Friday, June 23, 2017

A Thousand Posts (6)

As has often been the case, some of my writing in 2014 reflected the courses I was teaching--in the spring, a course on "Hobbes, Kant, and Pinker: War, Peace, and Declining Violence," and in the fall, a course on Adam Smith.  Although I retired from NIU in 2012, I continued to teach one course a semester, until my last course in the spring of 2016.

As I reached the end of my teaching career, I thought about the wide diversity of topics that I had been able to teach.  I was grateful to the Department of Political Science at Northern Illinois University for the freedom I had there to teach almost anything I wanted to teach.  I began to wonder whether there was any topic that I wished I had taught but did not. 

I thought about two topics--intelligence and race.  I had thought often about teaching a course on the scientific study of intelligence, IQ, and race, including the moral and political implications of such research.  I must have begun thinking about this in 1994 when I read Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray's The Bell Curve and saw the intense academic and public controversy this provoked.  I thought about having a set of readings that would represent all sides of the debate.  But then I could never imagine how I could teach such a course without creating an emotional explosion in the classroom that would be too disruptive to manage.  This explains why few universities even have courses on the scientific study of intelligence:  professors are afraid to teach such courses for fear that they will be branded as racists.

I was able, however, to introduce these topics into some political philosophy courses.  In a class on John Rawls' Theory of Justice, for example, we read some articles on IQ testing and on the argument of Herrnstein and Murray that a society with equality of opportunity might produce a cognitive meritocracy with a class structure based on IQ.  We could then ask: Should we seek equality of opportunity but not equality of result, even when that allows a cognitive elite to become the ruling class?  I introduce this question in my chapter on Rawls in the 4th edition of Political Questions, which allows for a discussion in the book of the debate over Murray's claim that gaps in average IQ contribute to the separation between upper classes and lower classes, and that this is not just a racial problem, but also a problem in white America, because a large portion of the American white population with below average IQ has become a disadvantaged underclass.

This debate came up in some of my posts in 2014 on IQ, race, and human biodiversity (May, June, July, and September).  Many of these posts on the biodiversity of races were connected with Nicholas Wade's book--A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race, and Human History--which provoked a fierce controversy when it was published in 2014.  One of the critical reviewers of Wade's book concluded:   "So: race is real, and race is genetic, but that does not mean that race is 'really' genetic."  If that's as confusing to you as it was to me, look at my post on this in September.

There were also posts on the Flynn effect--James Flynn's observation that average IQ scores have been rising over the past century--and on Steven Pinker's argument that there might be a moral Flynn effect: increasing intelligence from a culture of scientific Enlightenment might lead to moral progress (such as declining violence) from better moral reasoning.  Pinker has even suggested that the more intelligent people might be more inclined to classical liberalism or libertarianism (May and June).

Charles Murray was one of the speakers at the Mont Pelerin Society meeting in the Galapagos in 2013, and my post on his lecture on human nature and human biodiversity (July 2013) was one of my first posts on this issue.  While Murray rejected the idea of equality understood as the sameness of all individuals or as requiring equality of outcomes in life, he affirmed equality of opportunity--that all individuals should have an equal opportunity to pursue their happiness, with the expectation that such free and equal pursuit of happiness will produce different outcomes for different individuals that will manifest their natural human diversity.

Murray's lecture reminded me of the last chapter of The Bell Curve, which is entitled "A Place for Everyone."  He opens the chapter with a question: "How should policy deal with the twin realities that people differ in intelligence for reasons that are not their fault, and that intelligence has a powerful bearing on how well people do in life?"  He answers this with a classical liberal argument for equal liberty.  He rejects the answer that government should create the equality of condition, because this would require an egalitarian tyranny contrary to human nature.  "People who are free to behave differently from one another in the important affairs of daily life inevitably generate the social and economic inequalities that egalitarianism seeks to suppress."  But a free people are equal in their equal rights for pursuing happiness in ways that do not coercively interfere with the rights of others pursuing their happiness.  In a society of equal liberty, those individuals who are naturally more intelligent or talented than others will reap the benefits of those superior traits, but those superior individuals will have no right to exploit those of lesser abilities.  In such a society, equal liberty provides the conditions for everyone to find valued places for themselves.

This debate over whether liberal democratic societies that affirm equality of rights can tolerate social and economic inequality was intensified in 2014 by the publication of Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century, which argues that rising inequality in Western Europe and North America has become so stark that by the middle of the 21st century, the top 1% will own over 90% of the wealth.  To avoid this, we need to expand governmental welfare systems and increase tax rates on the rich to redistribute the wealth, so as to at least moderate the level of inequality.  I wrote a series of posts responding to Piketty's argument in July.

In the evolution of inequality, I see five stages: simple foraging societies, complex foraging societies, agrarian states, capitalist liberal states, and capitalist welfare states.  In none of these social orders, does one see absolute equality.  Even in the most egalitarian foraging societies, there is inequality, in that some people have a little more status, power, or wealth than others.  If one were serious about achieving something close to equality of condition, one would have to embrace Marxist proposals for abolishing private property, abolishing free markets, abolishing the family, and putting all of economic life under governmental central planning.  Piketty is quite clear in rejecting this as unworkable.

Moreover, Piketty passes over very quickly the possibility of "good inequality"--where there is a lot of mobility into and out of the top ranks of wealth and status, where those in the top ranks have earned their ranking (through advanced education, assortative mating with other highly educated people, entering stable marriages, and so on), and where most of those in the bottom rank are not living in true poverty.  I wrote about this in January and September of 2016.

Piketty seems to be proposing a strong form of democratic socialism like that of the Nordic countries. But as I have indicated in a post (in June), many Marxist socialists have seen this as a betrayal of true socialism. 

The economic success of the Nordic countries has been due not just to their welfare state policies, but crucially to their economic freedom.  In the international indices of economic freedom as formulated by libertarian think tanks like the Fraser Institute and the Cato Institute, all of the Nordic countries rank high, and some rank higher than the United States.  Countries with low levels of economic freedom are not successful. We can explain this as manifesting the natural human desire for freedom as rooted in evolved human nature.

I was impressed by one piece of academic work coming out of a Nordic country in 2014. Jon Anstein Olsen successfully defended his dissertation for his Ph.D. at the University of Oslo (Norway), which is entitled Neo-Darwinian Conservatism in the United States.  This is a fascinating work, and not just because I play a prominent role in it!  It is a thoughtful history and assessment of the argument for a Darwinian conservatism as it has developed in the United States over the past 40 years. 

He identifies me first as a proponent of "neo-Darwinian conservative pessimism," in which I make a Darwinian argument for what Thomas Sowell called the "constrained vision" of social life as opposed to the "unconstrained vision."  He also identifies me as a proponent of "neo-Darwinian natural right," in which I make a Darwinian argument for what Leo Strauss called "natural right."

Olsen suggests at least eight possible criticisms of my reasoning.

1.  Straw men.  Olsen charges that in my criticisms of the Left, I loosely associate modern liberalism with socialism, communism, and utopian thinking, which is a straw-man argument, because modern liberals today are not socialists, communists, or utopians.

2.  Moral progress.  He also charges that in my conservative pessimism and in my insistence on how imperfect human nature constrains what we can do, I ignore the moral progress in history that has been brought about by the Left.

3.  The naturalistic fallacy.  Olsen says that my project is "fundamentally and essentially guilty of committing the naturalistic fallacy," in trying to infer normative values from descriptive facts.

4.  Emotivism.  He criticizes me for trying to ground all morality on mere feeling or emotion, and thus ignoring the necessity for moral reason to rule over the "vulgar passions."

5.  The interpersonal dimension.  He also criticizes me for saying nothing about the "interpersonal dimension" of human life and thus failing to see that morality is always about the interests or perspectives of more than one individual.

6.  Contemporary issues and human rights.  He claims that I never apply Darwinian natural right reasoning to "issues that are at least remotely controversial in liberal democracies today," and I never consider the possibility that Darwinian natural right might apply to contemporary thought about human rights.

7.  Religion and Darwin.  He emphasizes that the most common criticism of Darwinian conservatism by conservatives is that Darwinian science subverts religious belief and thus subverts the morality that depends on religious belief, and he implies that I have given no good answer to that objection.

