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In Defence of Selfish Genes

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Philosophy, Vol. 56, No. 218. (Oct., 1981), pp. 556-573

I have been taken aback by the inexplicable hostility of Mary Midgley's assault.1 Some colleagues have advised me that such transparent spite is best ignored, but others warn that the venomous tone of her article may conceal the errors in its content. Indeed, we are in danger of assuming that nobody would dare to be so rude without taking the elementary precaution of being right in what she said. We may even bend over backwards to concede some of her points, simply in order to appear fair-minded when we deplore the way she made them. I deplore bad manners as strongly as anyone, but more importantly I shall show that Midgley has no good point to make. She seems not to understand biology or the way biologists use language. No doubt my ignorance would be just as obvious if I rushed headlong into her field of expertise, but I would then adopt a more diffident tone. As it is we are both in my corner, and it is hard for me not to regard the gloves as off. I will try to make my reply constructive, in the hope that it may interest those who have not read Midgley's article, as well as those who have. Unattributed quotations with page numbers will all be taken from her article. Since it was my book, The SelJish Gene (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976), which stimulated her attack, it will also be necessary for me to quote from it. I shall divide my reply into eight sections.

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TAGGED: COMMENTARY, RICHARD DAWKINS


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