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The Origins of Virtue

really liked it 4.0  ·  Rating Details ·  2,657 Ratings  ·  88 Reviews
If evolution by natural selection relentlessly favors self-interest, why do human beings live in complex societies and show so much cooperative spirit? In The Origins of Virtue, Matt Ridley, a zoologist and former American editor of the Economist, shows that recent research in a number of fields has suggested a resolution of the apparent contradiction between self-interest ...more
Paperback, 295 pages
Published March 1st 1997 by Viking Penguin (first published 1997)
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May 28, 2011 Vasha7 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Origins of Virtue is a non-technical discussion of the evolutionary aspects of cooperation and altruism. That being an extremely complex subject (and still very much an active area of research), a short book like this can only skim the surface. Although I've read other books, magazine articles, and blog posts, there were some things here that were new to me. For example, the pair of chapters introducing game theory are better than other introductory articles I've seen, which (surprisingly) g ...more
Jan 27, 2009 Nicholas rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biology, philosophy
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 08, 2013 Ohr rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Solid in parts, sadly Ridley once again Allows his scientific reasoning and conclusions to be the servants of his a priori political beliefs
Veronika Cukrov
The author paints the human nature as white instead of grey as he carefully cherry picks biological data that is mostly based on animal and plant observations and concludes that humans only care about their genes, meaning any humanity's genes, not their own (!). This book would make a lot more sense if the author picked more observational data about humans and then concluded about their nature. We know humans are only partially good at cooperation for greater good and are often selfish, irration ...more
Hmmm, The Origins of Virtue is an interesting examination of the possible evolutionary causes of virtue, mostly defined here as altruism. It works quite well as a supplement that falls somewhere in between three of my current classes on Coursera: one with an anthropological bent, one largely genetic, and one about morality. It draws some of those themes together quite well, for me, and explains some of the studies -- and some of the pitfalls of the studies, and wishful thinking.

It's also pretty
Steven Peterson
Dec 10, 2009 Steven Peterson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book opens with a daring jail break. The story notes that the person escaping the grim Russian prison is, in fact, a member of the nobility, one of the Czar's favorites when the escapee was much younger. The person breaking out, of course, is Peter Kropotkin, the anarchist prince. However, it is not his philosophy so much as his work in natural history that drew Matt Ridley's attention.

Kropotkin, on an exploration of Siberia, observed what he saw was cooperation among multitudinous animal s
Oct 01, 2013 Paul rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating and wide-ranging exploration of human nature, and how it has evolved biologically and culturally. It’s mostly a happy story – as a species we are cooperative, social, sharing, trading and we divide the labor so that we all have more. There’s a darker side too: we are fiercely and often irrationally (and violently) tribal. And underlying it all is the unpleasant (to many) truth that self-interest drives the whole thing – probably at the level of our genes, but certainly at the level ...more
Mark Colenutt
Jul 06, 2013 Mark Colenutt rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Matt Ridley was educated at Oxford and is a journalistic scientist, which means he is able to translate the more complicated scientific breakthroughs and understandings to the wider public in a clear and succinct manner.

Almost anything he has written, including his Guardian articles, are worthy of a reader's time. This particuar publication is a brave attempt to explain why we are nice to each other. Is it from some altruistic human capacity or is it more a genetic survival technique? We are tau
Jul 23, 2010 Scott rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-tech
This book extends the arguments about the genetic basis of behavior from the rest of the animal kingdom (familiar to readers of Dawkins' "The Selfish Gene") into human behavior, the appearance of cooperation and altruistic actions, and the unique nature of human society. The author, Matt Ridley, is good at engaging the reader, with many examples drawn not only from biology, but from diverse fields, including opera (the "Prisoner's Dilemma" chapter begins with the plot story for Puccini's "Tosca" ...more
John Vibber
Feb 20, 2013 John Vibber rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book poses a puzzle: Is virtue an instinctual property built into our selfish genes? And if so, how do we reconcile our tribal tendencies with the trust we extend to others? You might think such thorny questions best explained by anthropologists, but Matt Ridley the biologist/economist wouldn't agree.

