Monday, September 27, 2010

Aristotle's Darwinian Ethics (6): Hare on Aristotle's Platonic Religion

As a proponent of the divine command theory of ethics, John Hare (a professor at Yale University) criticizes my Darwinian ethics for not recognizing that morality without belief in God is impossible.

In his book God and Morality: A Philosophical History (2009), Hare tries to show the fundamental influence of theistic religion in the history of Western ethical philosophy. He concentrates on four philosophers--Aristotle, Duns Scotus, Immanuel Kant, and R. M. Hare. These four thinkers represent four periods--ancient, medieval, modern, and contemporary. They represent four kinds of ethical theory as concentrating on virtue, will, duty, and consequences respectively. And they represent four conceptions of god--God as magnet, God as lover, God as sovereign, and God as model. He pairs each of the four philosophers with successors who abandoned the theological premises of their forerunner. I am paired with Aristotle, Jean-Paul Satre is paired with Scotus, Christine Korsgaard is paired with Kant, and Peter Singer is paired with R. M. Hare.

For the Aristotle chapter, Hare begins with a photograph and a description of Raphael's depiction of Greek philosophy in his sixteenth-century fresco in the Vatican--The School of Athens. Plato and Aristotle stand at the center of the painting. Plato's right arm is raised vertically, and his right index finger is pointing to heaven, while his left hand holds his book Timaeus vertically. Aristotle's right arm is extended horizontally, his right hand is spread out with his palm gesturing down towards the center of the group, and his left hand hold his book Nicomachean Ethics horizontally. The obvious suggestion is that Plato is a more "vertical" thinker, in pointing upward to the heavens or the divine, while Aristotle is a more "horizontal" thinker, gesturing downward towards the human beings around them.

Hare suggests, however, that this difference between the vertical Plato and the horizontal Aristotle is only a matter of emphasis, and that in fact Aristotle incorporates into his thought the vertical dimension of Platonic religion. He supports this with the claim that Raphael was probably influenced by Renaissance thinkers like Marsilio Ficino and Egidio da Viterbo who had sought to reconcile Plato and Aristotle. Some scholars of Renaissance art believe that Raphael was guided by a program laid down by Egidio, who argued that Plato and Aristotle agreed that humanity combined two natures--the sensual nature that is embedded in matter and the rational nature that is free from matter. While Aristotle stressed the material side of human experience more than did Plato, Aristotle showed his agreement with Plato in the tenth book of the Ethics by affirming that the highest part of humanity is pure intellect, which grasps what is divine and eternal by imitating the Divine Intellect.

This introduces Hare's argument that Aristotle agrees with Plato's religion--God as Cosmic Intellect towards which all human beings are drawn by their intellectual love of the Ideas. This is what Hare calls "God as magnet"--the magnetic force of the divine radiating out through the great chain of Being.

Hare offers plenty of textual evidence for this conclusion. For example, in the Timaeus, it is said that God has given human beings Intellect as a divinity that looks up to heaven, while struggling against the mortal desires of the body.

When a man devotes himself to the love of learning and to true prudence, and has exercised himself in these things above all others, then there is every necessity, I suppose, that he think thoughts that are immortal and divine (if in fact he touches on truth); and again, to the extent that human nature admits to a share in immortality, he does not fall short of this; and since he's always caring for his divine part and keeping well-arrayed the divinity that dwells within him, he is supremely happy. (90b-c)

This sounds a lot like what Aristotle says about the contemplative life in Book 10 of the Nicomachean Ethics.

We should not follow the recommendation of thinkers who say that those who are men should think only of human things and that mortals should think only of mortal things, but we should try as far as possible to partake of immortality and to make every effort to live according to the best part of the soul in us; for even if this part be of small measure, it surpasses all the others by far in power and worth. It would seem, too, that each man is this part, if indeed this is the dominant part and is better than the other parts; so it would be strange if a man did not choose the life proper to himself but that proper to another. And what was stated earlier is appropriate here also; that which is by nature proper to each thing is the best and most pleasant for that thing. So for a man, too, the life according to his intellect is the best and most pleasant, if indeed a man in the highest sense is his intellect. Hence this life, too, is the happiest. (1177b31-78a8)

But as I have noted in some previous posts, the reasoning offered by Plato and Aristotle for this divinization of the human intellect and the elevation of the contemplative life as divine is remarkably dubious. So the careful reader might wonder how seriously to take this.

