In recent years evolutionary biologists have shown much interest in the question of the levels at which natural selection can be said to operate (Lewontin 1970). Generally speaking, confining ourselves initially to the non-human world, it is probably true to say that although V.C.Wynne-Edwards in his Natural Regulation of Animal Numbers (1962) argued strongly for the wide-spread efficacy of some form of group selection, most evolutionists would agree with G.C.Williams’ reply, Adaptation and Natural Selection (1966), in which it was argued that essentially selection must start with the individual. Nevertheless, a number of studies have been aimed at showing how under certain circumstances selection could work at the group level. Hence, it is probably true to say that matters are not yet definitively settled, either theoretically or empirically. (See, for instance, Levins 1970, Boorman and Levitt 1972, 1973, and Wade 1978.)

The debate has been given added zest by the fact that the assumption that selection almost invariably centres on the individual is crucial to the theories and conclusions of the sociobiologists (those biologists interested in animal social behaviour). (See Wilson 1975a, Trivers 1971, 1972, 1974, Barash 1977, Alexander 1971, 1974, 1975, 1977a, 1977b, Dawkins 1976, Hull 1978a, Ruse 1977c, 1978, 1979b.)

Indeed, what the sociobiologists claim, as a major feature of their work distinguishing it from that of earlier students of the biology of animal behaviour, is that they alone make the right choice of individual over group selection. This in itself would hardly be a matter of great controversy; but since most of

the sociobiologists want to apply their theorizings from the animal world directly to the human world, inevitably there has been some rather heated discussion about whether one can properly use the notion of individual selection to explain the evolution and maintenance of all significant human behaviour. The critics of sociobiology feel that such an attempt leads to a reactionary distortion of human sociality, and they argue that other causes of human behaviour must be sought in explanation. (See Allen et al. 1975, 1976, 1977, Sahlins 1976.)

Of course, one does not have to be a supporter of some form of group selection in the non-human world to be a critic of human sociobiology. Nevertheless, some eminent biologists do fall into both categories, and moreover, I suspect they see important ideological links in their over critique of the all-sufficiency of individual selection. For instance, both Levins (1970) and Lewontin (1970) have allowed the possibility of group selection in certain special situations, they are both against sociobiology, and by their own admission they see the totality of their work as part of an overall Marxist-orientated biology (Lewontin and Levins 1976).