Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Eugene Heath's Review

Eugene Heath, a philosophy professor at SUNY at New Paltz, has written a review of Darwinian Conservatism for the journal European Legacy, vol. 12, no. 1 (2007).

Heath generally praises the book: "Arnhart takes up these important issues in a judicious and informed manner, and his delivery is intelligent, careful, and devoid of posturing or special pleading."

But he also raises some questions about points that remain unclear, and he complains that "the brevity of the presentation--a feature of the Societas series--precludes a full and substantive account of how Darwinian ideas support conservatism." That's a fair complaint, because I do bring up some deep issues that are not given the lengthy elaboration that they deserve.

Heath wonders whether my argument doesn't leave a lot of room for "diverging social norms and political standards," as long as those norms and standards are within the broad limits set by human biological nature. So even those who don't consider themselves conservatives might find support in the book for "libertarianism or some realist conception of social democracy."

Heath also thinks I dismiss too quickly Hayek's idea "that our social and moral sensibilities, forged in an era of the small group or tribe, still incline us to 'tribal emotions' of solidarity and collective purpose, tendencies that clash with the abstract and purpose-independent rules of the spontaneous order."

Heath also wonders whether my biological account of the human capacity for moral judgment fully explains the human capacity "to recognize moral truths."

And, finally, Heath suggests that the social utility of religion might depend upon people believing in the truth of religion as transcending social utility.

These are all good points, although I think my replies should be evident in the book itself. Perhaps I can say more in a future post.

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