never mind haldane

never mind john haldane’s now famous quip (which is brilliant — i love it!):

“Would I lay down my life to save my brother? No, but I would to save two brothers or eight cousins.”

william wollaston got there first! wrt genetic relatedness and feelings of “affection” or “sympathy” anyway.

via r.c. punnett [pdf] (yeah, THAT punnett), here from wollaston’s The Religion of Nature Delineated published in 1722 [pgs. 310-12 – emphases in the original text]:

“The foundation of all natural relation is laid in marriage. For the husband and wife having solemnly attached themselves each to other, having the same children, interests, etc., become so intimately related as to be reckoned united, one flesh, and in the laws of nations many times one person. Certainly they are such with respect to the posterity, who proceed from them jointly. The children of this couple are related between themselves by the mediation of the parents. For every one of them being of the same blood with their common parents, they are all of the same blood (truly consanguinei), the relations, which they respectively bear to their parents, meeting there as in their center. This is the nearest relation that can be, next to those of man and wife, parents and their children, who are immediately related by contact or rather continuity of blood, if one may speak so. The relation between the children of these children grows more remote and dilute, and in time wears out. For at every remove the natural tincture or sympathy may be supposed to be weakened; if for no other reason, yet for this. Every remove takes off half the common blood derived from the grandparents. For let C be the son of A and B, D the son of C, B of D, F of B: and let the relation of C to A and B be as 1: then the relation of D to A and B will be but 1/2; because C is but one of the parents of D, and so the relation of D to A and B is but the half of that, which C bears to them. By proceeding after the same manner it will be found, that the relation of B to A and B is 1/4 (or half of the half), of F 1/8: and so on. So that the relation, which descendants in a direct line have by blood to their grandparents, decreasing thus in geometrical proportion, the relation between them of collateral lines, which passes and is made out through the grandparents, must soon be reduced to an inconsiderable matter.

“If then we suppose this affection or sympathy, when it is permitted to act regularly and according to nature, no reason intervening to exalt or abate it, to operate with a strength nearly proportionable to the quantity or degree of relation, computed as above, we may perhaps nearly discern the degrees of that obligation, which persons related lie under, to assist each other, from this motive….

“But however this may in general be taken as evident, that next after our parents and own offspring nature directs us to be helpful, in the first place to brothers and sisters, and then to other relations according to their respective difference in the genealogy of the family, preferable to all foreigners.”

not so catchy, but still … cool! (^_^)

(note: comments do not require an email. evil, evil familiar!)


  1. Attempting to answer my own question, it may have had something to do with intermarriage? They all went to Oxford or Cambridge (and later later Edinburg). This was before SAT’s. How were they identified and recruited? Or was the population of the class from which they came so small — I’ve read there were only around 10,000 “gentlemen” in England in the 18th century — that they were easy to spot?


  2. @luke – “Or was the population of the class from which they came so small — I’ve read there were only around 10,000 ‘gentlemen’ in England in the 18th century — that they were easy to spot?”

    probably that, i’d say. those were the only guys going to oxbridge back then, no?


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