The Ascent of Life: A Philosophical Study of the Theory of Evolution

The Ascent of Life: A Philosophical Study of the Theory of Evolution

The Ascent of Life: A Philosophical Study of the Theory of Evolution

The Ascent of Life: A Philosophical Study of the Theory of Evolution

Excerpt

This is an essay by a philosopher about present-day evolutionary theory. It is neither a popular survey of the history of life nor a technical contribution to biology. The developments which have occurred in the theory of evolution during the past few decades seem to me of the greatest philosophical interest and importance. Yet these developments have received very little attention from philosophers. I hope, therefore, that the present work, despite its limitations, will convince them that the subject is well worth pondering. I also hope that the work may appeal to biologists and general readers who have a taste for the philosophical discussion of scientific doctrines.

To conduct the discussion properly it has seemed to me essential to get down to biological details. Some may think that far too many such details have been introduced into a work which purports to be philosophical. But concerning this I am wholly impenitent. If a philosopher wants to talk about evolutionary theory, the least he can do is to examine it fairly closely and not be satisfied with a few vague impressions. On the other hand, since I do not claim to have any professional competence in biology, I have had to derive my knowledge of numerous particulars from the works listed in the bibliography. I am enormously indebted to the writings of Carter, Dobzhansky, Haldane, Huxley, Mayr, Muller, Simpson and Wright. It is not to be expected that in every instance I have got the details exactly right. Nor is it to be expected that biologists who disagree with the authors on whom I have relied will find all my statements acceptable. Efforts have been made, however, to report accurately what these authors have said; and some account of dissenting biological opinions has been taken at various points.

The philosophical questions discussed in the work are intended to be a representative sample, not an exhaustive catalogue. Each is treated so as to keep its discussion within reasonable limits. Consequently, no famous last words are said about any of them. One question in particular--what is the philosophical significance of the evolution of consciousness and self-consciousness in Homo sapiens?--opens up a subject so large and complex as to . . .

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