Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Olsen's Criticisms: The Interpersonal Dimension and Human Rights

Olsen writes:  "Despite his strong emphasis on the natural basis in our evolved psychology for various types of care and concern for others, Arnhart in fact utterly fails to make room in his theory for any genuinely interpersonal perspective in ethics" (191).

This makes no sense to me.  If I strongly emphasize the naturalness of our care and concern for others, which is true, then how can it be true that I make no room for the interpersonal perspective in ethics?

I am also perplexed by Olsen's claim that I say nothing about how Darwinian natural right might apply to "issues that are at least remotely controversial in liberal democracies today" (195).  He then goes on to criticize me for not recognizing that Darwinian natural right could illuminate the current debate over the foundations of human rights (196-98).

In fact, throughout Darwinian Natural Right, Darwinian Conservatism, various articles, and many blog posts, I have discussed many contemporary issues, including human rights.  Olsen says that the debates over slavery and female genital mutilation are no longer controversies today.  But the point of my account of the debates over slavery and female genital mutilation was to show how the appeal to human rights is an appeal to human nature (see Darwinian Natural Right, 157-59).  And to say that female genital mutilation is not controversial today is strange, given the intense debate today across Europe and North America as to whether parents have the right to cut the genitals of their daughters and the debate as to whether parents in Africa and the Middle East have a cultural right to do this.  Just yesterday, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced a new policy to prosecute cases of female genital mutilation in England and Wales.  But Olsen insists that this is not a contemporary issue.  I have written about these current controversies here and here.

I have written extensively about human rights in various posts here, here, and here.  Olsen endorses Alan Dershowitz's argument for how we derive "rights from wrongs" (196-97).  He does not mention my post analyzing and supporting Dershowitz's argument.  Olsen refers to Martha Nussbaum's "capabilities approach" to human rights (197).  He does not mention that I cite Nussbaum's reasoning as compatible with my account of natural desires (Darwinian Natural Right, 30).

In my blog posts, I have commented on many contemporary issues--including abortion, gay marriage, transhumanism, the stem cell research debate, and genetic engineering. 

Would Olsen say that such issues are not "remotely controversial in liberal democracies today"?


John said...


Was he entirely unaware of your blog?


Larry Arnhart said...

Olsen acknowledges the blog, but indicates that he will limit himself to my books and articles (p. 40). He has told me that he was so overwhelmed by all the reading he had to do that he decided that he would have to ignore the blog.

Anyone who has written a dissertation understands that predicament. But I think he could have easily done a Google search to find my responses to each of his criticisms.