Leaving the Cave: Evolutionary Naturalism in Social-Scientific Thought

By Pat Duffy Hutcheon | Go to book overview

Twenty-Six
Toward a Unified Social Science

It struck me that an idea is very much like a tune. It goes through the ages remaining much the same in itself, but getting into such very different company.

-- George Orwell, Orwell: The Authorized Biography

This study has shown how several interrelated strands of thought have emerged and re-emerged all through history, in spite of consistent resistance from the prevailing culture. They are the foundations of what is suggested as the conceptual framework essential to the growth of social science: that of evolutionary naturalism. This world view stems from the premise that nature is continuous and all-inclusive, and that the human animal, although an integral aspect of the natural world, nonetheless has developed two important claims to distinctiveness. One is the ability to forge reliable knowledge from the chaos of immediate experience. The other is a capacity to imagine and bring to fruition objects of art, and to make both aesthetic and moral judgements.

And finally, behind and within all of these there has appeared the powerful organizing principle of evolution: the process of change common to all levels of existence. It is also a theme that allows us to perceive all these strands of thought as developing over time, along with the evolution of the disciplined approach to knowledge-building that gave them birth and gradually enhanced their meaning.


Naturalism as the foundation

The most necessary aspect of social-scientific thought is surely the premise of naturalism. It is a faith in the existence of some sort of universal natural order extending beyond human experience, and somehow reflected in that experience and made accessible by means of it. It includes a belief that humans and other sentient animals are, at one and the same time, the products and experiencers of nature, and, as such, can never know it in any "holistic" or absolute sense.

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