Richard Dawkins popularised the Selfish Gene Theory in 1976 with the publication of his book "The Selfish Gene." It put forth the idea that evolution happens at the very basic level of the gene. All genes want to survive and replicate, so they are in competition with other genes to leave as many copies of themselves behind as possible. The gene does this by using the organism as a vessel to achieve this process (Dawkins, 1976). Prior to the Selfish Gene Theory, evolution was explained as occurring at higher levels through an organism or group.
Dawkins, R. (1976) The selfish gene. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Selfish Gene and Altruism
Organisms behave altruistically toward one another through kin selection because of closely shared genetic ties. Again, operating through genes, organisms will act 'selflessly' to increase the likelihood of those shared genes being spread throughout the population even at the expense of the individual. "Organisms may be altruistic; genes are selfish." (Lichtenberg, 2010)
Lichtenberg, J. (2010). Is pure altruism possible? The Stone. http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/10/19/is-pure-altruism-possible/?_r=0
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