His thesis is based on several lines of research which weigh traditional and emerging beliefs about human nature. Traditionally he asks if we are noble savages constrained by society or distru
Tigran Ghardashyan
Честно говоря, ожидал большего...

Во-первых, просто отвратительный перевод на русский. Во-вторых автор явно не дружит с логикой: довольно часто он делает умозаключения, которые неоднозачно вытекают из фактов, которые он приводит заранее. А еще, этот спагетти-стиль: тривиальные и легкие в объяснении вещи написаны до безобразия запутанно.

Плюс ко всему: в корне не согласен с автором на счет того, что всякий человек - эгоист, и даже, если он и делает добрые дела, то либо из соображений репутации, либ
Abhishek Sundararajan
Seems like Ridley has some political beliefs to peddle. Short book on such an interesting subject. Now I need to get myself other books that go deeper.
Apr 22, 2009 Anthony rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book should definitely be on your short list of books to read if you are at all interested in what makes us humans behave as we do. It is one among many recently published books on evolutionary psychology -- and it's one of the very best. What distinguishes Ridley's book from the pack is his explicit grappling with the question: What does the fact that human moral sentiments are crafted by natural selection imply about the appropriate political order?

I definitely want and need to read it a
Daniel S
The cooperation and progress inherent in human society are the result not of benevolence, but of the pursuit of self-interest. [pg. 44]

The virtuous are virtuous for no other reason than that it enables them to join forces with others who are virtuous, to mutual benefit. And once cooperators segregate themselves off from the rest of society a wholly new force of evolution can come into play: one that pits groups against each other, rather than individuals. [pg. 147]

To a large extent, human societ
Peter Jana
Ridley uses evolutionary biology and anthropology to argue that human nature is cooperative for selfish reasons. He draws a political conclusion from this, arguing that since human beings interact with a modicum of restraint they don’t need big government (Leviathan) to do it. In fact, government paternalism makes people more selfish and greedy. Ridley promotes the conservative claim that “free individuals in small communities” are all that is needed for justice, social order, and economic prosp ...more
Chris Davies
Very much a book of two halves (or, a bit more accurately, two thirds and a third.) The bulk of the book is an largely interesting, sometimes fascinating (sometimes less so) investigation into the genetic origins of 'niceness'.

The last third takes a jarring right turn into polemic territory, and can be summarised as 'private ownership good, public (state) ownership bad'. Nothing will deter Ridley from this position, which he illustrates with examples largely centred on common ownership (as oppo
Sep 10, 2016 Ryan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, game-theory
It was hard for me to get through the first couple of chapters mainly because I don't agree with the basic premise of the book: that we have evolved from nothing into something. I actually underlined all the times Ridley used the language of intelligent design (accidentally, I assume) to describe some evolutionary process.

But starting with Chapter 3 -- The Prisoner's Dilemma -- the book gets much better. It's about game theory and how humans make decisions when placed under various cost/benefit
May 12, 2016 Artem rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dev
Очень интересная книга со множеством фактов и примеров, собранных из разных источников. Есть над чем подумать, примерить на себя, свою жизнь и опыт. Многим придётся не по вкусу. Стоит законспнктировать и периодически возвращаться к ней.
Evan Dossey
Feb 19, 2012 Evan Dossey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Matt Ridley, a former journalist, continues to provide evolutionary-psychology and zoology grounded insights into human behavior. An old book, but good groundwork for more recently published material.
Donna G
Aug 03, 2010 Donna G rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ridley explores the concepts laid out by Charles Darwin regarding the spirit of cooperation amongst the human race with clarity and purpose. He is a compelling author with well-defined views.

