The Routledge Companion to Nineteenth Century Philosophy

By Dean Moyar | Go to book overview

16
DARWIN’S
PHILOSOPHICAL
IMPACT

Richard A. Richards


Synopsis

Darwin’s philosophical impact derives from his naturalism and explanatory pluralism. His naturalism is constituted by the requirement that causes be observed and to the degree observed; the requirement that causes unify phenomena by explanation; and a continuity thesis that humans are part of nature and are to be explained on the same principles as other organisms. His explanatory pluralism not only appeals to natural selection, but also to sexual selection, evolutionary ancestry and more. The philosophical impact of this naturalism can be seen in the pragmatic naturalization of inquiry, the development of a historical metaphysics, and the contemporary evolutionary accounts of human psychology and social ecology. These pose challenges to traditional philosophical ways of conceiving human psychology, moral judgment and normativity, based on among other things, the assumptions about the nature of value, the roles of reason and emotion, and the functioning of moral judgments.


1. Introduction

The scientific significance of Darwin and his theory of evolution is obvious. Evolutionary theory has become the foundation of modern biology, and has been extended to a variety of other fields. We find, for instance, evolutionary explanations and models beyond the traditional biological disciplines into psychology and social psychology, anthropology, economics and linguistics. Recognition of this influence has lead many commentators to classify Darwin with Newton and Einstein in the pantheon of scientific greats.

The philosophical impact of Darwin and his theory of evolution, on the other hand, is less obvious and more controversial. Introductory philosophy textbooks typically include few if any readings on, or references to evolution. Consequently, an introductory course in philosophy might never even have a discussion of Darwin

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