Human Nature After Darwin: A Philosophical Introduction
Richards (Janet Radcliffe)
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Back Cover Blurb

  1. Human Nature After Darwin is an original investigation of the implications of Darwinism for our understanding of ourselves and our situation. It casts new light on current Darwinian controversies, also providing an introduction to philosophical reasoning and a range of philosophical problems.
  2. Janet Radcliffe Richards claims that many current battles about Darwinism are based on mistaken assumptions about the implications of the rival views. Her analysis of these implications provides a much-needed guide to the fundamentals of Darwinism and the so-called Darwin wars, as well as providing a set of philosophical techniques relevant to wide areas of moral and political debate.
  3. The lucid presentation makes the book an ideal introduction to both philosophy and Darwinism as well as a substantive contribution to topics of intense current controversy. It will be of interest to students of philosophy, science and the social sciences, and critical thinking is an original investigation of the implications of Darwinism for our understanding of ourselves and our situation. It casts new light on current Darwinian controversies, also providing an introduction to philosophical reasoning and a range of philosophical problems.

Amazon Customer Review
  1. This book achieves its goals, but one goal is to be excruciatingly systematic. It is a pity that it is not more widely read, especially by those who argue about the broader implications of Darwinism. "If your reasoning from premises about facts to conclusions about actions goes wrong because of muddle, or equivocation, or mistakes in logic, then your practical conclusions will be just as unreliable as if you get the facts wrong" (269). Thus concludes this book.
  2. Having read many books on both Darwinian evolution and philosophy, I was intrigued by this book, which was advertised as an exploration of the philosophical implications of evolution in general, including evolutionary psychology.
  3. The author's original purpose for the book was to be strictly a introductory logic text, a "Logic 101" textbook as it were. The author indicates that she originally planned to have three main themes for the examples and exercises in the book, but that when she discovered that the theme of evolution had so many common logical errors used by those arguing about it, she decided to devote the book exclusively to the theme of Darwinism. The legacy of that original goal is still evident in the book, and it can be used as a Logic 101 textbook. For example, each section of each chapter ends with exercises for the student, and answers to the exercises are found in the back of the book. (Those exercises use the other two themes that Richards had originally planned to include in the book.)
  4. As far as attacking the issue of the philosophical implications of Darwinism, the author admits that she intends to make her points slowly and ploddingly, and she does. However, she is not so much trying to cover a lot of ground in the topic as she is trying to show how to apply basic philosophical reasoning to any topic whatsoever, and the topic that she has picked is Darwinism. The typical reader might get impatient with this deliberate slowness.
  5. Nevertheless, the topic deserves to be analysed with deliberate speed. Many thinkers in our culture write at length on the religious, social, and philosophical implications of the different versions of Darwinian evolution, and Richards systematically shows that many of them, on both sides of various controversies, commit logical fallacies that make their claims invalid.
  6. A quick review of the subtopics covered:
    • 1) how solid is the epistemology and philosophical basis of Darwinism as a scientific discipline? (answer: solid);
    • 2) what are the different varieties of Darwinism? (answer: see below);
    • 3) how does one construct logical conditionals to investigate flaws in reasoning?
    • 4) do different versions of Darwinism have different implications for free will and determinism? (answer: no);
    • 5) do some versions of Darwinism imply that people are no longer responsible for their actions? (answer: no);
    • 6) do different versions of Darwinism have different implications for whether or not true altruism can exist? (answer: no);
    • 7) does a denial of the existence of an omnipotent God mean that objective moral truth is not possible? (answer: depends);
    • 8) are we justified, as Philip Kitcher claimed, in demanding a higher burden of proof for evolutionary psychology than for other scientific disciplines? (answer: no); and
    • 9) what are the really different implications for living one's life among the various options discussed in the book?
  7. Richards lays out a spectrum of belief from
    • a) strict theism that denies all Darwinism,
    • b) dualism that accepts biological evolution but rejects strict metaphysical materialism,
    • c) Darwinism that accepts metaphyical materialism but rejects the claims of evolutionary psychology, and
    • d) a Darwinism that accepts evolutionary psychology.
    As Richards points out, because she lays out her arguments clearly, one can spot the point in the chain of logical inference where one disagrees with her. So even if one does disagree with her arguments, it is easy to articulate the basis for that disagreement.
  8. While one reviewer complained that the book did not work as a class textbook for general philosophy, I think it might work as an introduction to logic. I found it a valuable read, though it might not work pedagogically.


