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When, exactly, did ‘survival of the fittest’ become synonymous with Machiavellian selfishness? According to the late UK philosopher Mary Midgley (1919-2018), conflating evolution with a ‘dog-eat-dog’ understanding of human nature was hardly born of Charles Darwin himself, who, in his writings, expressed how traits such as morality and communality were vital to our species’ survival. In this 2010 lecture at the Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) in London, Midgley explores ideas from her book The Solitary Self: Darwin and the Selfish Gene (2010) to discuss how frameworks of individualism have developed over the past several centuries. Ultimately, she argues, contemporary understanding of the self needs to be rescued from the culturally dominant clutches of Richard Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene (1976), which offers a misleading and perhaps even fatalistic view of human nature.
Video by the RSA
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