Leaving the Cave: Evolutionary Naturalism in Social-Scientific Thought

By Pat Duffy Hutcheon | Go to book overview

Preface

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.

-vii-

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