CHAPTER 5
Darwinian Nature

If the human order is a special case of the vital order, and if understanding who we are entails understanding where we are, it seems obvious that we won't understand much about ourselves, as knowers or in any other way, without understanding something about the character of the living world of which our world forms part. Oddly enough, when I come to think of it, I have never worried much about the physical order; cosmology leaves me cold. The big bang or whatever it was seems too remote from us to need our attention. But organic evolution and its consequences for the kind of nature that surrounds and shapes us are another matter. Not that-, the 'story of evolution', any more than the story of the universe, answers, as such, our philosophical questions. Or perhaps it answers one question: it tells us that who and where we are and what we can hope to achieve are matters of historical contingency. We will not find graven in some higher reality, Plotinian or Hegelian, a cosmic grounding for our cognitive or moral or aesthetic aspirations. On the other hand, neither will we find in the laws of physics and chemistry principles from which to elicit with necessity our ways of going on. It does not need organic evolution to underline this lesson. Heideggerian Geworfenheit would do. But in the sense of stressing contingency in the light of a vast amount of varied evidence, evolution helps. It is an evolved nature, and in the main a Darwinian nature, of which we are one odd expression.

What kind of nature is that, and what difference does it make to our philosophical reflections that it is a Darwinian world? That's what I want to think about now, and to think back about in relation to my own interests, past and present.

I was brought up on Darwinism, the old-fashioned kind, before the days of the modern synthesis. The authoritative, and authoritarian, head of our family, my father's older brother, had a library full of dark

-89-

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A Philosophical Testament
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • For My Family, Both Irish and American v
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Part 1 - Knowing 7
  • Chapter 1 - Knowledge, Belief, and Perception 9
  • Chapter 2 - Rereading Kant 29
  • Chapter 3 - Beyond Empiricism? 47
  • Part 2 - Being 65
  • Chapter 4 - Being-In-The-World 67
  • Chapter 5 - Darwinian Nature 89
  • Chapter 6 - The Primacy of the Real 113
  • Part 3 - Coping 127
  • Chapter 7 - Perception Reclaimed: the Lessons of the Ecological Approach 129
  • Chapter 8 - Our Way of Coping: Symbols and Symboling 153
  • Chapter 9 - On Our Own Recognizances 173
  • Index 191
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