Human Nature after Darwin: A Philosophical Introduction

By Janet Radcliffe Richards | Go to book overview

6

Blameless puppets

This chapter continues the discussion of genes as determining our fate by moving on to our idea of ourselves as possessing free will and the capacity for responsibility. The discussion starts with questions about the evolutionary psychology boundary, as in the previous chapter, but then extends to the debate between materialists and their opponents. It concludes, again, that when the details are looked at with enough care, there is no difference of implication between the different positions.

The chapter also provides an introduction to the philosophical problem of free will, and continues the process of introducing, as they arise, various other technicalities such as necessary and contingent non-existence, the scope of negation (contraries and contradictories), and intrinsic and instrumental values. It also makes use of the analysis to revisit shifts of level in mid-argument, and to expose familiar confusions in arguments about responsibility and punishment.


Philandering gene machines

The Dawkins passage at the beginning of the last chapter (pp. 102ff.) contained three alleged implications of the gene-machine thesis. Two of them have now been discussed: the young woman's fear about her pre-ordained future, and Gould's claim that genetic characteristics are ineluctable. In both cases I have argued that the implications of the gene-machine thesis are nothing like as strong as is often implied, and that the rival blank-paper view is, in itself, no better.

We come now to the third claim about the implications of the gene-machine thesis - that of Rose, whose remark is about responsibility and blame. He implies that if evolution has bred into us dispositions to act in certain ways, then we cannot be blamed for acting in those ways. If sociobiological ideas about men are right, it follows that women should not blame their philandering mates.

The Rose remark starts to raise fundamental questions about responsibility. What he says hovers between two quite different ideas; and these need to be distinguished, because while one of them refers back to the ground that has just been covered, the other points forward to the large philosophical problem of free will, which needs separate consideration. This section will form a bridge between the two; the rest of this chapter will be about free will and responsibility.

Rose, as quoted by Dawkins (paragraph 1), says:

although he does not go as far as Richard Dawkins in proposing sex-linked genes for 'philandering', for Wilson human males have a genetic tendency towards polygyny, females towards constancy (don't blame your mates for sleeping

-126-

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Human Nature after Darwin: A Philosophical Introduction
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - The Theory 4
  • 2 - The Sceptics 25
  • 3 - Internecine Strife 51
  • 4 - Implications and Conditionals 87
  • 5 - Biology as Destiny 100
  • 6 - Blameless Puppets 126
  • 7 - Selfish Genes and Moral Animals 154
  • 8 - The End of Ethics 184
  • 9 - Onwards and Upwards 212
  • 10 - The Real Differences 259
  • Notes 271
  • Answers to Exercises 273
  • Revision Questions 288
  • Answers to Revision Questions 299
  • Suggestions for Further Reading 304
  • Bibliography 307
  • Index 309
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