8.  Human Biodiversity.  Olsen has a good chapter on the history of American conservatives who argue that the evolutionary science of human biodiversity supports scientific racism and xenophobic nationalism; and although he does not state it as a criticism, some readers might wonder whether I have any good response to this argument for the evolutionary psychology of race differences.  Some of the scientific racists and nationalists that Olsen mentions have recently become prominent as leaders of the "alt-right" movement supporting Donald Trump.

In July, I wrote a series of posts responding to these eight criticisms.

In January, I continued to challenge Hayek's Freudian theory of civilization by looking at two groups of foraging bands that live in the tropical rainforests of South America--the Kayapo in Brazil and the Waorani in eastern Ecuador.  The Kayapo engage in what Hayek would call the "extended order of civilization," because they have trade relations with the commercial towns near their villages.  Thus, as Hayek said, they must "live in two worlds at once." But I see no evidence here that the Kayapo have had to suppress their genetically evolved instincts for tribal life to embrace the purely cultural traditions of civilization.  It seems clear that their instinctive desire to better their conditions of life has led them to participate in the market order of exchange and specialization while preserving as much of their small village life as they can.

Both the Kayapo and the Waorani have historically been extremely violent people, but coming under the control of government has reduced the violence, which seems to confirm Pinker's argument about the success of the "Hobbesian pacification process" when stateless foragers come under the legal system of a government.

Against this Hobbesian logic, some anarchists have argued that the liberty of living in anarchy is better than a predatory government, as illustrated by countries like Somalia.  But then, in many countries around the world today--such as Libya, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan--the weakening or failure of central state power has promoted not individual liberty but the rule of clans that deny individual autonomy.  When there is no powerful central government to enforce law and order and provide public goods, people will not live as free individuals; rather they will revert back to an ancient tribal form of social order in which people are treated not as individuals but as members of their extended kinship groups.  There are good Darwinian reasons for this, having to do with the evolved instincts for kinship, nepotism, and tribalism based on extended real or fictive kinship. 

The moral codes of these clan societies will enforce group honor and suppress individual liberty.  For example, clan societies will enforce the blood feuds, the honor killings, and the attacks on infidels that liberals abhor.  The social order of liberal individualism will not prevail unless there is a powerful liberal state that will deny the customary legal systems of clan groups and protect the autonomy of individuals from coercion by clans.

That's the message of a brilliant new book--Mark Weiner's The Rule of the Clan.  Although he never directly mentions Hobbes, Weiner's argument is Hobbesian in making the case for a Liberal Leviathan.  He disputes the common libertarian assumption that liberty is strongest when the state is weakest or even absent.  While conceding that the state can be used for illiberal ends, he insists that individual freedom cannot exist if it is not enforced by a powerful liberal state.  He develops this argument by showing how weak or failed states have often created a vacuum of power that has been filled by the rule of clans that deny individual liberty.

In January, I wrote about this debate between the anarchists and the Hobbesians.  In June, I wrote about the Marxist critique of socialist anarchism.  I have written other posts on anarchism in 2010 (June) and 2015 (January and December). 

The possibility of anarchism is an important issue for any biopolitical science that must explain the evolution of government.  My argument is that every human society has some form of governance.  Even stateless foraging bands without the formal institutions of government and law have informal governance by leaders and customary law.  Classical liberals strive for limited government with a lot of private governance in civil society and the economy.

Part of the classical liberal argument for limited government is that there should be no governmental enforcement of religious belief, which should be a private matter left up to individual free choice.  And yet we might wonder whether Hobbes was right in arguing that no matter how much religious liberty and toleration is allowed, any government dedicated to keeping the peace must have the ultimate power to reject religious doctrines that promote violence, and thus to that extent the sovereign must be the "supreme pastor."  This argument was part of the second half of Hobbes's Leviathan that was devoted to interpreting the Bible, as if this was a political question.

In his interpreting the text of the Bible, Hobbes began a scholarly tradition of studying the Bible according to what would later be called the "historical-critical method" or "higher criticism."  In their history of this tradition of Biblical scholarship, Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker argue that this was a political interpretation of the Bible to advance classical liberal politics by secularizing politics and privatizing religious belief. 

In February, I wrote a post on this, arguing that this might in fact be a correct interpretation of the Bible--or at least of the New Testament--and this would support Roger Williams in his claim that the New Testament teaches religious liberty and separation of church and state.  In wrote a post on Williams in December of 2012.  Some of this writing went into my chapters on Hobbes and Locke in Political Questions.

But still Hobbes might have been right that the sovereign must always have the authority to act as "supreme pastor" in interpreting religious texts in ways that would keep the peace.  So, for example, after the 9/11 attack in 2001, President George W. Bush declared that the teachings of Islam in the Quran "are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah."  Remarkably, Bush--a "born-again Christian"--was claiming to teach the truth of Islam and the Quran!  Bush seemed to be acting as the "supreme pastor."

But how far can a liberal government properly go in enforcing religious doctrine?  For example, would it be proper to enforce belief in the immortality of the soul with the reward of Heaven for the good and the punishment of Hell for the bad?  Is it plausible, as Locke argues in The Reasonableness of Christianity and as Plato argues in the Republic and the Laws, that belief in a final judgment by God with eternal rewards and punishments will motivate virtuous conduct, and therefore that the atheistic denial of this religious doctrine will subvert virtue?

I have written a series of posts on the evolution of Heaven and Hell (in April and May of 2010) and on the various forms of immortality (in October and November of 2013).  Although I have been generally skeptical about life after death, I recognize that there are good arguments for believing in such a possibility. 

The best statement of those arguments that I have seen is Dinesh D'Souza's Life After Death: The Evidence (2009).  What is most interesting for me is that D'Souza claims to rely primarily on purely rational scientific and philosophic thinking that does not depend on religious faith. In April, I wrote a series of five posts responding to his arguments.  I consider his reasoning based on near death experiences, Kantian dualism, the neuroscience of consciousness and free will, and the cosmic justice of Heaven and Hell as necessary for morality.

As I have indicated in my blog post on Wallace Stevens's poem "Sunday Morning," we should consider the possibility that living forever is not desirable, because living timelessly and changelessly would not be really living, and that in living the lives that we have, "death is the mother of beauty."  In another post (October of 2016), I suggested that the natural human lifespan--no more than about 115 years!--is enough.

Also in April, I wrote some posts on whether Steven Pinker has distorted the evidence for prehistoric war and for declining violence in modern history.  Pinker's Better Angels of Our Nature has over 115 figures--an average of one for every 6 pages of text.  Many of these figures are visual presentations of data to support his arguments for prehistoric war and for a historical trend towards declining violence from the Stone Age to the present.  These figures are based on data found in thousands of cited sources.  This is one of his most impressive rhetorical techniques for persuading his readers that his reasoning is based on a meticulous statistical analysis of data.

Most readers will not take the trouble to read the sources for each figure to see whether Pinker is being accurate in his presentation of the data.  But some of his critics have done this for some of the figures, and they are accusing Pinker of manipulating the data to make it look more supportive of his argument that it really is.  Having looked into this myself, I think this is a fair criticism, although it's not fatal to his argument.  If Pinker had been totally honest about the gaps and uncertainties in the data, he could still have made a plausible argument for his conclusions. 

Some of my writing here went into my chapter on Pinker in Political Questions.  Some of these issues were discussed in March of 2014 at a Liberty Fund conference that I directed on "Liberty and Violence: From Auberon Herbert to Steven Pinker" at the Westward Look Resort in Tucson.

In March, I wrote some other posts on the questions that came up at the Liberty Fund conference. Is there a mutual relationship between increasing liberty and declining violence?  Does the history of violence show a pattern of decline?  If so, is this history of declining violence largely explained by a history of increasing liberty?  If so, is this a Darwinian process of biological and cultural evolution towards liberty and away from violence?  And if all this is so, does this provide historical confirmation for classical liberalism?

