Friday, September 11, 2015

Another Kantian Critic of Darwinian Natural Right

I have written many posts responding to the Kantian critics of Darwinian ethics and politics (from Frances Cobbe to John Hare).  Recently, I noticed that Mika LaVaque-Manty (a political scientist at the University of Michigan) has written a Kantian critique of Darwinian natural right--"Nature's New Constraints? Political Theory and the Life Sciences Boom."  It's hard to respond to LaVaque-Manty, however, because his criticism of my argument consists of only two paragraphs.  Moreover, his general argument in this paper is so vague that it's difficult to interpret what he's saying.

He says that the "main arguments" in his paper are "motivated by the philosophy of Immanuel Kant," and that "Kant's willingness to shake his theoretical fist at an indifferent nature has earned an almost unequivocal rejection" by biological philosophers like me (5-6).  He never explains, however, why that rejection of Kant as refuted by biological science is wrong.  In Darwinian Natural Right, I have argued that Kant's moral rationalism--that moral judgment must be based on purely a priori reasoning without any moral emotions or desires--has been shown by neuroscience to be false, because the only people who might act without moral emotions are psychopaths.  Oddly, LaVaque-Manty is silent about this argument.

Here's his first paragraph about me:
"The reining in, even when it is reductionist in its orientation, need not follow Pinker's blueprint.  For example, political theorist Larry Arnhart has offered a sophisticated theory in which he interprets Aristotle's philosophy as not only consistent with evolutionary theory, but as the best way to think about human action and politics, given the truth of evolutionary theory (Arnhart 1998).  This is no mean feat, as his Aristotelianism has much premodern baggage which is on its face incompatible with not just evolutionary theory, but modern science in general: strong teleology and normative natural law, for example.  What makes Arnhart's a reductionist approach, however, is what he holds constant: he interprets Aristotle in light of modern evolutionary theory" (12).
This paragraph is strange in two respects.  First, he asserts that I argue for reductionism, even though I explicitly argue against reductionism and in favor of emergence (see Darwinian Natural Right, 102, 246-248).  Second, he suggests that my defense of teleology is "incompatible" with evolutionary science and modern science generally, even though his second paragraph about me suggests that my account of teleology really is compatible with evolutionary science.

Here's the second paragraph:
"But this [the claim that all teleological thinking is denied by modern science] is just one possible conclusion.  One possibility would be to 'deflate' teleology in a way that makes it compatible with evolutionary theory.  Larry Arnhart's Aristotelian naturalism, which I discussed above, is an example of this: he offers an interpretation of teleology that strips the scientifically implausible aspects and simply understands the natural end of an entity as the thing that is good for its survival.  What he calls the 'goal-directed character' of organisms, which Darwinism accepts, is all Aristotelian naturalism requires (Arnhart 1998, 11).  This is a perfectly legitimate strategy, but it isn't the only way to make our penchant for teleology meaningful" (26).
So if my Darwinian account of teleology is "a perfect legitimate strategy," does that mean that he thinks it's correct?

In the last three paragraphs of his paper, he suggests an alternative--Kantian--way to think about teleology.  We should see "nature as our benevolent stepmother."  And what does that mean?  I have no idea.

As a parenthetical comment on LaVaque-Manty's paper, I would also come to William Connolly's defense.  He quotes him as writing: "And today, several neuroscientists conclude that the lower region of the breast, while not as complex as the brain system in the head, houses a simple cortical complex that communicates with higher brain regions to issue intense feelings of disgust, anxiety, fear, and terror."  He says that this shows that Connolly is "willing to make up facts," because this claim is not supported by "the currently available data."  He's mistaken, because there is plenty of evidence that there is lots of communication between the gut and the brain, and that there is an "enteric nervous system" that can be identified as a "second brain."  Some of this evidence is surveyed in Emerson A. Mayer, "Gut Feelings: The Emerging Biology of Gut-Brain Communication," Nature Reviews Neuroscience 12 (August 2011): 453-466.

Some of these points are elaborated in previous posts here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

With regard to Aristotle, I have read that his error was that he took the teleology that his empirical science found in living organisms, and tried to apply it to reality as a whole.