"Richards (Janet Radcliffe) - Human Nature After Darwin: Introduction"

Source: Richards - Human Nature After Darwin: A Philosophical Introduction, 2000, Introduction

Introduction (Full Text)
  1. One of the charms of coming with a Darwinian eye to the study of organisms is recognizing the mixture they display of astonishing adaptive sophistication and botched improvisation. For a long time one of the most persuasive arguments for the existence of God was the so-called Argument from Design: the idea that the finely tuned structures of organisms simply could not have come into existence by chance, and must therefore be evidence for the existence of an unimaginably powerful and intelligent creator. Once Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection had proposed a mechanism by which such structures might result from purely natural and unplanned processes, what increasingly impressed biologists was the extent to which organisms turned out - despite being miracles of coordination and functioning - to be riddled with absurdities that no self-respecting designer would have allowed as far as the drawing board. Darwinian evolution does not work by planning from scratch with some end in view. The organisms produced by natural selection are merely the ones that happen to keep reproducing in the environments where they happen to be, and selection has nothing to work on but chance variations in structures that have previously been selected, often for quite different purposes. The result is that organisms carry with them fossils of their design history - which is why there has been so much success in tracing that history.
  2. This fact provides a rather pleasing coincidence between this book and the Darwinian organisms that are its starting point. This is not, I hasten to say, in its being unplanned or the kind of thing any self-respecting designer would disown (an analogy need not work on all fronts), but in being rather different from what it would have been if it had been planned from scratch as an argument for its main thesis. And it is worth mentioning this because, as again Darwinians know very well, what looks odd or inexplicable if you approach it with one set of presuppositions may not only make perfect sense if you start from a different point, but also reveal elements that might otherwise have been invisible.
  3. The book is, as its title implies, a contribution to the current Darwinian debate, whose main focus is the implications of the Darwinian revolution for our understanding of what we are1 and where we fit into the scheme of things. Everybody knows, because it is part of the legend, that Darwin's theory came as a horrible shock to the respectable Victorians on whom it was let loose, because this radically new account of their origins was so totally at odds with their own self-image. Everybody also knows - if only because of the recurring headlines about American schools that try to banish evolution from the curriculum, or insist that it is taught as 'only a theory' along with 'creation science' - that there places where this horror is still felt, and where the Darwinian account of human origins is as strenuously resisted as ever. But it may be less clear, because there is such confusion in the public debate, that even where evolutionary theory is not resisted in its entirety, a modified version of the same controversy still continues. Many people who are by now resigned to the idea of our biological relationship with apes and fruit flies, and even yeast, are nevertheless alarmed by the way Darwinism seems increasingly to be getting ideas above its station, and encroaching on territory that at first looked as though it could be kept sacrosanct. Darwinian thinking is seeping through the intellectual landscape; and there is a general anxiety that the further it penetrates, the more we lose in the way of traditional ideas about the kind of thing we are or can hope to achieve. This anxiety about ourselves and our situation seems still to be, just as it always was, a large part of the reason why the battles over Darwinism are so fierce.
  4. This book is about the extent to which these fears are justified, and it deals with topics that are familiar subjects of anxiety: free will and responsibility, the possibilities for change and improvement, ethics, altruism, and personal and political ideals and aspirations. It approaches the matter, however, not by joining in the battles about the extent to which our origins and nature can be understood in Darwinian terms, but by taking on the more fundamental - and relatively neglected - question of how much is really at stake in these battles. Its purpose is to work out the extent to which the more radical forms of Darwinism really do have the alarming implications they are alleged to have. Different problems appear in different places, but the overall conclusion is that for a variety of reasons - many connected with an insufficient appreciation of how radical Darwinian thinking is, and a failure to recognize philosophical problems for what they are - much less turns on the outcome of the battles than often seems to be assumed.
