Human Nature after Darwin: A Philosophical Introduction

By Janet Radcliffe Richards | Go to book overview

5

Biology as destiny

This chapter is the first of two about the idea that Darwinism presents a threat to our idea of ourselves as free and capable of responsibility, and that the deeper you go into Darwinism, the greater the threat. The accusation of denying freedom is made both by dualists against materialists and by standard social science theorists against evolutionary psychologists.

This chapter concentrates on a problem within materialist Darwinism: the question of whether the truth of the more radical, gene-machine view would deprive us of the power to control or change our destiny, in a way that the blank-paper view would not. It works through a series of such problems, setting them out in the way described at the end of the previous chapter, and reaches the substantive conclusion that there are no differences of implication of the kinds considered.

The arguments are taken quite slowly, because the purpose of this chapter is as much to show how the method works as to deal with the issues themselves. It also begins to introduce and demonstrate, as they arise, a range of philosophical terms, distinctions and techniques.


Introduction

The first problem to be considered is that of whether the truth of Darwinism would show us to be mistaken in our idea that we are free agents, responsible for our actions.

This is anyway one of the central concerns about the implications of Darwinism, but it is particularly suitable as a starting point for this enquiry, with its question about the different implications of the different depths of Darwinism. Blank-paperers often claim that gene-machinists cannot allow for human freedom - a capacity for genuine responsibility - and holders of the Mind First view typically think the same about materialists. This in itself demonstrates that the matter of implications cannot be as straightforward as it may seem, because these claims, simply understood, cannot both be right. If the capacity for responsibility is lost at the materialism threshold, it cannot be lost again to evolutionary psychology.

The discussion of this topic will be spread over this chapter and the next. The next deals specifically with the ideas of responsibility and blame, and with questions about the effects of crossing both the materialist and the evolutionary psychology thresholds. This chapter deals with the more limited question of the extent to which we have the power to change our destiny, and deals only with the controversy on the evolutionary psychology boundary.

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