Friday, July 09, 2010

"Darwinian Liberalism" at "Cato Unbound"

This Monday (July 12), an essay of mine on "Darwinian Liberalism" will be posted at the "Cato Unbound" website, which is sponsored by the Cato Institute.

Over the next two weeks, they will post responses to my essay from P. Z. Myers (July 14), Lionel Tiger (July 16), and Herb Gintis (July 19).

Then, until the end of the month, the four of us will participate in a continuing discussion.

My essay is a summary of my argument for why libertarians should see Darwinian science as supporting their promotion of classical liberalism.

"Cato Unbound" is one of the more intellectually stimulating sites on the Web.


Troy Camplin said...

I will definitely follow the discussion -- and post my own responses on my own blog.

Unknown said...

Looking around your blog, I get that you obviously disagree with Dawkins.

But it is interesting that Leonard Darwin probably wouldn't have agreed with your interpretation.

Which isn't to say that Leonard's view was the same as his fathers.

DocPenn said...

Arnhart's right on the money. For additional documentation, see my book The Origin of Cultures (2009).

Doc said...

Riiight. So my moral sense, my sense of duty, my knowledge of right and wrong, are all basically either inherited instincts, or imprinted on me b/o my cultural milieu, or some mix of both. IOW they're no different than, say, my taste in vegetables, or my patellar reflex.

This does not explain morality; it explains it...away. If I have a real duty to take care of my children, and I know with a deep and absolute knowledge that can not be denied that I do, this can't be explained adequately as some kind of instinct or training. If it were, I could decide that I no longer wanted to follow that instinct, abandon my children, and fly to Venezuela. By the evolutionists's reasoning, this should be morally acceptable. After all, it's just my instinct to care for my children vs my instinct to lie on the beach soaking up rays, right? You like the morals of classical liberalism, I like despotism, you say potatoes, I say potahtoes, let's call the crazy thing off!

Providentially for the human race's survival, evolutionism is, hilariously...counter-reproductive! Check it out. Ask yourself, of the committed atheists (who are, presumably, evolutionists; after all, other than theism, it's the only game in town to explain life as we know it) you know who are between, say, 21 and 45: how many children do they have, or seem likely to have? Most of the time it's 0, 1, or 2. Often it's one designer child at 39 years old. Ever hear of the 'quiver-full' movement? That's committed Christians realizing that it's our responsibility to reproduce...heartily. So we do. I have 4 myself. My 3 atheist older brothers have only 2 children amongst them, and those 2 are grown women who, at least at present, seem unlikely to have children at all, let alone a large family, as they're atheists also.

Just thing of it as evolution in action. Survival of the fittest. Last man standing.

Kent Guida said...

Since Cato Unbound has no provision for comments, I will take advantage of our host’s hospitality to register mine here.

The first “Reaction Essay” by PZ Myers is disappointing.

Myers claims that “finding an evolutionary basis for any human activity is trivial.” Really? Any activity? The evolutionary basis of the family is trivial and it should be viewed as purely conventional?

Myers wants to dismiss Arnhart’s thought without addressing the fundamental questions:
Does man have natural desires that are the product of his evolutionary history? Is liberalism more compatible with man’s evolved nature and his natural desires than competing political theories?

Reading between the lines, one could say Myers thinks man’s desires must be “expanded upon and redirected,” hence the good is not the desirable, but something else entirely, and therefore political life need not be compatible with our evolved natural desires.

Perhaps he doesn’t take on these questions directly because he is not familiar with them. That would make him a less than ideal judge of the relevance of evolutionary theory to political philosophy.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Kent: The Myers essay is smug, but superficial.

He does not take on your arguments head on, but only obliquely. He is, perhaps, excused in that I think that he thinks that he does take them head on. It reads like the response of someone who skimmed, rather than read, your essay. I should add that he should perhaps also be excused in that it is exactly what you would expect form a modern progressive academic scientist, no more or no less. And although that sounds pejorative I truly mean only that it is a very conventional response from someone in his position.

At the very least, he misses entirely how all utopian modern political thinking by necessity denies the existence of a non-malleable human nature. And he makes the sloppy, but conventional, mistake of thinking geologically about modern biology’s implications for our ideas about human nature.

He concludes with evolution’s “lessons:” “Adapt to the environment, or die. Change is inevitable. No matter what our species does, it will eventually change or die.” These are not lessons for humans standing in history. Human beings are not actively transmorphing over forty or fifty years into constantly new species. This is intellectually equivalent to worrying about how the continents will collide with the coming tectonic shifts.

Disappointing, but expected.


Troy Camplin said...

Gintis' is a great response. Well-informed and thoughtful. The first thing I would note, though, is that at the end, Gintis is talking more about a certain kind of libertarian who is so libertarian that they won't crtiicize anyone's actions or beliefs than he is Arnhart, who explicitly says he is a conservative rather than a libertarian precisely ... See Morebecause he thinks virtue is necessary for a free society.

Another big argument I have with Gintis is his statement that, "The notion that mutual tolerance and adjudication of moral differences emerges spontaneously in civil society is implausible." WIth all due respect to Gintis, he needs to familiarize himself with the history of civilization, which shows precisely this happening. More, there has been actual scientific research proving that this phenomenon actually occurs. People actually do spontaneously treat each other better and fairer in denser, wide-ranging societies with market economies.

I will say this, though: Gintis is right that evolution does support many forms of governmance. But network theory and complex adaptive systems theory, combined with human universals/evolutionary psychology demonstrate that only a spontaneous order -- democracy, catallaxy, and even virtue ethics in the Aristotlean tradition -- allows people to live freer, more prosperous lives. It may not be the only political-economic system, but it is the best one for a social mammal with a population as large and dominant as ours -- the one in the end most suited for a species such as ours to live the best life possible.