  5. However - to return to the matter of design history - although the main purpose of the book is to investigate the implications of different degrees of Darwinian thinking, it started life with that as only its secondary purpose. It was originally written as part of an Open University course - Philosophy and the Human Situation - which was intended primarily to teach philosophy, and philosophical techniques, at an introductory level. Darwinism was chosen as the subject of this book partly for its intrinsic interest and its appropriateness for the course as a whole, but largely because it raised a wide range of relevant philosophical problems. A good deal of the original chalk has been dusted off this version of the book, but there is still no mistaking its origins as a teaching text. The design fossils, once you recognize them for what they are, are apparent everywhere, to the extent that the book is as much a Darwinian introduction to philosophical analysis as a philosophical analysis of problems raised by Darwinism.
  6. I am not, however, intending this as an apology. For one thing, the fact that so much of the original teaching material remains means that the book can still be used as an introduction to philosophy by anyone who likes the idea of approaching the subject by way of this flourishing area of modern science and controversy. But also, and of direct relevance to the book as a contribution to current Darwinian debate, it probably does the job of explaining and defending its substantive thesis better in this form than it could otherwise have done. Much of the smoke of the Darwin wars is generated by widespread unfamiliarity with fairly basic techniques of philosophical argument and analysis, and making them explicit is just what is needed for clearing the air. This direction of approach, furthermore, also turns out to have given the book what amounts to a secondary thesis - a methodological one running in parallel with the substantial case - because the attempt to devise teaching techniques turned out (as it so often does) to be immensely helpful for getting to grips with the issues themselves. There were several points at which an obdurately amorphous tangle of problems actually began to cooperate when I tried to keep to the order of analysis and argument construction I had been trying to work out for students; and I think a good deal more progress could be made by means of this approach, given time, even with the subjects dealt with here. The detailed setting out of arguments also has the advantage of allowing anyone who disagrees with the conclusions reached - as many inevitably will, in an area as controversial as this - to be able to see exactly which part of the supporting argument they need to challenge.
  7. All in all, it is difficult to know whether to count the book as a substantive thesis about the implications of Darwinism with a subsidiary methodological thesis, or a philosophical introduction to Darwinism, or a Darwinian introduction to philosophy. Still, that should not bother anyone except pre-Darwinians who are uncomfortable with anomalous forms that cannot be readily classified as existing species (though I wish this category did not include the proprietors of certain large bookshops who insist that any book can be classified under only one subject heading). It is all of those things, and readers with different interests can adjust their dosage of the different elements accordingly. If you know the biology, you will immediately recognize the sections you do not need to read; if you want the overall thesis without too much introductory philosophy, you will quickly see which explanations of techniques and discussions of texts can be skimmed or omitted. And, conversely, if you do want the book as an introduction to philosophy and its techniques, you will find that in many places the arguments are accumulated in ways that make the text easy to treat as a workbook, in which you pause to work out the next stage of the argument before reading on.
  8. Anyway, I hope that for everyone who is - or is ripe for becoming - enchanted by the Darwinian view of life, or by philosophy, or ideally both, its being of no clear species will not matter. It can be counted as one of those Hopeful Monsters, setting out to find, in this vast and expanding subject, its own ecological niche. That, too, sounds appropriately Darwinian.

