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This letter is in response to Maria Kett and Michael Rowson's essay ‘Drivers of violent conflict’ (JRSM 2007 100:403-406).1 The authors are to be commended for summarizing many of the economic and political causes of violent conflict. However, the omission of human evolution as a cause of violent conflict, especially in an article in a major life science journal, is an indication of how limited the study of violent conflict remains.
To the detriment of scientific advance, it is still viewed through the standard social science paradigm, first advanced by Durkheim, where social facts may only be explained by other social facts. This perspective needlessly hinders the advancement of solutions to violent conflict and its scientific study.
The evidence that evolution processes violent conflict in humans and other animals is overwhelming and the literature in each aspect of this topic is voluminous.
Excellent analyzes of chimpanzee warfare includes the work of Dame Jane Goodall and Richard Wrangham. Warfare in social insects is addressed by the superb work of E O Wilson and Bert Hölldobler, among others. The impact of evolution on human violent conflict is well covered by many scholars, including Azar Gat, Malcolm Potts and Johan van der Dennen, and in my own work.
Over the last twenty years, a group of social and life scientists who adopt a consilient approach to the study of violent conflict has evolved. We believe that the science of human violent conflict advances most effectively through the application and integration of the life sciences and social sciences to the subject. Our members include cognitive and evolutionary psychologists, evolutionary theorists, ecologists, physicians, anthropologists and political scientists, and we are represented by several professional associations, including the Association for Politics and the Life Sciences, the Human Behavior and Evolution Society, and the International Society for Human Ethology.
Scholarship on the causes of violent conflict which does not reference human evolution and other insights provided by the life sciences will never determine its origins. Thus, it needlessly hinders the study of this important topic and restricts the search for solutions.
The consilient paradigm must replace the social science paradigm if science is to advance.