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The Selfish Gene


The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins


"The Selfish Gene," written by Richard Dawkins, delves into the theory of evolution, focusing on the role of genes in shaping behavior. Dawkins argues that genes, rather than species or individuals, are the primary unit of natural selection. The book explores the concept of selfish genes and their influence on altruism and selfish behavior in the animal kingdom.

Key Points

  • Evolutionary Theory Foundation: Dawkins builds on Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, positing that understanding evolution is crucial to understanding our existence.
  • The Selfish Gene Theory: The book's central thesis is that genes are inherently selfish, programmed to ensure their own survival and replication.
  • Behavioral Implications: This genetic selfishness often manifests as selfish behavior in individuals. However, in certain circumstances, genes can promote seemingly altruistic behaviors if it benefits their survival.
  • Misunderstanding of Evolution: Dawkins critiques earlier interpretations of evolution that focused on the good of the species or group, arguing that such views misunderstand how evolution operates.
  • Nature vs. Nurture Debate: The book touches on this debate but primarily focuses on genetic influences, acknowledging the significant role of culture in human behavior.
  • Altruism in Nature: Dawkins explores various examples of altruistic behavior in animals, demonstrating that what appears as altruism is often disguised genetic selfishness.

Notable Quotes

  • "Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish."
  • "We and all other animals are machines created by our genes."
  • "Much as we might wish to believe otherwise, universal love and the welfare of the species as a whole are concepts that simply do not make evolutionary sense."


"The Selfish Gene" offers a radical reinterpretation of evolutionary theory, emphasizing the role of genes in shaping behavior. Dawkins' insights challenge traditional views of natural selection, arguing that understanding genetic selfishness is key to understanding both animal and human behavior.

Note: This summary is based on the 30th Anniversary Edition of "The Selfish Gene" by Richard Dawkins.