We saw that Auberon Herbert begins with the first principle of classical liberalism--self-ownership.  (In some previous posts, I have traced this liberal principle of self-ownership back to Richard Overton and John Locke.)  Herbert then defends the principle of liberty as opposed to the principle of force by arguing that liberty respects each person's ownership of himself and his property, while force allows some people to own the persons and property of others.  The fundamental question in human life is the choice between liberty and force--between a social life based on individual self-ownership and voluntary cooperation or a social life based on some people owning others and enforcing compulsory cooperation.  (In some previous posts, I have indicated how Abraham Lincoln's reasoning in the debate over slavery manifests this choice between liberty and force, and how Lincoln's choice for liberty of self-ownership constitutes his classical liberalism.)

As I have argued in some previous posts, this Lockean conception of individual personhood as embodied self-conscious awareness of, and emotional concern for, the survival and well-being of the body can now be confirmed as manifest in the human nervous system as a product of mammalian evolution.  If we follow Antonio Damasio's "somatic marker hypothesis" and Bud Craig's neuroanatomical explanation of conscious self-awareness in human beings, we can identify the self-ownership of the person as the activity of the anterior insular cortex of the brain in constituting the subjective awareness of the individual in caring for one's self and for others to whom one is attached.
Herbert sees the history of liberty and force as a progressive evolutionary history towards declining force and increasing liberty, because he thinks that liberty allows the free development of individual energy and genius through spontaneous enterprises of voluntary cooperation, which will be more productive than coercive systems based on force.  Thus, cultural evolution by natural selection favoring greater human survival and well-being will generally favor liberty over force.  This shows the "universal law of progress."  James Payne's History of Force develops this conception of history, and Pinker's Better Angels of Our Nature elaborates Payne's history of declining violence and increasing liberty and peace.

This sort of thinking was most fully developed by Herbert Spencer.  In March, I wrote a post on Spencer, indicating that I had finally become convinced that modern evolutionary classical liberalism is rooted in the tradition of Spencer, and that the recent work of those like Matt Ridley, Jonathan Haidt, Michael Shermer, Paul Rubin, and Pinker confirms Spencer's rational optimism about the evolutionary trend across history towards increasing liberty and declining violence.

If evolutionary classical liberalism is correct, then liberal societies must be evolutionarily more adaptive, more functional, or more productive--economically, morally, and intellectually--than illiberal societies.  And, consequently, despite the occasional turns towards illiberal social orders, the arrow of history in the long run points to liberty.

Another post in March ("Classical Liberalism as Evolutionary Niche Construction") came out of the Liberty Fund conference.  At the conference, Frances White--the leading observer of bonobos in the wild--explained that in the wild, bonobo females serve a policing function, in that they intervene in fights to moderate conflicts through impartial mediation, because they benefit from living in a stable social order that is not disrupted by violence.

She also observed that bonobos--like all primates--show a range of personality types, so that some individuals have more violent temperaments than others, and consequently the occurrence of violence can depend on the contingency of whether there are such violent individuals in the group.  She said that many of the deaths of the males comes from "testosterone poisoning"--young males vigorously displaying their virility in the forest canopy can kill themselves by slamming into a tree.

She also said that if dominant males are grouped together in zoos without females who can moderate their male conflicts, then nasty fighting is likely to break out.  She explained then that what the females are doing in the wild groups in pacifying conflicts is "niche construction"--behavior that creates a social environment in which stable and peaceful cooperation is adaptive.

In response to her comment, I suggested that the history of classical liberalism is evolutionary niche construction, and that this is a big part of Pinker's argument: the history of classical liberal philosophy has created a cultural moral environment of liberalism in which peaceful cooperation and declining violence are adaptive.  This is what Deirdre McCloskey would identify as the work of rhetorical entrepreneurs in the marketplace of ideas who have used moral persuasion to create a liberal culture that honors the bourgeois virtues.

I have claimed that the arguments for evolutionary classical liberalism have recently been confirmed by the experimental evidence for evolutionary moral psychology.  As I indicated in a post in August, the experimental testing of how people respond to the famous "trolley problem" illustrates this.

These stories about the runaway trolley headed towards killing five people tied to the track might seem too cartoonish to be taken seriously as moral dilemmas.  But in recent decades, ever since they were first proposed by philosophers Philippa Foot and Judith Jarvis Thomson, they have become some of the most debated thought experiments among moral philosophers.  They have also been introduced into scientific experimentation conducted by philosophers, psychologists, and neuroscientists to test whether our moral intuitions about the trolley problem manifest an innate and universal moral sense shaped by human evolution and written into the neural circuitry of the brain.  This shows how a fundamental question in moral and political philosophy can be translated into experimentally testable propositions.  This trolleyology (as it has been called) has become a crucial part of the recent movement towards "experimental philosophy."

Of the hundreds of thousands of people all around the world who have participated in formal trolley problem surveys, most people (up to 90% in some studies) would divert the trolley in the Spur case, but they would not push the fat man in the Footbridge case.  What is most striking about this is that most people react differently to the two cases although pulling the switch and pushing the fat man have identical consequences--one person dies to save five.

Most of the writing for this post went into my chapter on Rawls in Political Questions.

Similarly, much of my writing on Adam Smith and on how evolutionary moral psychology supports Smithian liberalism, in a series of posts from August to December, went into my chapter on Smith in Political Questions. 

The scholars of Adam Smith have long debated the Adam Smith Problem--the problem that Smith apparently contradicts himself by assuming in The Wealth of Nations that human beings are moved only by self-interest, while arguing in The Theory of Moral Sentiments that human beings are moved by their concern for others to act virtuously so that they can enjoy a mutual sympathy of sentiments.

I have argued, however--in some posts in August of 2012--that the new Darwinian social science overcomes the Adam Smith Problem by supporting the fundamental idea running through all of Smith's writing--the evolution of unintended order--and in doing that, it supports Smithian liberalism, or what Smith calls "the system of natural liberty."  That the evolution of unintended order is the unifying theme of all of Smith's writing has been well stated by James Otteson.  He contends that Smith applies a "market model" to explain the origin, development, and maintenance of all extended human institutions as unintended orders, which includes morality, the economy, law, and language.  What he calls "unintended order" is what Michael Polanyi and Friedich Hayek call "spontaneous order" and what Vernon Smith and others call "emergent order."  Otteson defines "unintended order" as "a self-enforcing, orderly institution created unintentionally by the free exchanges of individuals who desire to satisfy their own individual wants."

An unintended order is contrasted with an intentional order that has been rationally designed by some mind or group of minds for a deliberately planned purpose.  The contrast between these two kinds of order underlies a fundamental debate in social theory between the constructivists and the evolutionists: between those who think that a good social order must be deliberately and rationally designed for some foreseeable end-state and those who think a good social order arises through a process of free exchanges between individuals acting for individual ends with no overall end in mind.  Since the success of unintended order depends on individual liberty constrained only by rules of justice protecting life, liberty, and property, the idea of unintended order is the fundamental idea of classical liberalism in the Smithian tradition.

My posts on Smith in the fall of 2014 included posts on the debate over mirror neurons, Jonathan Haidt's libertarian moral psychology, Joshua Greene's "dual process theory" of moral reason and moral emotion in the brain, Joseph Cropsey's Straussian attack on Smith, Joe Henrich's use of cross-cultural experimental games in the "Roots of Human Socialtiy Project," the cultural evolution of Big Gods that made humans moral, "how Adam Smith predicted the financial crisis of 2008," and Deirdre McCloskey on the evolution of the bourgeois virtues.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

A Thousand Posts (5)

This was the year of my Darwinian Grand Tour--from Chicago to the Galapagos to Houston to Atlanta to Freiburg, and a few places in between. 

In April, I presented a paper at the Midwest Political Science Convention in Chicago on "Nietzsche's Darwinian Liberalism." 

In June, I was travelling in Peru, Ecuador, and the Galapagos Islands.  The trip to the Galapagos began with a week-long yacht tour of five of the larger islands, followed by a week in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on the island of San Cristobal, where I participated in the Mont Pelerin Society meetings on "Evolution, the Human Sciences, and Liberty."  For those MPS meetings, I wrote a paper on "The Evolution of Darwinian Liberalism." 

In October, I lectured at Lone Star College-Kingwood, where John Barr was teaching a remarkable course entitled "The Emancipators: Abraham Lincoln, Charles Darwin, and the Making of the Modern World." 

Also in October, I spoke at the Philadelphia Society meeting on Russell Kirk and "The Permanent Things" in Atlanta. 

