Philosophical Darwinism: On the Origin of Knowledge by Means of Natural Selection

By Peter Munz | Go to book overview

PREFACE

Though the history of ideas has its own momentum, I am writing as a historian who has noticed that something has been overlooked, so that it seems necessary to apply a little corrective pressure to that momentum. It is over a hundred years ago that Darwin suggested that we revise our philosophy by discarding Locke and amending Plato. He was looking at the matter from the vantage point of biology, and this book is an attempt to work out the philosophical consequences of biology. Although Darwin’s suggestions are well known and frequently quoted, philosophers have so far taken little notice of them, and biology has not yet replaced physics as the centre of attention. In the middle of the twentieth century, when it was realised that Bacon’s New Atlantis had turned out to be Max Weber’s Iron Cage, inhabited by Riesman’s Lonely Crowd, and that the view that scientific theories have a partial observational interpretation by means of correspondence rules should never have become the Received View, philosophers started to move away from the long tradition of modernism, which had stretched from Bacon and Locke to the early Wittgenstein and to Carnap. Disillusioned with modernism, they turned a blind eye to the implications of biology and veered instead towards the post-modern relativism of Kuhn, the post-modern post-structuralism of Foucault, Derrida and Lyotard or the post-modern pragmatism of Rorty, and are showing unending and increasing interest in the obfuscations of Heidegger. It is perfectly true that modernism was too sanguine in its belief that language was a completely transparent and neutral medium which would allow a rigid and easy distinction between reality and fiction, science and literature. But the nowadays widely popular conclusions—that science is nothing but a form of literature, that the dogmatic beliefs of primitive cultures are as valid and explanatory as the highly general theories of cosmopolitan science, that all authors, including the living ones, are ‘dead’ and that readers are free to read anything they like into a text, that statements are parochial affirmations or chants which mirror nothing and that the problem of reference is obviated because nothing refers to anything—are simply irrational over-reactions to the glib pretensions of modernism. I will argue instead that the philosophical consequences of

-vii-

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Philosophical Darwinism: On the Origin of Knowledge by Means of Natural Selection
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • Introduction - Cognitive Conditions 1
  • 1 - Man’s Glassy Essence 28
  • 2 - The Dubious Credentials of Positivism 81
  • 3 - The Lure of Sociology 103
  • 4 - The Nature of the Mirror 137
  • 5 - The View from Somewhere 185
  • Notes 230
  • Index 246
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