Beyond Evolution: Human Nature and the Limits of Evolutionary Explanation

Beyond Evolution: Human Nature and the Limits of Evolutionary Explanation

Beyond Evolution: Human Nature and the Limits of Evolutionary Explanation

Beyond Evolution: Human Nature and the Limits of Evolutionary Explanation

Synopsis

Anthony O'Hear takes a stand against the fashion for explaining human behaviour in terms of evolution. He maintains, controversially, that while the theory of evolution is successful in explaining the development of the natural world in general, it is of limited value when applied to the human world. Because of our reflectiveness and our rationality we take on goals and ideals which cannot be justified in terms of survival-promotion or reproductive advantage. O'Hear examines the nature of human self-consciousness, and argues that evolutionary theory cannot give a satisfactory account of such distinctive facets of human life as the quest for knowledge, moral sense, and the appreciation of beauty; in these we transcend our biological origins. It is our rationality that allows each of us to go beyond not only our biological but also our cultural inheritance: as the author says in the Preface, 'we are prisoners neither of our genes nor of the ideas we encounter as we each make our personal and individual way through life'.

Excerpt

The aim of this book is to examine the extent to which evolutionary accounts of human experience are adequate. in examining this question, I focus on human knowledge, on morality, and on our sense of beauty. I suggest that our current activities in each area certainly derive in important ways from our biological nature, but that once having emerged they cannot usefully be analysed in biological or evolutionary terms. I also attempt to indicate the significance of human community and of our cultural inheritance in the identity and rationality of each one of us. At the same time, I attempt to vindicate the traditional view that each human being is possessed of a rationality which means that he or she can transcend what is given in biology and culture. We are prisoners neither of our genes nor of the ideas we encounter as we each make our personal and individual way through life.

Early versions of parts of the book have been previously published as follows: part of Chapter 2, as 'Immanent and Transcendent Dimensions of Reason', in Ratio, 4 (1991), 108-23; part of Chapter 3 as 'Self-Conscious Belief', in The Certainty of Doubt, edited by Miles Fairburn and Bill Oliver (Victoria University Press, 1996), 336-51; part of Chapter 4 as 'Evolution, Knowledge and Self-Consciousness', in Inquiry, 32 (1989), 127-50 (reprinted by permission of Scandinavian University Press, Oslo); part of Chapter 5 as 'Knowledge in Evolutionary Context', in International Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 8/2 (1994), 125-38; part of Chapter 7 as 'Beauty, Natural and Unnatural', in Artists from Europe, edited by Kevin O'Brien (Leeds Metropolitan University, 1995), 72-8; part of Chapter 8 as 'Two Cultures Revisited', in Verstehen and Humane Understanding, edited by A. O'Hear (Cambridge University Press, 1997), 1-21. Where appropriate, I thank editors and publishers for permission to reprint.

As will be evident, I have worked on this book and related themes over a number of years, and have benefited from many discussions . . .

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