What sorts of evolutionary accounts have there been of cooperation? Ridley starts off reporting on the work of a Russian anarchist, Prince Petr Kropotkin ([Kropotkin1902]), who argued based on examples of social insects and symbiosis that evolution may have provided us with an instinct to cooperate. Two of Kropotkin's principle arguments were wrong, but his conclusions appear to be correct. One of his arguments was wrong because it depended on ``group selection'' the now largely discredited view (pace [Wilson and Sober1994]) that evolution can select genes for organs or behaviors that are good for the group but bad for the individual by acting on the differential survival of groups and species. His other error was made because he couldn't then know what makes social insects special [Hamilton1964]. Both Ridley (chapter 1) and [Gould1991a] give Kropotkin a sympathetic hearing while also both pointing out his errors.
Work on cooperation and evolution over the past few decades has brought evolutionary thinking back to Kropotkin through the work of biologist and non-biologist alike. [Fisher1930] worked out much of the mathematics of gene based evolution; [Hamilton1964] applied this mathematics to something he called ``kin selection'' and showing exactly how cooperation in social insects works; [Trivers1971] described generally under what conditions ``reciprocal altruism'' might exist; [Dawkins1989] presented all this previous work to a wider audience; [Axelrod1984] showed that that reciprocal altruism may be more common than one first might think; [Gauthier1986] provided an argument (although flawed) for how cooperation could exist which is more optimistic than Axelrod's; [Frank1988] showed how human emotions may ``implement'' Axelrod's and Gauthier's models in human societies; [Brown1991] showed how universal of human culture may reflect these; and [Cosmides and Tooby1992] showed that certain aspects of human cognition may mediate an evolved cooperative nature. [Cronin1991] provides an intellectual history of these ideas. [Dennett1995] gives us an extremely thoughtful, thought provoking, beautifully written, and well researched account of what Darwinism must mean for the modern thinker. Although we disagree with Dennett's eventual defense of the SSSM, his discussion of these issues is the least clouded by the partisanship that has accompanied most of the other discussions.
These developments lend support to the EPers. Cooperation no longer needs to be explained away, it just needs to be explained. Although EP has gained some ground the universalist position remains highly viable.
The differences between universalism, weak EP and strong EP, while seeming to cover a large spectrum, are miniscule when compared to the differences between them and the SSSM. For much of the discussion that follows, the differences between three anti-SSSM positions is irrelevant. The strong EPers have been protesting the SSSM the loudest, so we will hear mostly from them. Although Ridley falls near the strong end of the continuum, the reader does not have to buy into strong EP to benefit from and enjoy the book.
Much of the work on cooperation in recent years has been extraordinarily interdisciplinary. Because the literature is filled with biologists writing for economists and economists writing for psychologists and psychologists writing for philosophers and philosophers writing for biologists, much of the work is highly readable by people without specialized training in the particular fields. Some of those involved are simply very good writers on their own merits.
The intelligence, brevity, wit and clarity of Ridley's book make it an outstanding place to start a venture into this area, but what it lacks is an annotated bibliography. It lacks a bibliography altogether! While we make no attempt to provide anything close to a full review of the various literatures that have been either discussing the SSSM or developing theories of human cooperation, we do wish to provide the reader with some reference to the principle works.