In December, I went to Freiburg, Germany, where I lectured for a workshop on "Liberalism and the Evolutionary Agenda," organized by Ulrich Witt, the Director of the Evolutionary Economics Group at the Max Planck Institute (Jena). 

I saw the MPS meetings and the Freiburg workshop as especially important moments in the recent intellectual history of evolutionary classical liberalism.

January 1 was the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, and so I began the year with a post on "Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation in Evolutionary History," in which I showed how Lincoln's classical liberalism was based on an evolutionary understanding of human history.

Then, from January to April, in September, and in December, I wrote a long series of posts on Nietzsche.  My main argument is that the Darwinian science of Nietzsche's middle period (1878-1882)--particularly, Human, All Too Human (1878)--is superior to Nietzsche's earlier and later writings. 

I first began to see this from my reading of Lou Salome's book on Nietzsche, the first book ever written on Nietzsche, and in some ways still the best book.  Lou had insights that came from her brief friendship with Nietzsche (April to October, 1882), when Nietzsche repeatedly proposed marriage, and she turned him down.  She saw that once Nietzsche broke off his friendships with her and Paul Ree, he moved away from the evolutionary science that dominated his middle period.

The Darwinian science of Nietzsche's middle period is morally, politically, and intellectually superior to the mythic metaphysics of his early and late writings.  This Darwinian science is morally superior because it promotes a sober morality of moderation that restrains tendencies to intoxicated extremism.  This science is politically superior because it promotes a prudent respect for liberal democracy that restrains tendencies to tyrannical power-seeing.  And this science is intellectually superior because it can be grounded in empirical evidence and methodical reasoning rather than the delusions of enthusiastic fantasizing.  In contrast to the Darwinian science of the middle period, the distinctive teachings of the late Nietzsche--the will to power, eternal return, and the Ubermensch--are morally corrupting, politically dangerous, and intellectually confused.

In Nietzsche's later writings, we can see how the Darwinian refutation of the universe as a moral cosmology provoked a turn to art and an atheistic religiosity as mythmaking to escape from this "deadly truth."

The attraction of Nietzsche's later writings and rejection of the free-spirited evolutionary science of his middle period is evident among the Nazis and the Straussians.

I wrote a series of posts on Nietzsche's "Sociobiology of Animal Morality" and on his "Aristocratic Liberalism."

I use the term "aristocratic liberalism" to convey the thought that while a liberal regime secures equal liberty under the rule of law, it also thereby secures inequality of results in allowing for "the natural aristocracy of virtues and talents" (as Thomas Jefferson called it).  Aristocratic liberalism can thus combine the ancient concern for social virtue and the modern concern for individual liberty.  The aristocratic liberalism of Nietzsche's middle period is in contrast to the aristocratic anti-liberalism of his later writings.

Nietzsche's aristocratic liberalism can be sketched out as four affirmations and four negations:  affirming constitutional democracy, liberal pluralism, religious liberty, and cosmopolitan globalization, while denying socialist statism, "great politics," anti-Semitism, and atheistic religiosity.

Nietzsche's evolutionary aristocratic liberalism is very similar to what Douglass North and his colleagues identify as the modern "open access society," which was the subject of a post in April.

Also in April, I defended Nietzsche's aristocratic liberalism in his middle period as superior to the aristocratic radicalism that Bruce Detwiler saw in Nietzsche's later period.  Detwiler failed to see that his good criticisms of Nietzsche's aristocratic radicalism don't apply to Nietzsche's aristocratic liberalism.  Detwiler also failed to see how that aristocratic liberalism was rooted in the Darwinian science that Nietzsche embraced in his middle period.

I also pointed out that Strauss failed to see how his account of Nietzsche as surfing the "third wave of modernity" that led to Nazism does not apply to the Darwinian liberalism of Nietzsche's middle writings.

In the first half of July, I wrote a series of 6 posts as "An Evolutionary Tour of the Galapagos" that was based on my tour of the islands on the Cormorant.  (In early February of 2017, I did a second tour of the Galapagos on the Cormorant; and I wrote another series of 12 posts on "Thinking About Galapagos.")

In the second half of July, I wrote a series of 14 posts on the lectures and discussions at the Mont Pelerin Society conference.  The Mont Pelerin Society was founded in 1946 by Friedrich Hayek as an organization for people who wanted to think about classical liberalism in the modern world.  Hayek saw classical liberalism as rooted in an evolutionary science of liberty and spontaneous order.  In recent years, there has been growing interest in how contemporary sociobiology and evolutionary science might apply to Hayek's evolutionary conception of liberalism.  This was the concern of the MPS meetings in the Galapagos, which brought together some of the leading evolutionary scientists and classical liberal thinkers. 

In my paper for the conference--"The Evolution of Darwinian Liberalism"--I argued that evolutionary moral psychology has largely confirmed the truth of the liberalism defended by Adam Smith and Hayek.  But I also argued that Hayek's socialist "atavism" thesis--that socialism appeals to our evolved instincts, but liberalism does not--is mistaken.  I made the same argument at the Freiburg workshop.

From the end of July into the first week of August, I wrote a series of 6 posts on the book Darwinian Evolution and Classical Liberalism: Theories in Tension, edited by Stephen Dilley, which had recently been published by Lexington Books.  Of the 13 authors in this book, 9 are opponents of Darwinian classical liberalism, and most of their criticisms are directed at me.  2 of the authors seem neutral, and 2 seem to be defenders (somewhat) of Darwinian liberalism.

The argument that seems to be embraced by the nine critics can be called Dilley's Syllogism, because it's stated by Dilley in his introductory chapter:
Classical (Lockean) liberalism is founded on Christianity.
Darwinism denies Christianity.
Therefore, Darwinism denies classical (Lockean) liberalism.
Consequently, the nine critics are proponents of what they call "Christian classical liberalism" or "theistic classical liberalism."  They also identify this with the liberal political thought of the American founders, and so they defend "the rich theistic classical liberalism embodied in the American founding."  I have inserted "Lockean" into the syllogism because the nine critics generally appeal to John Locke as "the quintessential classical liberal," although they also often identify Adam Smith as a paradigmatic classical liberal.

The nine critics say that they are attacking "Darwinian conservatism," which "integrates a Darwinian conception of human nature with the essentials of classical liberalism, drawing on the work of Locke, Smith, Hayek, and others."  They identify the most prominent proponents of Darwinian conservatism as me, Thomas Sowell, Robert McShea, James Q. Wilson, Michael Shermer, and Francis Fukuyama.  Most of their attacks, however, are directed at me.

Most of the nine critics are associated with the Discovery Institute, and most of what they say conforms to the famous "Wedge Document" of the Discovery Institute, which lays out a strategy for saving Christian civilization from the moral and political degradation promoted by Darwinian science, a strategy that depends on "intelligent design theory" as the alternative to Darwinian evolution.

In my series of posts, I answer their criticisms.

One of my posts on the MPS meetings was on Richard Wrangham's lecture on his "chimpanzee model" for explaining the evolution of war.  This is part of an intense debate among biologists and social scientists over whether Hobbes was right that the state of nature is a state of war or whether Rousseau was right that it was a state of peace.  Those on the Hobbesian side think that war has been natural for chimpanzees and human foragers.  Those on the Rousseauean side deny this. 

Although I agree with Wrangham and lean towards the Hobbesian side, I argue that the opponents in this debate end up agreeing on a position that is neither Hobbesian nor Rousseauean but Lockean.  Thus does the evolutionary anthropology of war and peace confirm John Locke's account of the state of nature and the evolution of government.  Hobbes was partly right.  Rousseau was mostly wrong. And Locke was mostly right.  I wrote posts on this in August and September.  (This became part of my paper "The Biopolitical Science of Locke's State of Nature" that I presented at the 2015 meetings of the American Political Science Association.)

I have written a long series of posts on the evolution of war among chimps and humans (August of 2013, September and November of 2014, June of 2015, January of 2016).

In September and October, I wrote about my participation in the national meeting of the Philadelphia Society in Atlanta on Russell Kirk and "The Permanent Things."

In my lecture, I argued that an evolved human nature that is enduring but not permanent is enough to support an evolutionary conservatism rooted in an evolutionary moral anthropology of natural desires, customary traditions, and individual judgments.

