Sociobiology, Sex, and Science

By Harmon R. Holcomb III

Subjects: Philosophy
Series: SUNY series in Philosophy and Biology
Paperback : 9780791412602, 446 pages, January 1993
Hardcover : 9780791412596, 446 pages, January 1993

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents


PART I - The Quest for Explanatory Completeness

Chapter 1 - Theories as the Unit of Analysis

1. 1 On Assessing an Emerging Science

1. 2 Explanatory Completeness

1. 3 Explaining Sexual Selection: Theory and Data

1. 4 Standards of Evidence and Human Nature

Chapter 2 - Research Programs as the Unit of Analysis

2. 1 The Unfalsifiability of Adaptationism

2. 2 Sexist Sexual Hypotheses

2. 3 Progress and Reductionism

2. 4 Gene-Culture Programs

2. 5 Empirical and Conceptual Problem Solving

PART II - Conceptual Frameworks as the Unit of Analysis

Chapter 3 - Problem Conceptualization

3. 1 The Modern Synthesis and the New Synthesis

3. 2 The Altruism Problem

3. 3 The Units/Levels of Selection Problem

Chapter 4 - Domain Conceptualization

4. 1 Expanding the Evolutionary Domain

4. 2 Morality as an Evolved Phenomenon

4. 3 Biological Determinism and Human Nature

Chapter 5 - Discipline Conceptualization

5. 1 Ideals of Evolutionary Explanation

5. 2 Evolutionary Change and the Life Cycle

5. 3 Evolved Functions

Chapter 6 - Performance Conceptualization

6. 1 Evaluative Perspectives

6. 2 Methodological Rules and Standards

6. 3 Evaluative Criteria and Units of Analysis




This book examines sociobiology's validity and significance, using the sociobiological theory of the evolution of mating and parenting as an example. It identifies and discusses the array of factors that determine sociobiology's effort to become a science, providing a rare, balanced account—more critical than that of its advocates and more constructive than that of its critics. It sees a role for sociobiology in changing the way we understand the goals of evolutionary biology, the proper way to evaluate emerging sciences, and the deep structure of scientific theories.

The book's premise is that evolutionary biology would not be complete if it did not explain evolutionarily significant social facts about nonhumans and humans. It proposes that explanations should be evaluated in terms of their basis in underlying theories, research programs, and conceptual frameworks.

Harmon R. Holcomb IIIis Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Kentucky, Lexington.


"Holcomb is now clearly the leading authority on sociobiology among philosophers of science. The book is non-polemical and non-ideological, thus making it far superior to Kitcher's earlier work, which it most resembles. Holcomb's aim is the promotion of science and new and better insights into the basis of science. He successfully uses human sociobiology as a research domain to investigate the nature of science, for which it is admirably suited. Sociobiology, Sex, and Science can and should be the standard reference on the subject. " — Edward O. Wilson, Harvard University