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Ant 50: Short Description

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Anthropology 50
Evolution of Human Nature (4 units)

Prof. Bruce Winterhalder

Short Description

Dogs (not chimps) most like humans (MSNBC, 26 Mar 2009)
The pill makes women pick bad mates (MSNBC, 13 Aug 2008)
Altruistic' brain region found (BBC News, 1 Jan 2007)
Women aroused by male sweat (Reuters, 8 Feb 2007)
Roots of altruism show in babies' helping hands (AP, 2 Mar 2006)
Experts ponder which comes first: love or marriage (Sac Bee, June 2003)
Is God an accident [an evolutionary by-product]? (Atlantic Monthly, Dec 2005)

Are there commonalities running through our diversity as a species, evolved characteristics that we can identify as human nature? If so, what are they? And, what are the implications, if any, for our behavior? In broad form these questions are posed in each of the popular articles cited above.

ANT 50 asks what we can learn about ourselves by adopting a Darwinian form of analysis. The organization of the course is partly historical. We will begin in the mid-19th century with Darwin and his contemporaries, trace our topic through social darwinism at the beginning of the 20th century, and then examine the recent florescence of the evolutionary study of human behavior. 

The course organization also is partly topical. Among the subjects we will take up are: non-human primate precursors, incest, polygamy, sexual selection, parental investment, life history traits (e.g., menopause), honesty and deception, Machiavellian intelligence, language origins, religion, sexual behavior, gender and mate choice, parent-offspring conflict, competition and altruism, jealousy, eugenics and social darwinism. 

These subjects have been as controversial as they are enduring and fascinating. Biological accounts of humanity are said by some to be reductionist and to seriously understate the role of nurture, socialization and learning in the formation of human societies. We will have to grapple with this critique. What we believe about our nature helps to shape it by establishing our sense of possibilities and limitations. Such ideas are both public and intensely personal.

Our texts will be:

Cartwright, John. 2000. Evolution and Human Behavior: Darwinian Perspectives on Human Nature. Cambridge: MIT Press.

de Waal, Franz. 2005. Our Inner Ape: Power, Sex, Violence, Kindness, and the Evolution of Human Nature. New York: Penguin Group.

Wolf, A. P., and W. H. Durham (eds.). 2005. Inbreeding, Incest and the Incest Taboo: The State of Knowledge at the Turn of the Century. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

Please get in touch with me if you have questions about the course or enrollment permission