"Richards (Janet Radcliffe) - The Theory"

Source: Richards - Human Nature After Darwin: A Philosophical Introduction, 2000, Chapter 1

Author’s Abstract
  1. To understand the implications of the Darwinian revolution, it is necessary to understand the world view it replaced. This chapter provides a brief introduction to Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection by presenting it as a successor to the scientific revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and as having the potential to complete the overthrow of the traditional ways of thinking that the earlier revolution had begun.
  2. In particular, it distinguishes between teleological and non-teleological explanation, and shows Darwin's theory as relying on non-teleological explanation in contexts where teleological explanation had previously seemed essential.

  1. The first scientific revolution
  2. The Darwinian revolution
    … 2.1 Natural selection
    … 2.2 Cranes and skyhooks
  3. Scope and potential

"Richards (Janet Radcliffe) - The Sceptics"

Source: Richards - Human Nature After Darwin: A Philosophical Introduction, 2000, Chapter 2

Author’s Abstract
  1. The previous chapter ("Richards (Janet Radcliffe) - The Theory") was more about Darwinism than philosophy; this one is more about philosophy than Darwinism. It uses controversy about the truth of Darwin's theory to introduce wider questions about epistemology and philosophy of science, and to disentangle different kinds of scepticism.
  2. Scientists now claim that the essentials of the Darwinian theory have been established beyond any doubt, and this chapter addresses the question of whether they are entitled to any such claim. It does not deal (except in outline) with the scientific arguments for certainty, but addresses the wider question of whether we are ever justified in claiming certainty for anything. This raises two levels of question.
    • The first, which comes into philosophy of science, is about the claim that whatever scientists discover may always be overthrown by later evidence.
    • The second is about radical philosophical scepticism, and introduces briefly the subjects of metaphysics and epistemology.
  3. Philosophical scepticism is often treated as a subject of purely academic interest, but it becomes of practical relevance when it is inadvertently entangled with questions about the strength of scientific evidence. The last section of this chapter distinguishes specific doubts about Darwinian theory from all-encompassing doubts of different kinds, and in doing so draws distinctions between levels of argument that will be crucial in later chapters. It also makes use of these issues to introduce the problems of practical decision-making against a background of ignorance and uncertainty, which will reappear in the discussion of politics in Chapter 9 ("Richards (Janet Radcliffe) - Onwards and Upwards").

  1. But is it true?
  2. Scientific confidence
  3. The perpetual threat of overthrow
  4. Radical skeptics and rational bets
  5. Shifting goalposts
    … 5.1 The Omphalos case
    … 5.2 Slips of level and sleights of hand

"Richards (Janet Radcliffe) - Internicene Strife"

Source: Richards - Human Nature After Darwin: A Philosophical Introduction, 2000, Chapter 3

Author’s Abstract
  1. This chapter returns from general philosophical matters to questions specifically about Darwinism. Even though the central core of Darwinism can be taken as established beyond doubt, that is in itself relatively unthreatening to traditional conceptions of the kind of thing we ourselves are. The real danger comes with the possibility that Darwinian explanation might spread further, beyond the range of organic evolution.
  2. The fundamental problem here is to find a way of presenting a complex and confused debate in a way that does not distort the issues. This chapter divides controversies about the application of Darwinism to human nature into two main kinds. The first is about whether Darwinism can give a complete account of our origins, and justify a materialist account of what we are1. The other is about the extent to which a Darwinian understanding of our evolution can provide insight into the details of our character, as is claimed by researchers in the field of evolutionary psychology (sociobiology).
  3. These controversies within Darwinism seem to have further-reaching implications for our view of ourselves than the controversy about whether the theory is true at all, and are the ones about which public debate is most passionate. The chapter outlines these debates, and in particular explains what evolutionary psychologists take their subject to be about.
  4. However, it also argues that there is no possibility of resolving these debates here, and that for the purposes of this enquiry the question of which view is right will have to be left open.

  1. A spectrum of Darwinism
  2. The battle lines
    … 2.1 Mind First and Matter First
    … 2.2 Blank paper and the gene machines
    … 2.3 The evolutionary psychology of sex
  3. Persisting controversy

"Richards (Janet Radcliffe) - Implications and Conditionals"

Source: Richards - Human Nature After Darwin: A Philosophical Introduction, 2000, Chapter 4

Author’s Abstract
  1. This short chapter is another that is more about philosophical technicalities than about Darwinism in particular, but is essential for the analysis that follows.
  2. If there is no point at this stage in trying to establish, as a basis for the enquiry into implications, which of the Darwinian factions is closest to the truth, the best procedure is to investigate the implications of each of them. This will show how much turns on the question of which version is true.
  3. This involves investigating a series of conditional statements, about what follows if each version is true, without investigating whether it is true or not. The chapter concludes by setting out a method for the systematic investigation of conditionals, which will be used throughout the book.