That’s not enough, however, for a metaphysical conservatism that appeals to a transcendent moral cosmology of eternal order as intelligently designed by the Creator.

This contrast between evolutionary conservatism and metaphysical conservatism was displayed in the debate between Friedrich Hayek and Russell Kirk at the 1957 meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society. 

At the Philadelphia Society meeting, I was disturbed by how many of the speakers assumed a divine command theory of ethics, so that we cannot know what is right or wrong except by obeying God's commands, particularly in the Hebrew Bible.  As I suggested in my remarks, this is dangerous, because it would mean accepting slavery and the brutal despotism of Mosaic law.

Almost all of the speakers at the meeting were uncritical in their praise of Kirk.  The only critics were me and Alan Charles Kors.  Kors is a prominent historian at the University of Pennsylvania who is known for his studies of the intellectual history of seventeenth and eighteenth century Europe.  Kors defended the French Enlightenment, which was a bold move before an audience of Kirkian conservatives.  I defended Friedrich Hayek's evolutionary conservatism as an alternative to Kirk's metaphysical conservatism.

Kors and I were in complete agreement.  That might seem odd, particularly since Hayek presented his Burkean evolutionary conservatism as rooted in the British and Scottish Enlightenment as opposed to the French Enlightenment. 

But Kors argued that what Burkean conservatives criticize as the excesses of the French Revolution--the Jacobins and the Reign of Terror--manifest the intellectual legacy of Rousseau rather than the philosophes.  After all, Rousseau was a vehement opponent of the philosophes.  Leaders of the French Enlightenment like Voltaire and Montesquieu opposed every form of despotism and supported the tolerance, liberty, and commercial spirit that they saw in Great Britain.  Robespierre's "Republic of Virtue" was inspired not by the thought of Voltaire or Montesquieu but by Rousseau's Social Contract.  For example, Robespierre's "Religion of the Supreme Being" was explicitly an attempt to enforce Rousseau's teaching that all citizens must embrace a deistic religion, and that neither atheists nor Christians can be true citizens.

In his speech, Kors often referred to Hayek in ways that suggested that most of French Enlightenment thought was in agreement with Hayek's evolutionary liberalism, which I defended in my speech.

In December, I wrote 6 posts on the Freiburg workshop on liberalism and evolution.

One of the benefits for me of this workshop was that it helped me to think through my ambivalence about Hayek's evolutionary liberalism.  I am persuaded by Hayek's claim that Darwinian science supports the fundamental idea of classical liberalism that social order--including morals, markets, and laws--can arise as a largely spontaneous  or unintended order from the interactions of individuals acting to satisfy their individual desires.  But I am not persuaded by Hayek's account of exactly how cultural evolution produces the modern liberal order. 

My conclusion is that we need to see how Darwinian science corrects the mistakes in Hayek's account while confirming Hayek's insight about how liberal thought can be rooted in an evolutionary science of spontaneous order.  Naomi Beck was one of the participants in the workshop, and I saw her critique of Hayek's evolutionary liberalism as reinforcing this conclusion.

At least half or more of the participants were proponents of Hayekian classical liberalism who were interested in the possibility of grounding liberalism in evolutionary science, although they were unsure as to whether Hayek was correct in the details of his evolutionary theory of liberalism.  A few of the participants--including Beck--were opponents of Hayek and of liberalism in general.  This was similar to the situation at the Mont Pelerin Society conference in the Galapagos Islands last summer, where much of the discussion turned on the assessment of Hayek's evolutionary liberalism.

In the discussions at the MPS meetings and at the Freiburg workshop, I criticized Hayek’s suggestion that the market order requires a suppression of our natural human desires.  This is what I have identified as Hayek’s Freudian theory of human evolution, in which civilization requires the repression of our evolved human instincts.  Here is where Hayek’s argument for liberalism becomes incoherent.  

If a liberal society is so painful because it requires the suppression of our deepest natural instincts, why does it succeed?  And if a socialist society satisfies our deepest natural instincts, why does it fail?  

As I have indicated in various posts, I see the same incoherence in the “mismatch theory” of Leda Cosmides and John Tooby.  At the MPS meeting, Cosmides and Tooby indicated their agreement with Hayek on this point.  At times, they seemed to say that Karl Marx was right about the “primitive communism” of hunter-gatherers, but at other times, they seemed to say that Marx was wrong, because even hunter-gatherers show only conditional sharing or reciprocation, and therefore their sharing is not indiscriminate.  Moreover, Tooby and Cosmides seemed to agree with John Locke and Adam Smith in seeing trading behavior in hunter-gatherers that would provide the natural basis for the modern commercial society.

At the Freiburg workshop, I agreed with Naomi Beck in criticizing Hayek for not reading Darwin and considering his theory of cultural evolution.  Remarkably, Hayek in The Fatal Conceit dismisses Darwin as having nothing important to say about cultural evolution, although Hayek never cites Darwin, and thus leaves the reader with the suspicion that Hayek never read Darwin. 

Darwin's Descent of Man offers an elaborate account of the evolution of morality that should have been important for Hayek.  Darwin presents the evolution of morality as moving through three interacting levels--natural instincts, cultural traditions, and individual reason.  To me, this seems more reasonable than Hayek's attempt to deny instinct and reason in elevating culture as the only ground of morality.  That was one of my arguments in my paper for the Freiburg workshop.

A portion of my Freiburg paper was published in the Journal of Bioeconomics (April 2014).

I have written many posts on how Darwinian biology supports Aristotelian teleology. One of the best of these posts was written in September with the title "The Biological Teleology of Natural Right: Aristotle, Darwin, Strauss, and Rand."  It highlights the remarkable work of Allan Gotthelf in showing how Darwinian evolutionary biology restored Aristotelian teleology to biology and thus showed how modern biology can sustain Aristotelian natural right.  Strauss claimed that the "problem of natural right" today is that "modern natural science seems to have refuted teleology."  Gotthelf demonstrated that Strauss was mistaken about this.

In October and November, I wrote some posts on the foolishness of longing for immortality and the wisdom of Wallace Stevens' insight that "death is the mother of beauty."

I also wrote some posts on music--Wagner's Die Meistersinger (February) and Parsifal (November) and Handel's Messiah (December).

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A Thousand Posts (4)

In the spring semester, I taught a graduate seminar on Leo Strauss.  Consequently, I wrote many posts on Strauss from January to June.  Much of this writing was incorporated into my chapter on Strauss in Political Questions.

Although I never met Strauss, many of my teachers at the University of Dallas and the University of Chicago had been colleagues and students of Strauss.  Many of my colleagues and students in the political theory program at Northern Illinois University were deeply influenced by Straussian thinking.  I absorbed many of the Straussian ideas about the history of political philosophy that shaped much of my thinking, although I was never an orthodox Straussian. 

I was particularly interested in Strauss's understanding of "natural right."  And from Roger Masters, one of Strauss's students who specialized in the study of Rousseau, I picked up the idea that natural right might be rooted in Aristotelian biology in a way that could be supported by modern Darwinian biology.  This led to my argument for "Darwinian natural right."  The Straussians have been hostile to my argument, mostly because of their hostility to modern natural science generally, and to Darwinian biology in particular. 

In my posts, I pointed out Strauss's silence about how Aristotle's biology supports natural right, and also his silence about Nietzsche's Darwinian liberalism in his middle writings (especially, Human, All Too Human).  Strauss and the Straussians tend to stress Nietzsche's early and late writings, where they can find a Nietzschean attack on Darwinian naturalism.  But they ignore Nietzsche's appeal to Darwinian science in his middle writings.

I also reflected on the similarities between what Strauss identified as the liberalism of Lucretius and Darwinian liberalism.  According to Strauss, the central insight of Lucretius's argument is that "nothing lovable is eternal or sempiternal or deathless, or that the eternal is not lovable." Strauss calls this "the most terrible truth," because it denies that the cosmos is ordered to the human good.  Strauss and the Straussians are deeply disturbed by this "terrible truth" that there is no cosmic teleology.  Darwinian liberalism accepts this truth and is satisfied with grounding the human good in the immanent teleology of evolved human nature. 

