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The altruistic ape

Matt Ridley has written a fine book on the nature of altruism, not a Blairite manifesto. But neither author nor reviewer has an answer to the "groupishness" problem

By Samuel Brittan   February 1997

One compensation for being late with a review is the opportunity to correct for any distortion perceived in previous reviewers. I realised this might be necessary for The Origins of Virtue when I saw its author, Matt Ridley, shaking his head vigorously when someone at a meeting praised him for having written a Blairite manifesto.

“Virtue” is used to stand for all conduct that departs from unalloyed selfishness; and this may have encouraged such misreadings. Virtue is an inherently contestable concept. At my local underground station I am faced on most mornings with the following choices: giving money to a…

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