  1. Where to go from here
  2. The assessment of conditionals

"Richards (Janet Radcliffe) - Biology as Destiny"

Source: Richards - Human Nature After Darwin: A Philosophical Introduction, 2000, Chapter 5

Author’s Abstract
  1. This chapter is the first of two about the idea that Darwinism presents a threat to our idea of ourselves as free and capable of responsibility, and that the deeper you go into Darwinism, the greater the threat. The accusation of denying freedom is made both by dualists against materialists and by standard social science theorists against evolutionary psychologists.
  2. This chapter concentrates on a problem within materialist Darwinism: the question of whether the truth of the more radical, gene-machine view would deprive us of the power to control or change our destiny, in a way that the blank-paper view would not. It works through a series of such problems, setting them out in the way described at the end of the previous chapter ("Richards (Janet Radcliffe) - Implications and Conditionals"), and reaches the substantive conclusion that there are no differences of implication of the kinds considered.
  3. The arguments are taken quite slowly, because the purpose of this chapter is as much to show how the method works as to deal with the issues themselves. It also begins to introduce and demonstrate, as they arise, a range of philosophical terms, distinctions and techniques.

  1. Introduction
  2. Robots and puppets
  3. Setting out the argument
  4. Assessing the argument
    … 4.1 First step: ‘women’ to ‘woman’
    … 4.2 Second step: dispositions to actions
    … 4.3 Third Step: unchangeability
  5. Tu quoque

"Richards (Janet Radcliffe) - Blameless Puppets"

Source: Richards - Human Nature After Darwin: A Philosophical Introduction, 2000, Chapter 6

Author’s Abstract
  1. This chapter continues the discussion of genes as determining our fate by moving on to our idea of ourselves as possessing free will and the capacity for responsibility. The discussion starts with questions about the evolutionary psychology boundary, as in the previous chapter ("Richards (Janet Radcliffe) - Biology as Destiny"), but then extends to the debate between materialists and their opponents. It concludes, again, that when the details are looked at with enough care, there is no difference of implication between the different positions.
  2. The chapter also provides an introduction to the philosophical problem of free will and continues the process of introducing, as they arise, various other technicalities such as necessary and contingent non-existence, the scope of negation (contraries and contradictories), and intrinsic and instrumental values. It also makes use of the analysis to revisit shifts of level in mid-argument, and to expose familiar confusions in arguments about responsibility and punishment.

  1. Philandering gene machines
  2. Real responsibility
  3. The challenge from dualism
    … 3.1 The problem of determinism
    … 3.2 The problem of indeterminism
  4. The root of the free will problem: kinds of non-existence
  5. More shifts of level and sleight of hand
    … 5.1 Equivocation and punishment

"Richards (Janet Radcliffe) - Selfish Genes and Moral Animals"

Source: Richards - Human Nature After Darwin: A Philosophical Introduction, 2000, Chapter 7

Author’s Abstract
  1. This chapter introduces the problem of Darwinism and morality by discussing the familiar claim that if we are entirely products of evolution we must be inherently incapable of anything but self-interested action, and therefore of genuine morality. This is often regarded by dualists as an implication of the materialist forms of Darwinism.
  2. The chapter argues that this is another misconception, and tackles the issue in three stages.
    • The first discussion is essentially scientific, and deals (briefly) with the way in which the problems of altruism encountered by classical Darwinism were solved by the genetic theories of neo-Darwinism.
    • After that there are two sections considering claims that the kinds of altruism allowed for by neo-Darwinism are spurious, and therefore that accusations of radical selfishness must stand. It is argued here that these claims, too, are mistaken, and that the radical forms of Darwinism do allow for genuine altruism
  3. The chapter extends the use of the analytic techniques used so far by adapting them for the critical assessment of texts. It also recapitulates earlier issues by illustrating other contexts in which there are dangers of equivocation, and where apparently clear ideas turn out to be incoherent. It also analyses the accusation of reductionism, which is one of the main sources of confusion in Darwinian controversy.

  1. Introduction
  2. Evolution and altruism
  3. Unselfish gene machines?
    … 3.1 Kin-directed altruism
    … 3.2 Reciprocal altruism
  4. True altruism?
    … 4.1 Reciprocal selfishness
    … 4.2 Ulterior genetic motives
  5. Egoism and tautology
  6. More shifts of level: reductive explanations

"Richards (Janet Radcliffe) - The End of Ethics"

Source: Richards - Human Nature After Darwin: A Philosophical Introduction, 2000, Chapter 8

