gene's eye vew : W.D. Hamilton, the science of society, and the new biology of enlightened self-interest, 1950-1990
Author: Swenson, Sarah A.
ISNI:       0000 0004 5346 0895
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2015
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W.D. Hamilton has been celebrated as the twentieth-century Darwin. His extension of evolutionary theory to explain social behaviours has been extensively documented. Current accounts, however, have often overlooked the extent to which his early research goals were tied to his desire to see that a better world was created through a scientific understanding of society. In fact, when his interests in humans, and especially his eugenic concerns, have been acknowledged, they have been distanced from his scientific achievements and treated separately. Using new sources to reexamine the development of Hamilton’s most famous idea, the theory of inclusive fitness, we may better understand how his perception of cultural upheaval shaped his reading of social behaviours as evolved characters following universal laws. Understanding this, we may see that however successful Hamilton was, he never realized his original dream, which was to devise a theory that would inform the human world, replacing religious and ideological beliefs. As he sought to solidify his career in the 1970s, he moved away from publicly disclosing his more controversial ideas. This meant that by the time the science of social behaviour inspired heated debates, he was almost always absolved from political critiques. Many assumed that his theory was derived from observations of insects, and his eugenic ideas were forgotten, ignored, or not understood. He was therefore well positioned to become the objective figurehead of a new discipline, sociobiology. This does not mean that his desire to understand society as the result of genetic laws subsided, and by placing inclusive fitness against its social and political background, we might reimagine its trajectory and its impact in new ways. We might also begin to see Hamilton not as an isolated scholar unengaged with society but as an individualist whose extra-scientific beliefs paralleled his scientific theories in meaningful ways.
Supervisor: Corsi, Pietro Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: History of science ; sociobiology ; inclusive fitness ; genetics ; evolution