Genetic and Cultural Evolution of Cooperation, edited by Peter Hammerstein. Cambridge: MIT Press. 2003. ISBN 0262083264, $45.00. 450 pages.
This book is about the emergence of cooperation, in different contexts from molecules to human societies. It is a collection of twenty-three interdisciplinary papers presented at a conference in Berlin in 2002, written by forty anthropologists, biologists, economists, and psychologists. The papers are organized into four groups, entitled "the role of cognition and emotion in cooperation," "markets and exploitation in mutualism and symbiosis," "genomic and intercellular cooperation," and "cooperation in human societies." Rather than referring to every essay, I shall direct my remarks at the four sections of the work and consider some highlights in each case.
The first section, on "the role of cognition and emotion in cooperation," offers a useful set of perspectives on the topic. Most notably, Daniel Fessler and Kevin Haley provide a rich discussion of several prominent human emotions such as love, gratitude, anger, envy, guilt, righteousness, and contempt, and they propose some reasons why they would have evolved in human societies. This points to a much richer view of human agency and intentionality than is found in the standard rational choice model, or in the account of human action driven simply by ideas and beliefs.
The second section, on "markets and exploitation in mutualism and symbiosis" is the least satisfactory in my view. Therein Samuel Bowles and Peter Hammerstein argue that traditional Walrasian formal models of markets, which refer to complete contracts enforceable at no cost, have limited use in biology. By contrast, modern "post-Walrasian" models of markets, which introduce incomplete contracting and limited information, have some application to biology. Be that as it may, neither Bowles, Hammerstein, nor any other authors of this section acknowledge that the potential transference of a formal model of a market, from the economic to the biological domain, does not mean that there actually are markets in the biological world. Models are of reality rather than being reality itself. As John R. Commons emphasized long...