Great read!
May 05, 2011 Lisa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Information overload. Got bits and pieces out of it and found the human examples more interesting but in the end I'm still not sure what I got out of it.
Nov 12, 2008 Leaf rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2008, non-fiction, science
Fascinating subject, somewhat shallow treatment. Great place to start if you are interested in evolutionary psychology or ethics.
Bit tempted to put this one in science fiction.
Simona Vesela
Oct 28, 2015 Simona Vesela rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really liked it. Like mentioned on the cover of edition, I have read, it is like a follow up to The Selfish Gene. The author nicely connects fields of game theory, biology, economy, psychology. The book is engaging and self-referential, which helps to paint the picture better. I don't know the rigorous science behind it, but at times(like when it was discussed, why rational fools are, well..., foolish) it felt ad hoc, like a set of previously mentions principles, could explain any observed beh ...more
Oct 16, 2014 Joaquin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed the way this book ties together a huge amount of other authors and condenses all of the findings together. Ridley is very clear in explaining game theory, probably better than in any of the other books I've read before. He also mixes a lot of philosophy into his theory, but tries to back it up with direct observations.

Now the only problem I found is that Ridley is a very persuasive writer, and he does get extremely political, and when doing so he picks and chooses very carefully which
Aug 02, 2014 Diana rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book a lot. It explained game theory very well and discussed in detail the computer run experiments that concluded that the nicer versions of game theory (generous, pavlov, tit-for-tat, firm-but-fair) tended to be more successful than the nastier ones like prisoner's dilemma and that prisoner's dilemma could be quite cooperative if the players all knew each other and could trust that there would be no defections.

I also liked how he launches from the concept of the selfish gene Daw
Chris Branch
Jul 15, 2013 Chris Branch rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Having read this some years ago, I was surprised to notice that I hadn't rated it, nor did I remember enough about it to just assign a rating to it now. But since evolutionary psychology has become one of my favorite subjects, it was worth another read anyway.

There is a lot of excellent material here, from the origination of the crucial concept of reciprocal altruism through genetics and animal behavior, all the way up to the importance of private property rights to a functional society. All of
Heather Browning
A very readable book about why humans have the various kinds of prosocial emotions and behaviours that we do. Ridley uses a great mix of explanation and example, and his style is clear and easy to follow. I did find the political conclusions at the end a little out of place with the rest of the book and I think he could have spent a lot more time looking at whether they were really viable options. Overall though, a great antidote to those who wish either to claim that humans are really wholly go ...more
Dmitry Zinenko
Aug 05, 2015 Dmitry Zinenko rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There are plenty of interesting stories here and ideas to get one thinking. In general, I really appreciated this book.
Unfortunately, the author has a strong tendency to jump to political conclusions. Most of the chapters built like this: Ridley presents a several stories and ideas, intertwined with a justifyably confusing and invigoratingly contradicting discussion, which shows how complex the topic is. Then, without much narrative gap, he presents his conclusions, usually supported by nothing
May 31, 2014 Sofia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Происхождение альтруизма и добродетели: от инстинктов к сотрудничеству В русском издании попадаются ошибки, опечатки, а также присутствует весьма странный терминологический словарь - перечисление терминов без указания соответствующих страниц. Саму книгу в наших магазинах почему-то ставят на полку психологии, что меня весьма удивляет после ознакомления с содержимым: на мой взгляд, речь идет скорее о социологии, экономике и эволюционной биологии.
Тем не менее, книга очень познавательна и интересна,
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Matthew White Ridley, 5th Viscount Ridley DL FRSL FMedSci (born 7 February 1958, in Northumberland) is an English science writer, businessman and aristocrat. Ridley was educated at Eton and Magdalen College, Oxford where he received a doctorate in zoology before commencing a career in journalism. Ridley worked as the science editor of The Economist from 1984 to 1987 and was then its Washington cor ...more
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“Montagues and Capulets, French and English, Whig and Tory, Airbus and Boeing, Pepsi and Coke, Serb and Muslim, Christian and Saracen – we are irredeemably tribal creatures. The neighbouring or rival group, however defined, is automatically an enemy. Argentinians and Chileans hate each other because there is nobody else nearby to hate.” 0 likes
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