Hare is ambiguous about this. On the one hand, he clearly thinks we are intended by Aristotle to take his theological language seriously. On the other hand, Hare admits that this theology of the contemplative life is "in tension" with much of what is taught in the Nicomachean Ethics (17). Hare observes: "Unfortunately Aristotle gets tentative when he starts talking about God" (19). At least initially, Aristotle is drawing from traditional religious opinions--as in Homer's depictions of the gods. But it's not clear whether Aristotle is sincere about this. Sometimes he speaks of gods in the plural, but then he shifts to speaking of God in the singular. He says that God or the gods are so self-sufficient in their lives that they don't care about human beings. But then he says they love philosophers. Sometimes he suggests divinity is inside us, but at other times he suggests divinity is outside of us.

Aristotle indicates that traditionally the gods were originally human beings who were divinized for their heroic deeds by their fellow human beings, which suggests that talk of divinity is just one way of talking of heroic human virtue. Aristotle quotes Homer as having Priam recognize the exceptional goodness of Hector by saying he was a God, and thus "people are turned from humans into gods by a surpassing degree of virtue" (1145a20-24).

Moreover, Hare is never clear as to what difference this confusing theological language makes for Aristotle's ethical teaching. His general argument is that the case of Aristotle illustrates how morality is impossible without God. But Hare never explains exactly how Aristotle's conclusions about morality depend on his theology. The only clear case of this is that Aristotle apparently thinks that elevating the philosophic life over all other lives requires religious language, but the confusing character of his reasoning makes the reader wonder if he is completely serious about this.

Hare tries to argue that my Darwinian Aristotelianism is not really Aristotelian, because it ignores the theological foundation--the "vertical" dimension--of Aristotle's ethics. But, then, he concedes that I and Aristotle are in agreement on the fundamental principle that the good is the desirable, and the human good is the harmonious satisfaction of our natural desires over a complete life, which is happiness (55, 69, 71, 254, 271, 278). And yet, Hare also insists that since I don't accept Aristotle's theistic religion, I can't resolve the tragic conflicts in human desires: "Arnhart is stuck in a difficulty that Aristotle is not" (72).

I argue that sometimes the natural human desires create tragic conflicts between human beings that can only be resolved by force or fraud. For example, in the conflict over slavery in the United States, in which the master's desire for mastery came into conflict with the slave's desire to be free from exploitation, the only final resolution came with the Civil War.

Generally, Hare argues that a religiously grounded morality is free of tragedy. Thus, the theistic teaching of universal love allows theists to overcome tragic conflicts of interest. But Hare is never exactly clear how this works. Does universal love require absolute pacifism and socialism in which all human beings would love one another impartially without any bias towards themselves or those close to them?

Consider the famous case of the Dutch householder hiding a Jew in her attic during the Nazi occupation of her country. When the Nazis come to her to ask if there are any Jews in her house, is it immoral for her to lie? Here, Hare admits, is a tragic situation where the woman must lie but then confess that she had violated the moral law against lying. Hare explains: "Putting the difficulty theologically, the person who lies is breaking God's command, but perhaps (given the situation) in the hope of mercy" (282).

"In a similar example," Hare writes, "some bishops in the early Christian centuries required soldiers who had killed, even in a just war, to abstain for a while from Communion on their return" (282-83). So does this mean that just killing in war is against God's commands? But God will forgive us for our sin of not loving our enemies?

Hare explains: "The position we imagine as ideal is one in which all the people involved, including ourselves, are loved the same. But that is not a position we in fact occupy. It is the position God occupies, if there is a God" (285). It is hard for me to see how this provides any reliable guidance for our moral conduct.

Even with all of his insistence that morality without God is impossible, Hare actually concedes that there is a natural moral sense that allows atheists and believers to understand one another's moral language. Some people might understand the chemical properties of water, while others might not. But they could all talk about "water" with mutual understanding, without having to talk about its chemical properties. Similarly, Hare suggests, theists and atheists can talk about what is "right" or "good" with mutual understanding, even though the atheists will not share the belief of the theists that what is "right" and "good" ultimately arises from God's commands (272).