Strauss's most famous claim is that many of the classic writers of political philosophy have practiced an art of secret writing, by which they could convey an esoteric teaching that is unpopular or heterodox to a few careful readers who are philosophic, while conveying an exoteric teaching that is more popular or orthodox to the many careless readers who are unphilosophic.  This claim--elaborated in Strauss's Persecution and the Art of Writing (1952)--suggests the question of whether Strauss himself was a secret writer with a secret teaching.  If he was, then what's the big secret that would be so disturbing to most readers that it needs to be hidden from their view?

If Strauss had a big secret, I think, it's to be found in that "most terrible truth."  When a writer has a deeply disturbing message that he wants to transmit to his philosophic readers, while hiding it from his vulgar readers, Strauss suggested, there are various techniques available to him.  A writer can convey his own views through writing interpretive commentaries on the texts of other writers, so that only careful readers will notice his implicit endorsement of ideas attributed to others.  A writer can also hide his most unpopular views by putting them at the center of his text, because careless readers tend to pay more attention to the beginning and ending of what they read than to the middle.  In Strauss's Liberalism Ancient and Modern (1968), the central chapter--and the longest chapter--is a commentary on Lucretius's On the Nature of Things.  The exact center of the book is page 135, where Strauss concludes his study of Lucretius by explaining "the most terrible truth."  Strauss hints that he agrees with this teaching of Lucretius. "Lucretius' poetry makes bright and sweet the obscure and sad findings of the Greeks, that is, of the philosophers" (83).

Since the world is not the product of an ordering mind, the world is not teleological, although it contains intelligent species--particularly, human beings--that have evolved to be teleological in their natural striving to satisfy their natural desires.  Since the world is not intelligently designed by a divinely providential mind, the world is indifferent to human beings and thus provides no cosmic support for human purposes.  Moreover, while the world is enduring, it is not eternal.  The world and everything in it--including the human species and all other species of life--will eventually collapse into the ceaseless motion of atoms that will then produce another world.

In one post in June, I have argued that the temporality of life is indicated by the dependence of life on photosynthesis as the evolved process by which the energy of the Sun is captured for sustaining life on Earth.  Once photosynthesis ceases, as it must in a billion years or so, there will be no life on Earth.  Many people worry about the degrading effects of teaching evolution to our school children.  Perhaps they should also worry about teaching them about photosynthesis, because this will teach them the "most terrible truth."

If the idea of natural right depends on the cosmic teleology of the universe, as Strauss says, then the "most terrible truth" that the cosmos is not teleologically ordered means that the idea of natural right is an illusion.  If Strauss agreed with Lucretius that the universe is neither eternal nor purposeful, then natural right cannot be defended, unless it is rooted in the immanent teleology of evolved human nature as an enduring but not eternal product of a natural evolutionary process, which is my argument.

Shadia Drury has argued that Strauss's core teaching was the natural superiority of the philosophic life of the few human beings capable of such a life, as the only life that was good by nature, and thus the inferiority of the nonphilosophic life of the great multitude of human beings who were incapable of living this naturally good life.  She criticized this teaching as both false and dangerous.  It was false because this absolute separation of all of humanity into two groups--the philosophic few and the vulgar many--was a pure fantasy rather than an accurate account of what human beings are like.  It was dangerous because it promoted a tyranny of the philosophers, in which the moral, religious, and political life of the vulgar many was seen as governed by lies--even if noble lies supported by philosophers for the good of philosophy.  In my posts, I have suggested that Strauss's defenders have not properly answered Drury's criticisms
Similarly, Strauss's defenders have not answered William Altman's charge that Strauss's secret teaching was his promotion of a Heideggerian Nazi attack on liberalism.  I point to some weaknesses in Altman's reasoning.

Altman identifies Strauss's secret teaching as an affirmation of Darwinian evolution and his public teaching as an affirmation of Platonic eternity.  That public teaching of Strauss is what Altman embraces as true.  By contrast, I find the Platonic teaching of eternal cosmic standards implausible, and I embrace Darwinian natural right: even if the world that we care about is neither eternal nor purposeful, and even if the cosmos does not care for us, natural right can still be rooted in the immanent teleology of evolved human nature as an enduring but not eternal product of a natural evolutionary process.

Other than Strauss, perhaps the single greatest influence on my thinking about Darwinian natural right has been Edward O. Wilson, particularly through his books Sociobiology (1975) and Consilience (1998).  In May, I wrote about his new book The Social Conquest of Earth, and I saw seven major themes related to Darwinian natural right: (1) consilience, (2) emergence, (3) genetic plasticity, (4) the two peaks of social evolution, (5) the iron rule of moral evolution, (6) religion and science, and (7) the rejection of kin selection theory.

Wilson identifies two paths to the social conquest of the earth--the insect path and the human path.  The social insects rule the invertebrate land environment.  Humans rule the vertebrate land environment.  Like the social insects, humans are "eusocial" in the technical sense that multiple generations of individuals live together, caring for dependent offspring and cooperating in a social division of labor.  While the social insects organize their colonies largely through pure instinct, with the insect queen producing robotic offspring guided by instinct, humans must organize the cooperation of individuals through personal relationships based on social intelligence, which requires navigating through a tense social network balanced between the selfish interests of individuals and the social interests of groups.  Wilson explains this tense balance in human social life between selfishness and sociality as a product of the countervailing evolutionary forces of individual selection and group selection.

Some of my writing on Wilson's Social Conquest of Earth went into my review of the book in the Fall 2013 issue of The Claremont Review of Books.

A third person whose writings greatly influenced me was another Wilson at Harvard--James Q. Wilson. In March, I wrote a post on Jim Wilson the day after he died.  He was best known for his work in criminology.  As a young scholar, I admired his book Crime and Human Nature, which I used as a text in some of my classes as a classic of political science.  I detected in this book and some of his other writings an evolutionary view of human nature.  This was confirmed in 1993 by the publication of Wilson's The Moral Sense.  Wilson said that he was most proud of this book.  For me, his pride was warranted.  This book was crucial in shaping my thinking about the evolutionary roots of human nature, and particularly the evolutionary confirmation of the idea of the natural moral sense in Scottish moral philosophy (Hume and Smith).  In many ways, this book pointed me to my book Darwinian Natural Right.

Wilson surveyed the evidence for how the natural and cultural evolution of morality can explain human cooperation as rooted in kinship and reciprocity, or what some evolutionary theorists have called kin selection and reciprocal altruism.  Evolution favors helping those genetically related to us, because this spreads our genes into the future.  Evolution also favors cooperating with those who are not genetically related to us if there is some reciprocal exchange.  I will cooperate with you if you have been cooperative with me in the past (direct reciprocity), or if I know you have a reputation for being cooperative with others (indirect reciprocity).  So it's tit for tat. People are rewarded for their good reputation as trustworthy cooperators and punished for their bad reputation as untrustworthy cheaters.

But does this show genuine altruism or selfless concern for others?  We could see helping our close relatives as genetic selfishness, because we are acting to spread our genes.  And we could see reciprocal cooperation as merely enlightened self-interest, because we're cooperating only as long as we expect some reciprocal benefits for ourselves. 

And yet, some evolutionary theorists--particularly, Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis--have argued that human beings also show genuine altruism--totally selfless service to others--through what they call strong reciprocity.  This is a propensity to cooperate and share with others, even strangers, and to punish those who don't cooperate and share with others, even when the cooperation, sharing, and punishment are personally costly to the strong reciprocator, and the strong reciprocity requires neither ties of kinship nor expectation of future reciprocation.  Moreover, Bowles and Gintis think that the research in experimental game theory confirms the reality of such strong reciprocity.  They also think this confirms what Adam Smith said in The Theory of Moral Sentiments about those lovers of virtue for its own sake who desire to do what is praiseworthy even without the reward of actually being praised.

In a series of posts in June and July, I challenged the reasoning of Bowles and Gintis and suggested that what they see in experimental games as evidence for strong reciprocity is actually evidence of indirect reciprocity, in which people are generous because they expect (even if only unconsciously) to earn a reputation for generosity that will benefit them in the future.  Under conditions of total anonymity, people tend to express their purely selfish motivations.  Much of this writing went into the new chapter on Adam Smith in the 4th edition of Political Questions.

