Academic journal article The Journal of Philosophical Economics

Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Second Thoughts on Laibman's Deep History and the Theory of Punctuated Equilibrium with Regard to Intellectual Evolution

Academic journal article The Journal of Philosophical Economics

Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Second Thoughts on Laibman's Deep History and the Theory of Punctuated Equilibrium with Regard to Intellectual Evolution

Article excerpt

Abstract: In this article I reconsider Laibman's Deep History (2007) in the light of Niles Eldredge and Stephan Jay Gould's theory of punctuated equilibrium. I argue that the theory of punctuated equilibrium explains (1) why conceptions of inevitability and directionality in intellectual evolution may not be as useful as Laibman thinks they are in the context of social evolution and (2) why stasis (that is, intellectual path dependence) in intellectual evolution does not allow different pathways of thought to converge.

Keywords: punctuated equilibrium, continual progress, perfection, intellectual path dependence.

I am pleased to be asked by the editor of the Journal of Philosophical Economics, Valentin Cojanu, to respond to David Laibman's rejoinder, "Deep History: A Rejoinder" (Laibman, 2012), in which Laibman assesses my review essay on his fine work, Deep History: A Study in Social Evolution and Human Potential (Laibman, 2007). My essay on Deep History was published in this journal in 2011 (Yalcintas, 2011).

I have read Laibman's rejoinder with great interest. Unfortunately, I do not think that his rejoinder appropriately responds to my central criticism or answers my questions. First of all, many of the arguments presented in his rejoinder are irrelevant to my critique. My intention in my essay was not to show aggression to Laibman's historical materialist reasoning, although the tone in his response suggests that this is how Laibman feels. On the contrary, I intended to emphasize the difficulties in how Laibman "outline[s] a historical materialism that makes use of the full insights of a general-directed theory of history" (Laibman, 2012) by arguing that his book has two shortcomings which I discussed under the titles of "The Audience Problem" and "The Evolutionary Problem." My argument was (and is) that his book fails to incorporate the literature that has already debated issues such as inevitability and directionality, while his argument lacks the insight evolutionary theory might provide.

Laibman claims that I attribute an unintended project to him and that I distort and conceal the content of his book. Now, I contend that his claim that I am a "prisoner of an unexamined commitment to a view of history" (Laibman, 2012) and his question irrelevant to this debate, "what is actually going on here?" (Laibman, 2012), actually serve to attribute to me a project that I never had in mind. First of all, I never claimed that the author is a simple minded empiricist (Laibman, 2012). Secondly, Laibman claims that I resist to "any concept of a deep structure underlying human affairs" (Laibman 2012, italics belong to the original). This claim, just like many of his unfair claims about me, is simply untrue because I clearly and repeatedly stated in my essay (Yalcintas 2011, 170, 176) that the social realm is structured and stratified, in the sense that there is no inevitability or directionality to social evolution, even when individuals choose, behave, and act with intentions or towards a purpose. I argued that explaining the phenomena taking place at individual (or "lower") levels of the whole - that is, causes and consequences of purposeful human behaviors - is not sufficient to explain the whole itself - that is, the causes and consequences of social evolution. In other words, "higher" levels of natural, social, and intellectual evolution are not always reducible to "lower" levels, and vice versa. "In conclusion," I argued (Yalcintas 2011, 177), "there is no need for Laibman to position himself in favor of one level over the other. Explanations at different levels of abstraction provide different insights into the same phenomenon."

Thus, I do not claim that all historical materialist explanations are in conflict with the explanations provided by evolutionary political economy. I only claim that some of Laibman's explanations are not evolutionary, in the sense that he fails to address the issues of inevitability and directionality in the more sophisticated terms of evolutionary theory. …

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