Book Summary of the Use and Abuse of Biology

Topics: Anthropology, Sociology, Evolution Pages: 7 (2371 words) Published: November 20, 2005
Part 1

Marshall Sahlins is one of the most prominent American anthropologists of our time. He holds the title of Charles F. Grey Distinguished Service Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago where he presently teaches. Marshall Sahlins', The Use and Abuse of Biology, is an excellent text, which attacks both the logical errors of sociobiology and its ideological distortions. His work focuses on demonstrating the power that culture has to shape people's perceptions and actions and that culture has a unique power to motivate people, which is not derived from biology or for that matter any other of the natural sciences. In the text, The Use And Abuse of Biology, Sahlins reveals his true worries that culture can be usurped as an independent super-organism directing all human thought, emotion and behavior and this in turn undermines the prestige or importance of cultural anthropology (His early work focuses on debunking the idea of 'economically rational man'). Sahlins de-constructs the interpretation of human societies performed by certain of the most eminent individuals such as sociobiologists. He argues that certain elements of human nature and civilization cannot be reduced to biological principles. He argues that the importance of anthropology as a science must contribute to understand the variety and unity of human cultures

In the first part of the text, the inadequacies of sociobiology are presented. There is a critique of the vulgar sociobiology, (pp. ix-xv and 3-16). In The Use and Abuse of Biology the changes of evolutionary theory itself are discussed, Sahlins argues that the comprehension of "natural selection has been assimilated to the theory of social action, which is "characteristic of the competitive market-place" (pp. xiv). This vulgar sociobiology is defined as the explication of social behavior of the human organism who has drives and needs- and it is those factors, which have been built by human nature. Sahlins discusses isomorphism and anthropomorphism and he argues that the social behaviors of human's and non-human's are designated the same. Exploring the relations between warfare and human aggression, he argues that the human organism has any number of motivations and that human needs are mobilized.

However, one the most important concepts in the reading is culture. Culture plays an important role as the sociobiological reasoning from evolutionary phylogeny to social morphology is interrupted by culture. Culture is the central condition and humans interact in the context of this culture in a system of meanings. Sahlins examines concepts throughout the course of the text such as culture and offers a worthy critique of scientific sociobiology: he explores the significance of kinship in primitive societies maintaining that kinship is the dominant structure of many of the individuals that anthropologists in the past have studied. He discusses social action and argues that "the actual systems of kinship and concepts of heredity in human societies are true models for social action," (pp. 25). Kin selection is fully discussed and presented in a mathematical formula of cost-benefit form. Also these kinships are defined as genealogical connections

He also explains the cultural factors of descent and discusses the modality of kinship. These kinships are recognized by their behavior and genealogy is deduced from kinship. It is not only kinship, but once again a large portion of the reading has in its content the relationship of the organism in its culture. Sahlins also links culture to his own meaning of gravity. Culture is understood as an invention in nature and each stage in the life history of every species has to conform to gravity, within the limits of gravity every stage of every species has to develop.

The author discusses the cultural factors of descent and tells the reader of the modality of the kinship structure. He argues that "over time...

References: Davis, P., Sociobiology: Social Action, Harvard University Press, (1976).
Jones, P. Sociological Theory, New York, Basic Books, (1996).
McKinley J., Sociology & Biology, New York, Kingdom Press, (1987).
Metcalf, K., The Human Organism & Society, University of Michigan, (1975).
Zimmerman, S., Sociobiology and Reality, London, Lawrence & Wishart, (1985).
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