If that is Hare's position, then he's agreeing with me that while religious belief can reinforce our moral judgments, our morality can stand on its own natural ground as part of our evolved human nature even without religious belief.

Related posts can be found here, here, here, here, and here.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Aristotle's Darwinian Ethics (5): Animal Psychology and Pleasure

Darwin argues that human beings differ from other animals in degree but not in kind. This is often thought to be a refutation of Aristotelian biology. But while Aristotle had no theory of the evolution of species from ancestral species, a fundamental principle of his biology is the continuity between human beings and other animals, not only in their bodies but also in their mental powers, which enters his moral and political writing in those many passages where he explains human psychological nature by comparison with other animals.

Consider the following passage from the History of Animals (588a15-89a10):

In most of the other animals, there are traces of the qualities of soul that are more evidently differentiated in human beings. For there are both gentleness and savagery, mildness and harshness, courage and timidity, fear and confidence, spiritedness and trickery, and, with respect to intelligence [dianoia], something like judgment [sunesis], similar in many ways, just as we have spoken of the parts of the body. For some of these qualities differ only more or less with reference to human beings, and so is man in reference to many things of animals. Some of these qualities are greater in man, others are greater in other animals, but in others they differ by analogy. For instance, in many there is art, wisdom, and judgment, so there is some other natural capacity. This is most evident if one considers the condition at the age of infancy. For in infants it is possible to see traces and germs of their future dispositions, since there is no difference, so to speak, between the soul of a beast and the soul of an infant. So it is not unreasonable if some psychic qualities are the same, others resemble one another, and others are analogous. For nature passes little by little from the inanimate to animals, so that this continuity prevents one from seeing a border or perceiving on which side an intermediate form lies.

The same holds for the actions of life. For of plants the function appears to be nothing other than producing another similar to themselves, which arises through seeds, and similarly of some animals there is no function other than reproduction. Therefore, the actions of thse sort are common to all. But if sensation is added, then their lives with respect to sexual intercourse will differ through the pleasure of this activity, and with respect to parturition and the nurturing of the young. Some animals, therefore, just like plants, complete the reproduction of their progeny according to the seasons. Others trouble themselves about the feeding of the young, but whenever this is completed, they separate themselves and have nothing more in common with them. Still others who are more intelligent [sunetotera] and shares in memory live a longer time and in a more political manner with their offspring.

one part of the life of animals, therefore, is devoted to the actions concerning reproduction, another part to the actions concerning food. For on these two all their serious pursuits and their life happen to concentrate. Their food differs mostly according to the matter of which they are constituted. For the growth of each will happen according to nature from this. Further, whatever is according to nature is pleasurable; and all animals according to nature pursue pleasure.

Notice the eight points that Aristotle makes in this passage.

1. Human psychic powers are more clearly differentiated forms of powers found in other animals. Thus, there is an unbroken continuity between all species of life.

2. These common powers include both traits of moral temperament (such as courage, for example) and cognitive capacities for reasoning and judging.

3. In comparing human beings and other animals, their powers are either the same or different in degree or similar by analogy. In the case of analogy, different powers serve similar functions.

4. These comparisons are clearest if one considers human infants, because in some sense there is no difference between a young child and a non-human animal.

5. Animals are naturally adapted for survival and reproduction, and therefore the practical structure of their lives varies according to how each species feeds and propagates.

6. Unlike plants, some animals must care for their young, and how they do this shapes the life of each species. Some animals only feed the young at the beginning of life. But those who are more intelligent develop more lasting bonds with their young. Thus, higher levels of animal intelligence are connected to more extended parental care.

7. Such long-term nurturance of the young is the natural ground from which political life grows.

8. Animals, having some capacity for sensation, act to satisfy their natural desires because by nature this gives them pleasure.

All of these points enter into Aristotle's moral and political science. Consider, for example, the importance of pleasure.