In September, I wrote some posts on how Jonathan Haidt's evolutionary moral psychology supports fusionist conservatism and Aristotelian liberalism.

In October, I wrote a long post on the evolutionary politics of minimal winning coalitions among both humans and chimpanzees.  Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith have shown how the power of political leaders depends on their having the support of a minimal winning coalition.  No ruler can rule alone.  Even an absolute dictator needs a small coalition of powerful people who are loyal to him, and to win and maintain that loyalty, the dictator must buy them off with money and power.  A democratic leader differs from a dictator in that the democratic leader depends on a larger coalition of supporters.  Frans de Waal found this to be true for chimps as well: success in political competition among chimps depends on the exercise of strategic intelligence in which chimps must form coalitions that will support them as the alpha male in the group's hierarchy.  My writing here was incorporated into my chapter on Machiavelli in Political Questions.

One seemingly profound objection to the evolutionary science that I defend on this blog is that this evolutionary science of nature cannot explain the existence of nature itself.  Why does nature exist? Why is there something rather than nothing? And why are things as they are and not different?  When Bill Nye debated evolution with Ken Ham, Nye was asked, What was there before the Big Bang?  Nye's answer was: It's a mystery!  Ham's answer was: God.

Jim Holt has written a book on how philosophers and scientists have tried to answer this question--Why does the world exist?  In October, I wrote a post on this question.  I argued that Why is there something rather than nothing? is a meaningless question, because it rests on two false assumptions.

First, the question falsely assumes the possibility of absolute nothingness.  Since human beings have no experience of absolute nothingness, whereas all of our experience confirms the being of things, there is no empirical evidence for absolute nothingness.  Even the very idea of nothingness as a product of the theological imagination pondering the doctrine of creation ex nihilo is dubious, because in the absence of any empirical evidence, I doubt that people even understand what they are saying when they ask why the world arose out of nothingness.

The second false assumption in the question of why the universe exists is that the principle of sufficient reason can apply to the whole universe.  Our experience of finding reasons or causes to explain things applies to events in the universe as governed by natural laws.  But this makes no sense as applied to the universe as whole.

This question comes up in the chapters on Augustine and on Nietzsche in Political Questions. 

Finally, I shouldn't leave 2012 without noting my posts in March on "genopolitics," because this bears upon one of the most common criticisms of any biological study of politics--the charge of genetic reductionism.

Beginning in the 1970s, a small group of political scientists jointed an intellectual movement that they called "biopolitics" or "politics and the life sciences."  I was one of the early members of that movement.  Although some of these people hoped to turn the mainstream of the discipline of American political science towards a political science rooted in biological science, this did not happen.  By the turn of the century, around 2000, some of these people lamented that the movement had largely failed, because most political scientists still showed little or no interest in the biological study of politics.

But then, sometime around 2004, there seemed to be a growing interest in biological explanations of political behavior.  Two articles were especially prominent.  In 2005, the American Political Science Review published "Are Political Orientations Genetically Transmitted?" by John Alford, Carolyn Funk, and John Hibbing.  Through the methodology of behavior genetics, using the study of twins, they concluded that about 50% of the variance in propensities to "conservative" or "liberal" ideology is explained by genes.  This article gained widespread publicity.  This was followed by more articles advancing what was called "genopolitics."  One article by James Fowler and Christopher Dawes, published in 2008 in the Journal of Politics, claimed in its title that "Two Genes Predict Voter Turnout."  This was the first time that researchers had identified particular genes as linked to some political behavior.

I and others in the biopolitics movement were suspicious about these genetic explanations of political ideology and behavior.  They were too simplistic in thinking that political thought and action could be explained through genetics.  We knew that behavior genetics had a bad record of making strong claims about the genetics of behavior that could not be replicated.  So when Evan Charney began criticizing this research, I agreed with him and wrote posts explaining why he was right to say that the simplistic model of genopolitics cannot capture the emergent complexity of political behavior as the product of many interacting causes and levels of analysis.

In May of 2013, the American Political Science Review published three articles on the debate over genopolitics, which provided empirical confirmation for Charney's critique.  Fowler and Dawes were forced to suggest that their 2008 article should never have been published, because they and others had failed to replicate their results in that article.  They admitted that their simple genetic models cannot fully explain the complexity of what they are studying.

By contrast, the explanatory models for political life proposed by proponents of biopolitics are far more complex than the simple models of genopolitics: genes are there in the biopolitical models, but the genes have no effect on their own, because they interact with other factors at many different levels of analysis.

My post for September 13, 2015, surveys this debate and includes links to my many other posts on this.

Monday, June 19, 2017

A Thousand Posts (3)

In January and February, my posts on "Darwinian Marriage: A Response to Robert George" initiated a series of posts stretching over the next six years defending a Darwinian view of marriage as open to gay marriage against the argument of George and his followers (such as Ryan Anderson) that gay marriage is not "real marriage."  George has made the best case against gay marriage as contrary to the Thomistic natural law of marriage.  I have argued that the Thomistic natural law of marriage is actually open to gay marriage, and that this natural law defense of gay marriage is implicit in Justice Anthony Kennedy's majority opinion in the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015).

In January, I wrote some posts on the continuing debates over evolutionary science--debates over what is included in evolutionary theory, over what counts as evidence for evolution, and over whether creationism or intelligent design theory should be taken seriously as alternatives to evolution.  For all of these debates, I argue, it is good to go back to Darwin's own writings.  Those who argue that the modern evolutionary synthesis is too narrow, because it does not include new ideas about evolution--such as epigenetic evolution, gene-culture coevolution, group selection, niche construction, and moral evolution--do not realize that all of these ideas were already there in Darwin's writings.

Although some of the modern evidence for evolution was not available to Darwin--such as the evidence from genetics and modern dating methods--Darwin was rigorous in weighing the evidence available to him, while recognizing what he called the "difficulties" for his theory, which turn out to be the same difficulties brought up by the critics of evolution today.

Moreover, Darwin saw that it was impossible to judge the persuasiveness of his "theory of natural selection" without weighing it against its alternative--the "theory of special creation."  And so the idea of "teaching the controversy" originated with Darwin.

Darwin saw that the fundamental controversy here points to the problem of ultimate explanation--that all explanation depends on some ultimate reality or uncaused cause that cannot itself be explained: it's either Nature or God.

In the fall of 2011, I was teaching my undergraduate course "Biopolitics and Human Nature," and one of the books for that course was David Brooks' The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement. Brooks surveys the research in evolutionary psychology as supporting an Aristotelian conception of human nature and human happiness. To illustrate his points, Brooks tells the fictional story of one composite American couple--Harold and Erica. As Brooks indicates, he intends to employ the technique of Rousseau's Emile, a philosophical novel, in using a fictional narrative to illustrate his account of human nature.

In March and April, I wrote a series of posts on Brooks' book that began with a critical review of the book by Thomas Nagel.  Nagel is a prominent philosopher at New York University. In 1978, he wrote one of the first responses to E. O. Wilson's Sociobiology coming from a philosopher. Like most philosophers at the time, Nagel showed the reaction of a Platonic transcendentalist in denigrating Wilson's biological account of morality. Nagel rejected sociobiological ethics because it failed to see that ethics is "an autonomous theoretical subject" like mathematics that belongs to a transcendent realm of pure logic. He argued that ethics exists at two levels--the behavioral and the theoretical. And while he acknowledged that biology could illuminate the behavioral level of ethics--the patterns of ethical action as motivated by moral emotions--he dismissed biology as irrelevant to the theoretical level of ethics as concerned with rational standards of moral justification and criticism. Insofar as morality is a matter of normative reasoning, it has nothing to do with any empirical science of human behavior.

With my memory of this essay, I was not surprised to see Nagel criticizing Brooks's book. Here we see the fundamental debate that has been the subject of many of my posts--the conflict between a Platonic or Kantian transcendentalism and an Aristotelian or Humean empiricism. Brooks shows how a Darwinian moral psychology confirms the Aristotelian and Humean tradition of empirical ethics, which will provoke the opposition of Platonic and Kantian transcendentalists like Nagel.