Author’s Abstract
  1. Even if materialist Darwinism leaves us capable of the altruism that is a necessary condition of moral behaviour, it may seem to remove the point of moral effort altogether, by removing the whole basis of ethics. This is said by both opponents and supporters of radical Darwinian views. The main lines of argument - in particular the claim that God is essential for both providing and revealing moral standards - are discussed here, and once again the analysis seems to show that there is no difference between the implications of the different degrees of Darwinism.
  2. The chapter also makes a long detour, in the middle, into a discussion of relativism. This discussion has no direct connection with Darwinism, but relativism lurks in the background of many of the claims about Darwinism and ethics, and is worth assessing in its own right. The discussion raises further problems of incoherence and shifts of level, and also introduces the idea of pragmatic self-refutation.
  3. The chapter ends with a sketch of how ethical enquiry can proceed against a background of evolutionary psychology, and connects it with the discussion in Chapter 6 ("Richards (Janet Radcliffe) - Blameless Puppets") of punishment and responsibility.

  1. Particular moralities and morality in general
  2. God as necessary for objectivity
  3. Evolution as sufficient for non-objectivity
  4. Relativism: a detour
    … 4.1 Relativism and shifts of level
  5. Secular moral enquiry

"Richards (Janet Radcliffe) - Onwards and Upwards"

Source: Richards - Human Nature After Darwin: A Philosophical Introduction, 2000, Chapter 9

Author’s Abstract
  1. This chapter and the next ("Richards (Janet Radcliffe) - The Real Differences") are about the idea that the further you go into Darwinism, the more you risk losing in the way of cherished hopes and ideals. This chapter is about the question as it arises on the evolutionary psychology boundary; the materialist boundary is discussed in the next.
  2. It is widely believed that evolutionary psychology, in seeing our characteristics as deep in our genetic makeup, provides a justification for political and social attitudes of a conservative kind. The chapter analyses this assumption, once again taking sex and traditional attitudes to women as an illustration, and once again concluding that the assumption is mistaken. Although the difference between the gene-machine and blank-paper views may have some implications for the details of aims and methods, broader political and social ideals are not affected.
  3. The first part of the chapter is concerned largely with the recapitulation and development of philosophical techniques introduced earlier in the book: practical decision making against uncertainty, disentangling claims about people from claims about issues, and applying the use of argument structures to the analysis of texts. The broader discussion of evolutionary psychology and political ideals comes in the second half of the chapter ('Ethics and the natural order'), where it is argued that claims about the political implications of evolutionary psychology depend on importing into Darwinian materialism presuppositions drawn from traditional, incompatible views of the world.

  1. Introduction
  2. Ignorance and rationality
    … 2.1 Kitcher’s Wager
  3. Natural premises and political conclusions
    … 3.1 Sex and the natural order
    … 3.2 The argument
    … 3.3 The assessment
    … 3.4 A wider view
    … 3.5 Fundamental and derived values
  4. Ethics and the natural order
    … 4.1 Nature as harmonious
    … 4.2 Evolution as progress
    … 4.3 Hopes and disappointments
  5. Overview

"Richards (Janet Radcliffe) - The Real Differences"

Source: Richards - Human Nature After Darwin: A Philosophical Introduction, 2000, Chapter 10

Author’s Abstract
  1. So far all fears about the implications of deepening Darwinism seem to have been misguided, but one major question has not yet been discussed: the implications of the materialism boundary for ideals, hopes and the way we lead our lives. Here the differences are potentially enormous. A materialist Darwinian cannot have any of the most fundamental hopes of religious believers, and this must lead to a radically different approach to life.
  2. Nevertheless, the fact remains that most other familiar assumptions about the implications of Darwinism seem to be wrong, so the question arises of why there should be such far-reaching implications in some contexts but none in others, and why it is that there are so many mistaken ideas about which are which. There is a range of reasons, but all involve a failure to recognize the limits to what can and cannot be changed by the advance of science, and the place of philosophical analysis in understanding ourselves and our situation.
  3. It is obviously important to understand the facts about our situation as far as possible, since mistakes will prevent our making the best judgements about how to lead our lives. But mistakes in making inferences from those facts are just as serious. For understanding our nature and situation, the philosophical work is at least as important as the science.

  1. The implications of materialism
  2. The unchanged elements
  3. Conclusion

"Richards (Janet Radcliffe) - Human Nature After Darwin: Answers to Exercises and Revision Questions & Answers"

Source: Richards - Human Nature After Darwin: A Philosophical Introduction, 2000, Appendix

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
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