In the late 19th century arguments explaining incest avoidance were framed separately by Edward Tylor and Edward Westermarck. Tylor offered an environmental theory asserting that people have to marry outside of their own kin and communities or die out from the detrimental effects of isolation. Westermarck turned to Darwin’s theory to explain that harmful inbreeding had been selected against in the human genome. By the late 20th and early 21st centuries explanations of human behaviors have become increasingly encompassed by natural selection theory. The debate concerning the productiveness of evolutionary biology for explaining complex human behaviors is highly contentious and continues unabated. Although human evolutionists repeatedly say that environment is important for understanding human behavior they often do not develop this part of the equation. Behind the prestige of evolutionary biology selection models of human behavior have passed into popular science and the public psyche. Often heard today from a wide range of highly visible media sources is an assortment of topics on human behaviors which are framed by Darwinian assumptions. Contemplations about incest and inbreeding avoidance fall into this category and are presented by Darwinian social science as the best case example demonstrating evolutionary suppositions about human behavior. In the article that follows these issues are framed and examined. The argument is offered that evolutionary approaches are not always the most compelling and that convincing environmental explanations are overlooked.
Cite this paper
Leavitt, G. (2013). Tylor vs. Westermarck: Explaining the Incest Taboo. Sociology Mind, 3, 45-51. doi: 10.4236/sm.2013.31008.
 Bengtsson, B. O. (1978). Avoiding inbreeding: At what cost? Journal of Theoretical Biology, 73, 439-444.
 Bonne-Tamir, B. (1980). The Samaritans: A living ancient isolate. In A. W. Eriksson, H. R. Forsius, H. R. Nevanlinna, P. L. Workman, & R. K. Norio (Eds.), Population structure and genetic disorders (pp. 27-41). London: Academic Press.
 Caldecott, J. (1984). Coming of age in macaca. New Scientist, 101, 10-12. doi:10.1016/0003-3472(86)90025-4
 Caldecott, J. (1986a). Mating patterns, societies and the ecogeography of macaques. Animal Behavior, 34, 208-220.
 Caldecott, J. (1986b). An ecological and behavioural study of the pigtailed macaque. New York: Karger.
 Case, C. (1969). Comments in Current Anthropology, 10, 50-51.
 Cohen, Y. (1978). The disappearance of the incest taboo. Human Nature, 1, 72-78.
 Evans-Pritchard, E. E. (1974). Man and woman among the Azande. New York: Free Press.
 Goggin, J. M., & Sturtevant, W. C. (1964). The calusa: A stratified, nonagricultural society (with notes on sibling marriage). In W. H. Goodenough (Ed.), Explorations in cultural anthropology: Essays in honor of George Peter Murdock (pp. 179-219). New York: McGraw-Hill.
 Harris, M. (1977). Cannibals and kings. The origins of cultures. New York: Random House.
 Hartung, J. (1985). Incest. A biosocial view. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 67, 169-171. doi:10.1002/ajpa.1330670213
 Honigmann, J. J. (1976). The development of anthropological ideas. Homewood, IL: The Dorsey Press.
 Hopkins, K. (1980). Brother-sister marriage in Roman Egypt. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 22, 303-354.
 Jamieson, J. W. (1982). The Samaritans. Mankind Quarterly, 23, 141-148.
 Leavitt, G. C. (1989). Disappearance of the incest taboo: A cross-cultural test of general evolutionary hypotheses. American Anthropolo- gist, 91, 116-131. doi:10.1525/aa.1989.91.1.02a00070
 Leavitt, G. C. (1990). Sociobiological explanations of incest avoidance: A critical review of evidential claims. American Anthropologists, 92, 971-993.
 Leavitt, G. C. (2005). Incest and inbreeding avoidance. A critique of darwinian social science. Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press.
 Livingstone, F. B. (1969). Genetics, ecology and the origins of incest and exogamy. Current Anthropology, 10, 45-61. doi:10.1086/201009
 Messenger, J. C. (1993). Sex and repression in an Irish folk community. In D. N. Suggs, & A. W. Miracle (Eds.), Culture and human sexuality (pp. 240-261). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing.
 Middleton, R. (1962). Brother-sister and father-daughter marriage in ancient Egypt. American Sociological Review, 27, 603-611.
 Murdock, G. P. (1949). Social structure. New York: Free Press.
 Parsons, T. (1954). The incest taboo in relation to social structure and the socialization of the child. British Journal of Sociology, 5, 101-117. doi:10.2307/587649
 Patterson, C. (1978). Evolution. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
 Scheidel, W. (2005). Ancient Egyptian sibling marriage and the Westermarck effect. In A. P. Wolf , & W. H. Durham (Eds.), Inbreeding, incest, and the incest taboo (pp. 93-108). Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.
 Schroeder, T. (1915). Incest in mormonism. American Journal of Urology and Sexology, 11, 409-416.
 Shepher, J. (1983). Incest. A biosocial view. New York: Academic Press.
 Shields, W. M. (1982a). Philopatry, inbreeding, and the evolution of sex. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
 Shields, W. M. (1982b). Inbreeding and the paradox of sex: A resolution? Evolutionary Theory, 5, 245-279.
 Shields, W. M. (1983). Optimal inbreeding and the evolution of philopatry. In I. R. Swingland, & P. J. Greenwood (Eds.), The ecology of animal movement (pp. 132-159). Oxford: Clarendon Press.
 Shields, W. M. (1987). Dispersal and mating system: Investigating their causal connections. In D. B. Chepko-Sade, & Z. T. Halpin (Eds.), Mammalian dispersal patterns: The effects of social structure on population genetics (pp. 3-24). Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press.
 Shields, W. M. (1988). Sex and Adaptation. In R. E. Michod, & B. R. Levin (Eds.), The evolution of sex: An examination of current ideas (pp. 253-332). Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates.
 Shields, W. M. (1993). The natural and unnatural history of in breeding and outbreeding. In N. Wilmsen (Ed.), The natural history of inbreeding and outbreeding (pp. 143-169). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
 Slater, M. K. (1959). Ecological factors in the origin of incest. American Anthropologist, 61, 1042-1059.
 Slotkin, J. S. (1947). On a possible lack of incest regulation in old Iran. American Anthropologist, 49, 612-617.
 Stephens, W. N. (1963). The family in cross-cultural perspective. Washington DC: University Press of America.
 Talmon, S. (1964). Mate selection in collective settlements. American Sociological Review, 29, 491-508.
 Talmon, S. (1977). The Samaritans. Scientific American, 236, 100-108.
 Tylor, E. B. (1888). On a method of investigating the development of institutions; applied to laws of marriage and descent. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 18, 245-269.
 Westermarck, E. (1922). The history of human marriage. London: Macmillan.
 White, L. A. (1948). The definition and prohibition of incest. American Anthropologist, 5, 416-435. doi:10.1525/aa.1948.50.3.02a00020
 Wilson, E. O. (1975). Sociobiology. The new synthesis. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.
 Wolf, A. (1995). Sexual attraction and childhood association. A Chinese brief for Edward Westermarck. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.