A review essay of Matt Ridley's "The Origins of Virtue"

By Howard Rheingold, published at 10 May 2007 - 8:12pm, last updated 10 years 40 weeks ago.

The virtue of human universals and cooperation: A review essay of Matt Ridley's The Origins of Virtue is almost 10 years old -- a call to arms for management scholars, challenging them to shake up the "Standard Social Sciences Model" of competition-dominated "rational, self-interested actors"

In reviewing Matt Ridley's The Origins of Virtue we do five things: (1) Discuss and challenge the basic assumptions of the Standard Social Sciences Model which permeates management scholarship. (2) We present some alternatives to this model, particularly Evolutionary Psychology. (3) We look at how these alternatives provide a framework for understanding cooperation; (4) We enumerate some of the difficulties (both real and imaginary) with Evolutionary Psychology. (5) Finally, we suggest that management scholars work more closely with scholars from the many other disciplines that are developing solid theories of cooperation.

Throughout the 20th century, one general model of human societies and cultures has come to dominate the way scholars in America--including management scholars--have come to think. This model is so pervasive and dominant and alternatives have so rarely and meekly been considered that the adherents of the model (which has lately been dubbed the Standard Social Sciences Model (SSSM)) have not explicitly recognized that they all adhere to any model at all.

In this essay we look at Matt Ridley's new book, The Origins of Virtue ([Ridley1996]), to see how one alternative to the SSSM, evolutionary psychology (EP), can help us to get a better understanding of why people cooperate with other people, and why by doing so we can achieve so much. Although Ridley builds on EP, he does not spend much time arguing explicitly against the SSSM in detail. For the most part he assumes that his reader will suspend belief in the SSSM long enough to see the pay-off.