Chapter 1: Why are people?
I shall argue that a predominant quality to be expected in a successful gene is ruthless selfishness. This gene selfishness will usually give rise to selfishness in individual behaviour.
Establishing on which side he stands of evolution, Dawkins explains what we can expect from The Selfish Gene. First, it’s not a framework for morality, nor is it a set of behavioral guidelines. Second, in the evolutionary controversy of nature versus nurture, he doesn’t advocate one or the other. And lastly, he doesn’t detail the behavioral specifics of humans or any other animal species. Simply put, what Dawkins argues, is that “we, and all animals, are machines created by our genes.” For our genes to have survived millenia, we expect certain qualities from them; the predominant quality being ruthless selfishness (selfishness enables our survival). Even seemingly altruistic actions are usually for selfish reasons. Just for clarity’s sake, we should define a few things. If an entity, such as a baboon, behaves in a way that increases another baboon’s welfare over its own, it’s considered altruistic behavior. Dawkins makes a point to say that the motives behind behavior are essentially negligible. The importance lies in the effect of the behavior and whether it increases or decreases the welfare of the “altruist” or beneficiary. “Welfare,” here being the entity’s chances of survival.
In this chapter, Dawkins denies the notion that living creatures evolve behaving “for the good of the species,” or “for the good of the group.” Most altruistic acts are carried out from parents for their offspring. In this way, these actions aren’t necessarily for the good of the entire species, but more specifically, for a group of related members within the species (+ those memeber's genes).
Dawkins often qualifies his claims, taking heed of possible misinterpretations. In a tone that demonstrates self-awareness, Dawkins explicitly defines his terminology within a context of accepted Darwinian definitions and modifies the terminology of his scholarly predecessors.
Thesis: “This book will show how both individual selfishness and individual altruism are explained by the fundamental law that I am calling gene selfishness.”
Chapter 2: The Replicators
Four thousand million years on, what was to be the fate of the ancient replicators? They did not die out, for they are past masters of the survival arts. But do not look for them floating loose in the sea; they gave up that cavalier freedom long ago...They are in you and in me; they created us, body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence...Now they go by the name of genes, and we are their survival machines.
Let’s go way back. When the world was forming, creating organic molecules and substances in primeval soup, somehow a special molecule was formed by accident. Dawkins calls this the “replicator.” What made this molecule more extraordinary than other more complicated ones, was its ability to make copies of itself. The copying process isn’t perfect, but ultimately mistakes allow evolution…