Academic journal article Review of Contemporary Philosophy

Comprehensive Darwinism

Academic journal article Review of Contemporary Philosophy

Comprehensive Darwinism

Article excerpt


Darwinism has become an encompassing theory, leaving the confines of science and accounting for all aspects of life. Such an outlook entails important consequences for the evaluation of life. In particular, organisms are considered mere means for species' preservation and development, while reason is no special faculty, but rather an outgrowth of functions that are rudimentarily present in animals. Darwinism cannot, for that reason, be said to be "true," but if Darwinism is the correct view, the implications for man are grave, no purpose or meaning of life being discernable. Darwinists are accordingly faced with the question why they continue their inquiries.

Keywords: Darwinism, meaning, nihilism, reductionism, Platonism, Schopenhauer

1. Introduction

Charles Darwin's influence has become so great that "Darwinism" has become a scientific paradigm. In this article, the merits of a specific interpretation of Darwinism, which I will refer to as "comprehensive Darwinism," are explored, in order to be able to determine whether it can be maintained consistently. Comprehensive Darwinism is not a position devised by me; I think it reflects an interpretation that is in line with what is propagated elsewhere.1 The main question is in what comprehensive Darwinism consists and what its consequences are for those who adhere to it.

In section 2, 1 will inquire into the position of individual entities (organisms) if comprehensive Darwinism is accepted. Section 3 is concerned with the position of man in nature and with the question whether he can claim a special position in that regard. The observations culminate in section 4, in which the consequences of comprehensive Darwinism are expounded.

First of all, it needs to be clear what "comprehensive Darwinism" means. The best way to do so may be to contrast it with scientific Darwinism, i.e., the theory that claims, on the basis of Darwin's premises, with important amendments, that life has evolved from simple organisms to the variety and complexity of species that exists today.2 Comprehensive Darwinism comprises this theory and extrapolates it to the theory that accounts for all aspects of life: no mysteries or an additional "meaning of life" are to be sought after. Hereafter, "comprehensive Darwinism" is equivalent to "Darwinism;" when scientific Darwinism is meant, the adjective "scientific" will indeed be used.

I am not myself an adherent of Darwinism, as will be clarified in the course of the article. I do regard scientific Darwinism as a successful period of "normal science," or a "paradigm," to borrow a phrase and concept from Kuhn.3 Scientific Darwinism's position may be compromised upon the encounter of new data or insights as yet unimaginable, so that it, as any scientific enterprise, must be approached critically; "[...] it is only during periods of normal science that progress seems both obvious and assured."4 Among those who reflect on scientific Darwinism, some display little doubt with regard to the validity of its claims,5 others expressing some skepticism.6

"Teleology" can be taken in many ways. For example, Ayala distinguishes between artificial teleology, exhibiting purposeful actions or objects, and natural teleology, in which natural processes are involved that do not result from a conscious design,7 while Mayr contrasts "telos" as a goal-directed process with "telos" as a more "neutral" process, exemplified as follows: "Day is the telos of the night."8 Importantly, teleology that consists in the organisms' persistence because of their structure, which may be dubbed "internal teleology," must be distinguished from teleology in the sense that organisms' lives have a purpose beyond their mere persistence; the latter can be called "external teleology." Internal teleology displays, then, nothing more than a process that may be either positive or negative. Only external teleology answers the question whether life is to be considered positive or negative. …

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