Problems with Wilson's Ladder--Level 1

Level 1: IF a behavior maximizes fitness, THEN the behavior will exist in virtually all members of a group.

Pop sociobiology offers explanations of ecstacy at football games, forebearance in combat, and dominance displays in men, all in terms of maximizing fitness. However, the application of evolutionary principles may be overly hasty and unrigorous, not only when applied to humans, but even when applied to non-human animals. For example, one author (Orians, 1969) predicts that, in order to maximize fitness, virtually all swans, geese, and ducks should be polygynous. They are not. Therefore, the author introduces a new variable, high-latitude, and says that monogamy occurs only in high-latitude species. This conventionalist strategem comprises a theoretically degenerating problemshift (Lakatos, 1970).


Lakatos, I. (1970). Falsification and the methodology of scientific research programmes. In I. Lakatos & A. Musgrave (Eds.), Criticism and the growth of knowledge (pp. 91-195). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Orians, G. (1969). On the evolution of mating systems in birds and mammals. In T. Clutton-Brock & P. Harvey (Eds.), Readings in sociobiology. Freeman.

Last modified May 1998
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