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University of Oregon

ICDS Member, Tom Givón To Give Talk

APRIL 5, 2017


T. Givón
I was recently asked this question by a Quaker friend, and before I knew it I was pressed into giving
a lecture on a subject that is, surely, not my field of expertise. I was, of course, vaguely familiar with
some of the more recent post-Darwinian evolutionary discussion. But I thought it would be fun to
trace the history of the topic as far back as the written records would go. Whereby it turned out that
the question has always been folded into the more general discussion of “Is human morality
natural and innate, or an artifice of culture, convention, law and training?” The first 2/3 of the
paper is thus a historical survey, a reader really, from Genesis to Jesus to the Classics to the Church
to the Enlightenment to Darwin. Till Adam Smith and Charles Darwin, all great thinkers seemed
compelled to answer the question with either “yes” or “no” (with some inevitable hedging). Both
Smith and Darwin recognized the complexity of the issue–and of human nature–and refused to
give a clean reductive answer. Which turns out to have presaged the answers emerging out of the
more recent empirical work in evolutionary bio-anthro-psychology. Most relevant to the complex
recent evolutionary synthesis is the distinction between individual selection and group selection;
and the recognition that–contra Hamilton and Trivers–the latter is not simply an automatic
derivation from the former, but that social species are, rather, of a dual nature, both selfish/warlike
and empathic/cooperative, depending on the context.

For download of the complete paper go here.