Leaving the Cave: Evolutionary Naturalism in Social-Scientific Thought

Leaving the Cave: Evolutionary Naturalism in Social-Scientific Thought

Leaving the Cave: Evolutionary Naturalism in Social-Scientific Thought

Leaving the Cave: Evolutionary Naturalism in Social-Scientific Thought


How can one explain the general failure of the social sciences to accumulate reliable knowledge?

According to Pat Duffy Hutcheon the social sciences have failed us in the twentieth century. Practitioners in the social realm (such as politicians, therapists, educators and economists) are unable to provide the answers we seek to meet the challenges of our everyday lives and the next millennium.

In Leaving the Cave Hutcheon explores the reasons for this failure. In this pioneering study of the development of social and biological evolutionary theory she contends that, for the first time in history, there exists a paradigm capable of integrating the life sciences and the social/behavioural sciences, a model to make effective social science a reality.

To illustrate her arguments Hutcheon traces the development of a current of thought she identifies as evolutionary naturalism. She focusses on the lives and writings of those thinkers who have most illuminated this philosophy, from the Hellenic Greeks, through the works of the early pioneers of modern social scientific thought, to the social theorists of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries whose ideas have been firmly rooted in the Darwinian and Pavlovian revolutions in biology and neuroscience.

Leaving the Cave is an innovative, multidisciplinary study of the development of social science, the philosophy of evolutionary naturalism and the effect of each on the other. Certain to arouse controversy, this is a book which everyone concerned for the future of the social sciences will want to read.


T his book was prompted by a question that just would not go away. How can one explain the general failure of social science to accumulate reliable knowledge? It has been around, in its present modern form, for over three centuries, and its seeds have been germinating for much longer. Why, then, the dearth of progress in all but a few isolated areas of scholarship? Why are practitioners in the social realm (such as therapists, politicians, educators and criminologists) still being forced to operate virtually on a "wing and a prayer" while the public continues to suffer the consequences of failed trial- and-error interventions?

As a sociologist of historical, theoretical and interdisciplinary bent, I had become dissatisfied with the excuses of the increasingly beleaguered scientists within these disciplines, and with the popular celebrations of irrationality favoured by the anti-scientists among us. In the end, it was in the justifications of the latter group that I discerned a glimmer of the possible answer.

I began to conjecture that there must be some formidable obstacle to the scientific study of humanity in our culture -- if not in human nature, as the non-rationalists believe and even seem to hope. It came to me that the dominant current of thought in every society, in every historical era, has been fundamentally opposed to the very idea of the operation of cause and effect in human behaviour. This led me to ponder on the nature of the world view that would encourage social science to flourish, and to marvel that elements of it had continued to survive at all, in an environment so consistently hostile.

For I saw at once that the way of thinking conducive to the development of a scientific approach to human studies has been with us for a long time, although its influence is muted even now, in this so-called age of science. It is a way of thinking usually referred to as naturalism, and it has been associated throughout history with the companion idea of evolution. It stems from the premise that human beings are continuous with all of nature, and that all of nature is continuously evolving. I recognized, as well, what I had already sensed but not fully understood about this minority stream of thought. It has always posed a threat to the established philosophy in every time and place in history. It could not do otherwise, for its two necessary premises about existence, and of the place of humankind within it, are in direct conflict with prevailing beliefs about human nature.

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