Human Nature After Darwin: A Philosophical Introduction (Philosophy and the Human Situation) Paperback – 16 Nov 2000
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Currently a Reader in Bioethics at the University College London Janet Radcliffe-Richards' Human Nature After Darwin is an introduction to both philosophy and Darwinism. It matters little whether one sees it as "a substantive thesis about the implications of Darwinism with a subsidiary methodological thesis", or a "philosophical introduction to Darwinism". On any reading it is first-rate.
What makes the book extremely useful in negotiating a path through the Darwin warzone is that it introduces basic techniques of philosophical argument and analysis into the debate and each chapter has a number of exercises for the student to work and think through for themselves. In this sense it is similar to Anthony Thouless' classic Straight and Crooked Thinking and Anthony Flew's Thinking About Thinking in that it helps clear up a lot of unnecessary confusion and befuddled argument by encouraging good general habits of logical hygiene.
The philosophical topics include scepticism and relativism as well as problems concerning freewill, determinism, responsibility and ethics which characterise debates within Darwinism. Radcliffe-Richards' book is not concerned with the question of which school of Darwinism most accurately represents the truth; instead it focuses mainly on questions about what follows if a particular view is true. To the extent that disputes about Darwinism are motivated by anxieties about implications it is clearly important that followers of the debates are able to judge for themselves whether the different views really do have the implications they are supposed to have. Radcliffe-Richards' substantive thesis is that the claims of sociobiologists do not have the unwelcome cultural/political implications attributed to them.
If Stephen and Hilary Roses' recent Alas Poor Darwin represents the case for the prosecution against evolutionary psychology Philosophy After Darwin is not so much a defence (though Radcliffe-Richards is certainly concerned with refuting charges against evolutionary psychology) as it is an object lesson in analytical thinking. Absolutely essential reading for left-leaning opponents of EP and for specialists and students of the Darwin Wars. --Larry Brown
"Janet Radcliffe Richards has scored yet another success ....simply the clearest and most accurate introduction that there is to the current controversies about evolution, about Darwinian evolution in particular, and about how these do or do not apply to our own species. This is a book that will prove invaluable to students of all ages. Highly recommended."
-Michael Ruse, University of Guelph, Ontario
..."a lucid treatment of one of the most important (and political) conflicts of our time."
..."a contribution to the Darwinian debate."
..."a superb book...Written with real verve and large doses of humour...provides insights with relevance to many issues in public policy and to numerous fields, including philosophy, political science, sociology, and law."
-Cass R. Sunstein, [Karl N. Llwellyn Distinguished Service Professor of Jurisprudence, ] Law School and Department of Political Science, University of Chicago.
"A really excellent text. Richards uses the controversy over sociobiology as a way to discuss a whole series of traditional philosophical problems...."
-Professor David Hull, Northwestern University
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In Radcliffe Richards' opinion, "much of the smoke of the Darwin wars is generated by widespread unfamiliarity with fairly basic techniques of philosophical argument and analysis". Her book is not so much about the science itself than the implications of the different points of view: if it turns out (as it does) that the Darwinian critics have corresponding problems with their views than "sociobiologists", the metaphysically motivated resistance against new scientific results is pointless. Radcliffe Richards starts by creating a line of "deepening Darwinism":
Mind-First, dualist Darwinists
plank-paper Darwinists (standard social science theorists)
gene-machine Darwinists (evolutionary psychologists)
The first level is populated by creationists and the like minority groups. It is fairly safe to say that most people like the second level best, accepting Darwinian evolution for our bodies but not our minds. Just after that we find the "materialism boundary" and the two rather provocatively named levels; the level arguing that biology has no effect in human behaviour, and the level where it does contribute (in addition to culture).Read more ›
The power of this approach depends on using conditionals to investigate the implications of a particular view without necessarily knowing whether or not that view is true. Of course the truth matters, but consensus is often hard to reach, especially when complex and emotive issues are at stake. Hypotheticals are familiar from ordinary situations (even if politicians are adept at sidestepping them): you don't know for sure if it will rain, but you can ask yourself, if it does rain, will I be sorry to have left my umbrella at home? And so it goes with the bigger questions. "If materialism is true, what follows for human freedom and responsibility?Read more ›
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