"Whatever is according to nature is pleasurable, and all animals according to nature pursue pleasure." Having developed this thought in his biological works, Aristotle incorporates it into the Nicomachean Ethics. All human action is governed by pleasure and pain, as is true for all animals (1104b4-5a16). A good man is one who feels pleasure and pain in the right manner. To deny the goodness of pleasure would be an implausible denial of the testimony of all animals. Since all creatures, the mindless as well as those with some rational judgment, pursue pleasure as good, it must be good in some sense. A man could not endure even Plato's Idea of the Good if it were painful to him (1153b25-36, 1158a24-25, 1172b35-73a5).

While pleasure is not always the direct object of desire, pleasures accompanies the satisfaction of every desire, which supports the observation that the good is the desirable (1174b15-76a29).

Each animal has a species-specific pleasure corresponding to its species-specific function, for pleasure accompanies the activity fulfillment of whatever inclinations constitute the nature of a species. Therefore, "the pleasures of a horse, of a dog, and of a human being are different" (1176a6). But although the pleasures of each species tend to be the same, what human beings find pleasurable varies to some extent. In extreme cases, human beings can be impaired or ruined so that what is pleasurable for them is not truly pleasurable in the sense of perfecting human nature. Such people don't understand what they truly desire (1153b25-36, 1176a3-22).

The pleasures of the good and the bad differ just as the pleasures of children and adults differ, and we can properly judge the pleasures of the good person to be superior just as we do those of the adult (1174a1-3, 1176b23-25). Some pleasures are natural to human beings (or to other species), while others are unnatural. Of course, the unnatural pleasures are natural in the weak sense that they have natural causes; but they are unnatural in the strong sense that they disrupt the normal balance or order in an animal's life. Among human beings, unnatural pleasures arise either through injury or through habit or through evil natures. So, for example, a person might be driven by a mental disease to kill and eat his mother. Or a person abused from childhood might take pleasure in sexual perversion. Or a person born with some mental disorder might take perverse pleasure in eating human flesh or abusing his children (1148b15-49a20).

Those who would guide the education of the young and the general formation of human character must understand the motivational power of pleasure and pain (1172a19-26). Consequently, "theorizing about pleasure and pain belongs to the political philosopher; for he is the architect of the end, to which we look in calling one thing good and another bad in an absolute sense" (1152b1-8). Furthermore, as a philosopher, he understands that the intellectual life is the most pleasurable insofar as a human being in the highest sense is his intellect (1178a5-8).

Darwin also concluded that human beings found their natural pleasures in satisfying their instincts for conjugal, parental, and social bonding generally. As refined by habit and reason, these instinctive pleasures shape the moral sense of human beings. Any person without such instincts would be an "unnatural monster" (2004, 136, 140, 148; 1987, 619-22). Moreover, Darwin thought that in some savage circumstances, bad habits and insufficient reasoning would lead people to commit "unnatural crimes" (2004, 140-50). But with the progress of civilization a few people, he believed, would discover the intense pleasures of the intellect as the source of the greatest human happiness (1987, 548-49).

For both Aristotle and Darwin, therefore, morality rests on a natural union of instinctive feelings and rational judgments. They would agree neither with Hume's exaggerated claim that reason is the slave of the desires, nor with Kant's exaggerated claim that reason discovers the moral law in complete abstraction from natural human desires. For Aristotle and Darwin, reason complements the natural desires by arbitrating conflicts between them to conform to a coherent plan of life, in which each natural desire finds its fullest and most appropriate expression.

Although perhaps never fully attainable, the goal of rationally ordering all the natural desires into a coherent whole can at least be more or less approximated. Success will depend not only on the individual's character and thought, but also on his physical circumstances and on the way of life of his political community.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Aristotle's Darwinian Ethics (4): Natural Right and Biology

One of the most famous--and enigmatic--passages in Aristotle's writings is his account of natural right (or natural justice) in Book 5 of the Nicomachean Ethics. Although the whole passage takes up no more than one page, it has provoked continuing controversy throughout the history of political philosophy. Thomas Aquinas saw it as an early statement of what he called "natural law." But some commentators--like Leo Strauss--have complained that Aristotle's distinction between "nature" (physis) and "law" or "convention" (nomos) makes the "natural law" a contradiction in terms. This debate is complicated by the fact that Aristotle does speak of "natural law" in the Rhetoric (Book 1, chap. 13).

