My previous post on space for altruism attracted some criticism from Philosophy etc, who points out in an update that the idea that "we are selfish because our genes are" is deeply confused, conflating the metaphorical motives of the genes with the real motives of people. I agree; un fortunately I couldn't get the stuff I wanted to say about it into my original post. Fortunately, though, Sock Thief has given me a perfect opportunity:
I don't agree with Philosophy, et cetera's distinction between Biology and Psychology. Although it is wrong to ascribe psychological motives to genes, it is our biology that provides the foundation of the cognitive abilities of belief, desire and motivation. Individuals can, and often do, have different goals from those of their genes but that does not mean that our psychology is free from their influence.
But it's not about freedom from influence - it's about different levels of explanation.
There is no question that our genes strongly influence our psychology. The logic of kin selection and reciprocal altruism applies to humans as well as ants, and these concepts provide a good explanation for parts of our psychological makeup - our concern for family, our sympathy for other human beings, our outrage at those who cheat. The rest of our basic psychology - things like our desire for revenge, flight or fight reactions, and pursuit of status - also exist for adaptive reasons. As evolved organisms, we must also have evolved minds. This makes adaptationism a powerful method for explaining why we think the way we do - but it does not mean that it is the only way of explaining it, or that it should be the preferred one.
Philosophy, etc has pointed out that there is another level of explanation available: psychology. This is ultimately grounded in genetics and in chemistry - but that does not mean that its theoretical entities don't exist. The fact that happiness is just a chemical concentration in the brain does not make it any less real. And the fact that altruism is ultimately caused by the genes doesn't make it any less real either.
The question then is which explanation we should prefer. And the answer is "whichever is most useful". And in explaining altruistic behaviour, it is far simpler and more useful to talk about altruism than about the strategies of the far-off genes.
As for the argument that we should reinterpret human motives in light of the genes as those motivations ultimately have a genetic origin, I think that the compatibilist argument for free will is informative here. Compatibilists believe that we are meaningfully free despite the fact that our brains are deterministic and therefore our actions are ultimately caused by events beyond our control; we are free insofar as our actions stem from our beliefs and desires. It's about ownership, in other words. A similar argument can be made with respect to motivations. Yes, many of our motivations are genetically caused - but that does not mean that they are not ours, or that we should usurp them in favour of their ultimate causes.