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The University of Sussex: mixing the arts and sciences


The Sociobiology controversy: The Marxist reaction
John Maynard Smith Scientist
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As a Marxist, I knew the row was going to happen. In... the young Marx wrote a series of sort of sentences, sort of programme, called a Theses on Feuerbach, which is sort of... almost a summary of his later philosophical development. And one of the slogans in his list is: 'Man's being determines his consciousness.' That is to say, what Man thinks is determined by the society he lives in, his upbringing, his class, and so on. So religious, scientific, etcetera, beliefs, are just simply a reflection of the social upbringing of the individual. And that allows no place for... for genetics. So it was because of that contradiction that I knew that Marxists were going to be deeply hostile to what Wilson was saying. But yes, I mean, I do think that sociologists have been seriously in error in the degree to which they wanted to ignore genetics.

The late British biologist John Maynard Smith (1920-2004) is famous for applying game theory to the study of natural selection. At Eton College, inspired by the work of old Etonian JBS Haldane, Maynard Smith developed an interest in Darwinian evolutionary theory and mathematics. Then he entered University College London (UCL) to study fruit fly genetics under Haldane. In 1973 Maynard Smith formalised a central concept in game theory called the evolutionarily stable strategy (ESS). His ideas, presented in books such as 'Evolution and the Theory of Games', were enormously influential and led to a more rigorous scientific analysis and understanding of interactions between living things.

Listeners: Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins was educated at Oxford University and has taught zoology at the universities of California and Oxford. He is a fellow of New College, Oxford and the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. Dawkins is one of the leading thinkers in modern evolutionary biology. He is also one of the best read and most popular writers on the subject: his books about evolution and science include "The Selfish Gene", "The Extended Phenotype", "The Blind Watchmaker", "River Out of Eden", "Climbing Mount Improbable", and most recently, "Unweaving the Rainbow".

Tags: Theses on Feuerbach, EO Wilson

Duration: 1 minute, 4 seconds

Date story recorded: April 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008