Human Nature after Darwin: A Philosophical Introduction

By Janet Radcliffe Richards | Go to book overview

4

Implications and conditionals

This short chapter is another that is more about philosophical technicalities than about Darwinism in particular, but is essential for the analysis that follows.

If there is no point at this stage in trying to establish, as a basis for the enquiry into implications, which of the Darwinian factions is closest to the truth, the best procedure is to investigate the implications of each of them. This will show how much turns on the question of which version is true.

This involves investigating a series of conditional statements, about what follows if each version is true, without investigating whether it is true or not. The chapter concludes by setting out a method for the systematic investigation of conditionals, which will be used throughout the book.


Where to go from here

Now it may seem that if we have to leave unresolved the question of which degree of Darwinism is right, that sabotages the whole project of this book. Its concern is the implications of Darwinism for our understanding of ourselves; but if the earlier arguments have been right, merely crossing the threshold to the first level of Darwinism does not make much difference to traditional views about the human situation. The real threats to tradition seem to come with the later transitions, first to materialism, and then to the gene-machine idea and evolutionary psychology. Surely, then, we cannot find out about the implications of Darwinism for ourselves until we have decided which degree of Darwinism is right?

The first part of the answer to this challenge is simple. We can ask about the implications of Darwinism for the things that matter to us, even without resolving the matter of truth, because we can do it for each of these views individually. Instead of asking simply what Darwinism implies for our understanding of human freedom, for example, we can ask a series of conditional questions. If materialism is true, what follows for human freedom and responsibility? If evolutionary psychologists are right, is serious political change impossible? And so on. There is no more difficulty in asking about the implications of different Darwinian positions without knowing whether they are true than there is about wondering what the implications of alternative courses of action are - going to live in the country or staying in London - before making a decision. It is something we have to do all the time.

But still, it may be objected, if our purpose is to understand our own situation, then surely it is not enough to know what the implications are if one or other version of Darwinism is true. If we want to know whether we have free will, for instance, there is no point in knowing that (perhaps) if materialist Darwinism is true we are not free, but if dualism is true we are, or whatever. To

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Human Nature after Darwin: A Philosophical Introduction
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - The Theory 4
  • 2 - The Sceptics 25
  • 3 - Internecine Strife 51
  • 4 - Implications and Conditionals 87
  • 5 - Biology as Destiny 100
  • 6 - Blameless Puppets 126
  • 7 - Selfish Genes and Moral Animals 154
  • 8 - The End of Ethics 184
  • 9 - Onwards and Upwards 212
  • 10 - The Real Differences 259
  • Notes 271
  • Answers to Exercises 273
  • Revision Questions 288
  • Answers to Revision Questions 299
  • Suggestions for Further Reading 304
  • Bibliography 307
  • Index 309
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