My argument is that if this passage is read in the light of Aristotle's biological works, we can see that it suggests, in contrast to Plato, that natural right arises not from the cosmological order of the universe, but from the biological order of human nature.

Here's the passage (1134b18-35a5):

Of the political sort of justice, one kind is natural [physikon] and another is legal/conventional [nomikos]. What is naturally just has the same power [dunamis] everywhere, and is not affected by whether it seems so to people or not, but what is conventionally/legally just is something that at first makes no difference to to this way or some other way, but when people have established it, does make a difference, such as being released for a ransom of one mina, or sacrificing a goat but not two sheep, and also those things that people set down by law for particular situations, such as sacrificing to Brasidas, and things of the sort that are decided by a vote. And it seems to some people that all justice is of this sort, because what is by nature is unchangeable and has the same power everywhere, just as fire burns both here and among the Persians, while they see what is just being changed. But this is not the way it is, though it is so in a certain sense, and while among the gods, no doubt, nothing changes at all, among us there is something that is by nature even though everything is changeable; nevertheless, one kind of thing is by nature and another kind is not by nature.

What sort of thing, among the things that are capable of happening in different ways, is by nature, and what sort is not but is legal/conventional and by agreement, even if both are equally changeable, is clear. And the same distinction will fit other things, for the right hand is stronger by nature, and yet it is possible for everyone to become ambidextrous. The things that are just by law/convention and expediency are like units of measure, for the measuring units for wine and grain are not equal everywhere, but where they are sold they are greater, and where they are bought they are less. Similarly, the things that are just not naturally but by human law/convention are not the same everywhere, since the kinds of regime are not the same either, but there is only one kind of regime that is by nature the best everywhere.

Notice that both natural justice and conventional justice are kinds of political justice. Since human beings are political animals by nature, human justice must be political justice. By contrast, much of what Plato seems to teach is that human justice must imitate some cosmic order of universal justice.

Notice also the contrast between the physical phenomenon of fire, which burns the same way in all human societies and the biological phenomenon of right-handedness, which is somewhat variable among human beings. In his biological writings, Aristotle observed that animals with bilateral symmetry manifested "sidedness" in their movements, favoring one side over the other. Human beings were by nature right-handed, and yet they could make themselves ambidextrous (497b30, 705b21). In the Laws (794d), Plato recommended that all children should be taught to be ambidextrous, because this would be advantageous for soldiers.

Beginning with Darwin, biological research has turned up evidence that right-handedness is a genetic propensity favored by human evolution. Much of this research is surveyed in Stanley Coren's The Left-Hander Syndrome: The Causes and Consequences of Left-Handedness (Vintage Books, 1993). Many animals show handedness--favoring one hand over the other. In all human societies throughout history, right-handers are probably roughly 90% of the population. So left-handedness is common, but it is always a trait of the minority. The human fossil record of tool-use suggests that these tools were used predominantly by right-handers. Historical evidence--such as human pictures over long periods of history--suggest the same right-hander dominance.

There is substantial evidence that right-handedness is a genetic propensity of the human species--a species-specific trait of human beings just like having two hands, two feet, and a visual system that perceives color. Although in recent years, there have been some reports of evidence that left-handedness is genetically determined, much research (such as Coren's) suggests that left-handedness is not genetically caused but rather a consequence of early developmental trauma--such as birth stress--that somehow alters the development of the brain towards left-handedness.

So this is an example of how our biological nature shows not natural necessities (like the burning of fire) but natural propensities that hold "for the most part" but not always. Moreover, it's also an example of how human learning--people forcing themselves to become ambidextrous--can counter the natural propensities.

This biological example points to how the natural biological desires of human beings support natural right as both universally true for human beings and yet always variable. So, for example, Aristotle stresses the natural desires for sexual mating, parental care, familial bonding, and friendship as supporting the virtues. And yet while these desires are natural propensities for most human beings, and thus constitute the generic goods of human life universally, there is great variation in these desires across individuals and societies.

