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Open Access Publications from the University of California


The International Journal of Comparative Psychology is sponsored by the International Society for Comparative Psychology. It is a peer-reviewed open-access digital journal that publishes studies on the evolution and development of behavior in all animal species. It accepts research articles and reviews, letters and audiovisual submissions.

Volume 6, Issue 3, 1993

Issue cover
Cover Caption: International Journal of Comparative PsychologyVol. 6, No. 3 (1993)

Research Article


Lerner's important book is divided into two parts, each of which deals with a significant issue. The first part presents a critique of genetic determinism espoused by contemporary ethology and sociobiology; the second part is a discussion of "developmental contextualism," Lerner's alternative to genetic determinism. Both parts of this book are also controversial: the first because of its treatment of Konrad Lorenz; the second because of the emotional and passionate attachment many still have to genetic determinism. Some have argued that Lerner's characterization of modern ethology and sociobiology is off the mark and outdated; this is, in fact, the case with several of the reviews in this special issue (Kaye, Lamb, Siegel). However, Lerner's characterization still forms the basis of much thinking in modern ethology and sociobiology, particularly in its new guise of "Evolutionary Psychology" (Caporael & Brewer, 1991; DeKay & Buss, 1992).


My endorsement on the dust jacket of Lerner's book states, "Professor Lerner tells a story we need to know and presents a perspective we need to consider." As Lewontin makes clear in the foreword: Final Solutions is a book about the extreme horrors that arise when people take seriously the proposition that there are racial and national characters from which we cannot escape. Unlike other books on Nazi race theory, Final Solutions extends ideas of determinism beyond the purely biological into the cultural as well. Cultural determinism—the doctrine that our cultural heritage passed down by a process of unconscious acculturation is inescapable—differs only in a trivial mechanical detail from biological determinism, the doctrine that we cannot escape our genes. Both biological and cultural determinism deny essential freedom to human consciousness.


Richard Lerner seems to have set himself four tasks in Final Solutions: one, to argue that scientific theory, in this case a theory about human nature, has impHcations for social policy and, in turn, that scientific theory is not immune from social influences; two, to demonstrate the horrors to which one erroneous view of human nature—biological or genetic determinism—led when it informed social policy in the Nazi state; three, to show that this error is alive and well and continuing to do damage; and four, to make the case for a different view of human development— developmental contextualism.


In his new book, Richard M. Lerner is determined that the lessons learned from biology's shameful involvement in the horrors of Nazi genocidal programs must not be lost and that the hateful doctrine of biological determinism never again be permitted to justify oppression, inhumanity, and ultimately mass murder. Such vigilance is essential now, because he believes that the ideology of biological determinism has indeed been resurrected, this time in the guise of sociobiology, and that it too may well be used for "politically pernicious, fascist purposes"

Naziism, Biological Determinism, Sociobiology, and Evolutionary Theroy: Are They Necessairly Synonymous?

Richard Lerner's new book, Final Solutions: Biology, Prejudice, and Genocide, is a powerful and troubling treatise. It weaves together several topical strands into a direct, clear, and compelling argument. The chief strength of the book lies in its focus on a single aspect of Nazi ideology (biological determinism), the role played in the maintenance of that ideology by medical and biological scientists, and Lerner's warnings about those he views as the contemporary successors of these scientists. Unlike Lerner's other contributions to the scholarly literature, this book is less a psychological treatise than it is a polemical history of some behavioral sciences in the twentieth century, Lerner's argument is provocative, clearly reasoned, and demands consideration by social scientists, humanists, and those who would avoid both the repetition of the past and our ignorance of its costs and lessons.


Final Solutions: Biology, Prejudice, and Genocide by Richard M. Lerner is an important book about the way in which biological determinist views of human behaviour have shaped social policy and have been used to justify persecution of certain groups, even to the ultimate horror of extermination of Jewish people by the Nazis. Lerner traces genetic explanations for human behaviour from Darwin, through scientists of the Nazi era to contemporary sociobiologists. He finds a continuous thread of ideas and alerts us to the political dangers of the impactof such thinking on social attitudes and policies.

Konrad Lorenz: A Prisoner of War for Three Years

Complete insight into scientific concepts, and especially scientific schools, is impossible without an overview of the history of their origins, without knowledge of the originators of those concepts, and their personal histories and their aspirations. Konrad Lorenz, one of the founders of ethology, had a very complex personality. His contribution to world science is undoubtedly great, but at the same time, his idea that the laws of animal life are directly extrapolative to human society is fallacious.