As can be seen in the comments on my post on Nagel, many readers of my blog object to my claim that Aristotle and Hume belong to the same empiricist tradition of ethics, because they see Hume as an ethical subjectivist or even nihilist who must be opposed to Aristotle's virtue ethics.  When I first began reading Hume as a college student, I was taught this view of Hume as opposed to Aristotle.  But later, as I read Hume more carefully, I changed my mind, and I began to see Hume as part of a tradition of ethical empiricism and naturalism stretching from Aristotle and Cicero to Adam Smith and Charles Darwin, a tradition opposed to the rationalist and transcendentalist tradition stretching from Plato to Kant.

Brooks defends the Humean tradition of moral psychology--or, as Brooks puts it, the British Enlightenment as opposed to the French Enlightenment--in showing how the deepest influences on our decisions arise largely from unconscious decisions, in being shaped by human genetic history and cultural history, rather than from conscious and rational calculations of individual interests.  Reason is important but only as guided by emotion or desire, because, as Aristotle said, "thought by itself moves nothing."  Deliberate choice should be understood as "reasoning desire" or "desiring reason."  I first saw this in one of Aristotle's biological writings--On the Movement of Animals.

In April and May, I wrote some posts on Azar Gat's War in Human Civilization.  Rather than pursuing a reductive explanation of war as determined by one or a few factors, he encompasses all the major factors influencing the whole history of human warfare over two million years, while showing how evolutionary theory can explain the origins and interrelationships of all of these factors. Gat's book helped me to think about the evolution of the natural desire for courage in war.

I continued to think about the evolution of war and possibly declining violence in modern times in October, November, and December, when I began writing a long series of posts on Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature.

That human history shows a general decline in violence has emerged in recent years as one of the greatest discoveries of social scientific research.  It has taken me many years to realize that.  And it has only slowly dawned on me that this has deep implications for political theory, because it provides dramatic support for Darwinian liberalism.

I decided that the empirical data of wars and violence over the last 200 years strongly supported some of Immanuel Kant's arguments for a liberal peace.  (Here is one place where I agree with Kant!) Liberal commercial republics are less inclined to go to war than other kinds of regimes, and as the cultural values of liberal commercial republicanism have spread around the world, there has been a decline in war and violence.

In fact, as Robert Wright argued in Nonzero, the entire evolutionary history of life might be rightly understood as a history of expanding cooperation producing ever increasing gains through the logic of nonzero-sum games.

This seems to confirm the evolutionary liberalism of the 19th century--particularly, as formulated by Herbert Spencer and Charles Darwin--because we seem to see here that Darwin was right in his vision of the future: "As man advances in civilization, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him.  This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races."  According to Darwin, the most recent advance of sympathy extends it even beyond humanity to include the lower animals, so that now we can see "the most noble attribute of man" in the "disinterested love for all living creatures."

In Darwinian Natural Right (pp. 143-49), I had rejected this as Darwin's "moral utopianism," while I defended Darwin's "moral realism."  Darwin's moral utopianism is clearest in the section of the Descent of Man where he cites "our great philosopher Herbert Spencer."  In some of my blog posts, I have criticized Spencer's evolutionary utopianism.

But I now think that I was wrong about this, because recognizing the evolutionary trend away from violent conflict and towards peaceful cooperation arises not from a naive utopianism but from an optimistic realism that vindicates evolutionary liberalism.

This has become clear to me from reading Pinker's Better Angels along with a book that Pinker often cites--James Payne's History of Force.  What is implicit in Pinker's book becomes explicit in Payne's book--that the evolutionary history of declining violence confirms Spencerian/Darwinian liberalism, because it shows how human beings through a long history of trial-and-error learning have discovered the benefits of peaceful cooperation and the costs of violent aggression.  Moreover, this also confirms the classical liberal insight that declining violence coincides with increasing liberty.

Payne brings this out more clearly than does Pinker, because Payne is explicit in his commitment to classical liberalism or libertarianism.  If one accepts the classical liberal or libertarian definition of liberty as arising from the absence of coercive violence, then a decline in violence means an increase in liberty, as people enjoy the benefits of voluntary cooperation while minimizing the costs of violent conflict. (This conception of liberty corresponds to what Isaiah Berlin called "negative liberty.")

As Payne indicates, the classical liberal thinkers of the 19th century were the first political theorists to adopt the reduction in the use of force as their fundamental political principle.  Although previously some political theorists had condemned some uses of force, they also wanted to use force to promote what they regarded as good ends for social and political life.  The classical liberals were the first political theorists to see how the reduction in the use of force was the fundamental condition for human progress.

This led me to add a chapter on Pinker to the 4th edition of Political Questions, which now has the subtitle Political Philosophy from Plato to Pinker.  It seemed to me that Pinker's Better Angels should be seen as a major work of political philosophy that illustrates how empirical Darwinian science can illuminate, and perhaps even resolve, some of the fundamental debates in the history of political philosophy.

This also led me to organize a Liberty Fund conference on "Liberty and Violence" that met at the Westward Look Resort in Tucson, Arizona, in 2014.

In 2011, I was doing a lot of thinking about Thomas Aquinas.  At the end of the summer, I presented a paper at the American Political Science Association convention on "Thomistic Natural Law as Darwinian Natural Right: Replies to Critics," which renewed an argument from an article published in 2001.  In the fall, I taught a graduate seminar on Aquinas.

From June to September, I wrote a series of posts on how Thomistic natural law was rooted in Aristotle's biology, and how this could be confirmed by modern Darwinian biology. 

I also wrote some posts on Tom West's Straussian interpretation of Aquinas as an esoteric writer defending philosophic reason against biblical revelation.

In June, I wrote about how the neuroscience of self-awareness could support Locke's principle of self-ownership as the natural ground of equal rights.

In May, I wrote some posts on issues that had come up at a Liberty Fund conference on "Hayek and the Problem of Scientific Knowledge."  I decided that I needed to think more about three issues--Hayek's account of the open society as the repression of the tribal instincts of human nature, the evolution of oxytocin as one neural mechanism supporting morality and exchange in a free society, and the evolution of trade in prehistoric societies.

As I have indicated in various posts, I am not persuaded by Hayek's argument that the evolved instincts of human beings are adapted for life in a "closed society," and therefore the "open or free society" requires a cultural tradition of impersonal rules for an abstract society that suppresses those instincts, while the yearning for socialism and "social justice" manifests an atavistic desire to restore those primordial instincts.

Contrary to Hayek, it seems to me that even in small foraging groups, there was some individual autonomy, and individuals were inclined to resist domination by the arbitrary wills of others. In some respects, the modern liberal society revives the individual freedom of foraging societies, while combining that with all the advantages of modern civilization as based on global exchange networks. Our evolutionary ancestors were adapted for engaging in social exchange and detecting cheaters who violated the norms of fair exchange. Those evolved mental capacities for social engagement provided the psychological conditions in which the cultural evolution of a modern exchange society could succeed.

My debate with Hayek has continued over many years, particularly in 2013, at the Mont Pelerin Society meetings in the Galapagos and at a workshop in Freiburg, Germany, on the evolution of classical liberalism.

In July and December, I wrote out my response to Alvin Plantinga's evolutionary argument against Darwinian naturalism: the theistic doctrine of the human mind as created by God in His image provides the necessary support for the validity of human thought, including the validity of modern science. If we embrace Naturalism--the view that nothing exists except Nature, and so there is no God or nothing like God--we are caught in self-contradiction: if human thought originated not from a divine Mind but from the irrational causes of Nature, then we cannot trust our minds as reliable, and thus we cannot trust our belief in Naturalism. Naturalism destroys itself by destroying the rationality of believing in Naturalism, or anything else. Insofar as science--including evolutionary science--depends on the validity of human thought, and insofar as theism is the indispensable support for trusting in the validity of human thought, science is not only compatible with theism, science depends upon theism.

The weak link in Plantinga's argument for metaphysical naturalism as self-defeating is his assumption that adaptive behavior is completely unrelated to true belief. The evidence of evolutionary history suggests that evolution produces cognitive faculties that are reliable but fallible. The mental abilities of animals, including human beings, are fallible because evolution produces adaptations that are good enough but not perfect, and this results in the mental fallibility that is familiar to us.  But despite this fallibility, the evolved mental faculties cannot be absolutely unreliable, because the adaptive cognitive faculties of animals, including human beings, must correspond in some manner to the reality of the world to which they are adapted.