Biology and Freedom

Biology and Freedom : An Essay on the Implications of Human Ethology

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Biology and Freedom, first published in 1989, is an essay on human nature: an attempt to make a just assessment of a species often presented as predominantly and unavoidably violent, grasping, selfish and stupid. Likening human beings to animals is a traditional method of influencing attitudes on morals and politics. But in this book Professor Barnett shows that modern ethology, experimental psychology, genetics and evolutionary theory give the now fashionable misanthropy no authentic support. In doing so he asks whether the theory of evolution has any bearing on Machiavellianism in politics or the concept of original sin; and whether laboratory experiments on the effects of reward and punishment tell us anything about the enigma of free will. Combining the findings of biology with logic and humour, Professor Barnett gives a lucid alternative portrait of humanity in which he stresses the questions that the complexities of human existence will raise long after current myths have faded. This book is for all interested in human nature and the future of human society.
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Product details

  • Electronic book text
  • Cambridge University Press (Virtual Publishing)
  • Cambridge, United Kingdom
  • 1139242474
  • 9781139242479

Review quote

"[Biology and Freedom] goes beyond the mere debunking of certain popular biologistic follies, to offer instead a vision of a humanity set free by our very biological situation...Barnett remains unshakeably a progressive." Nature "The importance of Barnett's book is that it was written by a practising scientist who fully accepts the role of reductionism in science. His main message is an indictment of the techniques and results of scientific reductionism as tools for use in social engineering and to explain (or, rather, to explain away) those instincts of ethics and morality in persons and communitites which could be called the art of living. Lord Eric Ashby "Every reader will admire the breadth of Barnett's scholarship." Robert Hinde, MRC Unit on the Development and Integration of Behavior "The book are a whole is an eloquent plea for the humanness and humaness of human beings. It is accessible to the general reader and enjoyable for its gracefulness of style and liberal use of literary and historical references."--Bioscience
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Table of contents

List of illustrations; Preface; Acknowledgements; Part I. An Introduction: 1. Four portraits; 2. The pessimistic tradition; 3. Animals and analogy; Part II. Homo Pugnax: The Violent Species: 4. Communication and instinct; 5. The aggression labyrinth; Part III. Homo Egoisticus: The Selfish Species: 6. Evolution and natural selection; 7. Environment and heredity; 8. Stories of human evolution; 9. Darwinism, genetics and politics; Part IV. Homo Operans: The Greedy Species: 10. Conditioning and improvisation; 11. Work and play; Part V. Homo Sapiens: The Human Species: 12. The reductionist imperative; 13. Human communication; 14. Teaching and tradition; 15. The question; Glossary; Notes; References; Name index; Subject index.
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