Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Edward Westermarck: The First Sociobiologist and Proponent of Darwinian Natural Right

I have often written on this blog about how Edward Westermarck has influenced my thinking about sociobiology and Darwinian natural right--particularly, through his theory of incest avoidance (herehereherehere, and here).  Now, I am thinking more about this after reading Stephen Sanderson's paper--"Edward Westermarck: The First Sociobiologist"--in the Oxford Handbook of Evolution, Biology, and Society (2018), edited by Rosemary Hopcroft, pp. 63-86.  This paper can be found online.

Sanderson is a sociologist who is one of the few sociologists who has argued for founding sociology on a biological science of human nature.  (I wrote a series of posts on Sanderson's work in April and May of 2016.)  His paper presents Westermarck as the most unfairly neglected sociologist who showed how a Darwinian science of human social behavior could deepen sociology as a true science.  He explains how sociologists today mostly ignore Westermarck, because they have embraced the position of Emile Durkheim--one of Westermarck's opponents--that social life can only be explained through environmentalism and social determinism, which requires a rejection of any Darwinian science of human nature.  This Durkheimian scorn for the biological basis of social life explains why so few sociologists today are open to sociobiology and evolutionary psychology.

In his attempt to revive Westermarck's Darwinian thinking in the social sciences, Sanderson explains how Westermarck's accounts of the evolutionary history of human marriage (including the incest taboo) and of human moral psychology were ahead of his time in anticipating the work of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology over the past 50 years.

In doing this, Sanderson identifies me as one of the scholars developing a Darwinian understanding of human morality in the tradition of Westermarck.  He rightly sees that Westermarck's Darwinian account of morality as rooted in evolved human emotions was a denial of Kant's transcendentalist rationalism in ethics.  Contrary to Kant, reason by itself never moves us to act.  In our mental and moral life, the intellect is how, the emotions why.  I have elaborated that point in various posts (here, here, here, and here).

Sanderson summarizes and apparently accepts my defense of Darwinian natural right as founded on 20 natural desires.  (I have written about Sanderson's Darwinian account of the natural desires here.)

But then he cannot accept my defense of "Darwinian conservatism."  He writes:
"I do not intend to be presenting Arnhart's conservative political philosophy, as represented in the previously presented five principles, as 'correct.' I simply offer it as a leading example of an attempt to ground a moral philosophy in Darwinian theoretical principles.  As one might imagine, nearly all those on the political Left are anti-Darwinian with respect to moral and political philosophy.  There is the occasional exception, however (e.g., Peter Singer's book A Darwinian Left [1999]).  Westermarck himself was a liberal" (note 4).
Sanderson does not mention my critique of Singer's Darwinian Left in Darwinian Conservatism or my general arguments against attempts to enlist Darwinian science in support of socialism (here and here).

In saying that "Westermarck himself was a liberal," Sanderson intimates that he agrees with Antti Lepisto's claim that Westermarck would not have agreed with Darwinian conservatism, because Westermarck often took a liberal or reformist position on marriage and family life, as in his arguing for liberalizing marriage and family law to make divorce easier, and in his generally tolerant attitude towards homosexuality.  But as I have said in response to Lepisto (here), my Darwinian conservatism is a liberal conservatism that embraces the classical liberalism of Locke, Smith, and Hayek; and such classical liberalism can be supported by a Darwinian science of morality and social order.  Westermarck's classical liberalism is suggested by his adoption of Adam Smith's ideas in The Theory of Moral Sentiments.

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