This indicates that Strauss was wrong in his claim, in the Introduction to Natural Right and History, that Aristotelian natural right depended on a cosmic teleology of the universe that had been refuted by modern natural science. But this also indicates that Strauss was closer to the truth when he observed later in this book (94) that human nature could provide an immanent teleology for natural right: "However indifferent to moral distinctions the cosmic order may be thought to be, human nature, as distinguished from nature in general, may very well be the basis of such distinctions. . . . We must therefore distinguish between those human desires and inclinations which are natural and those which originate in convention."

This latter remark points to what I have defended as a Darwinian natural right rooted in the immanent teleology of evolved human nature.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Free Will and Dilley's Secrecy

In Stephen Dilley's APSA conference paper, he writes:

This essay proposes that Arnhart's conservatism fails for a more fundamental reason: it implies determinism of the human mind such that human beings are incapable of the kind of free will necessary for meaningful morality, including conservative morality. Arnhart's allegiance to Darwinism--with its sole reliance on material-efficient causes and rejection of human telos and essentia--fails to ground 'genuine' free will. But without free will, morality and traditional values become meaningless. Thus the proposed union between Darwinism and conservative beliefs cannot be sustained.

In a footnote to this statement, Dilley writes: "The notion of 'free will' used in this essay will be clarified below." In my recent post, I noted that he never fulfills his promise to explain what he means by "free will." I said that "it's hard to know how to respond" to his criticisms without this explanation.

Now, in his most recent statement, he complains that it's not right for me to ask for this explanation, because he is making a purely negative argument against me that does not require any positive argument from him. He even says that he wants to keep it a secret as to whether he really believes in free will: "nothing in my article implied that I personally accept 'agent causation' or 'uncaused causes.'"

So, in effect, Dilley is saying: I want you to respond to my criticism that your position implies "that human beings are incapable of the kind of free will necessary for meaningful morality," but I am not going to give you any definition or explanation of what I mean by "free will."

Well, if these are the rules of the debate, then I might as well surrender.

All that I can do is to point to what I have said about "natural freedom" in Darwinian Natural Right (83-87) and in various posts on this blog. My fundamental claim in these remarks is that "free will" as "uncaused cause" makes no sense in application to human beings. Whatever comes into existence must have a cause. Only what is self-existent from eternity--God--could be uncaused. Against the incomprehensible claim that human beings have the free will to act as divine uncaused causes, I argue that the common-sense notion of human freedom is the power to act as one chooses regardless of the cause of the choice. We are free when our actions and thoughts are determined by our deliberate choices.

Against this conception of natural freedom, Dilley assmes a radically reductionist view of causal determinism: when a human being chooses what to do or think based on his beliefs and desires, "he no more chooses his actions than a domino chooses its action in a falling line." So, for Dilley, the causal determinism of our deliberate choices is no different from the causal determinism of falling dominoes. Apparently, for Dilley, the only escape from this reductionist determinism is "free will," but then he's not going to tell us what he means by "free will," or even whether he believes there is "free will."

One possible explanation for Dilley's secrecy is that while he believes morality is meaningless without "free will" as "uncaused cause," he doesn't believe there is such "free will." In that case, he would be a moral nihilist, and he would be criticizing me for not facing up to the truth of moral nihilism.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Question of Free Will: Stephen Dilley's Reply

Recently, I wrote a post on Stephen Dilley's argument that I deny free will and thus endorse a determinism that would make moral responsibility impossible. He has written a response to this post, which I provide here in its entirety.

Stephen Dilley
Department of Philosophy
St. Edward's University
Austin, Texas

September 17, 2010

I am thankful to Prof. Arnhart for his generosity in allowing me to reply on his blog to the questions he raised about my 2008 essay. Since the original exchange between us took place two years ago, some background may be helpful. In my original article (as well as my APSA paper in 2009), I argued two central claims. First, I contended that Prof. Arnhart's account of the emergence of the human mind implies determinism of the mind, which renders human beings incapable of the kind of free will necessary for meaningful morality. Second, I held that his deterministic view is incompatible with traditional conservative understandings of human volition and moral responsibility. The first of these claims is the most fundamental, so I will focus on it in what follows. (Readers who would like a copy of my original article can email me at

In two blog posts, Prof. Arnhart responded to my article, asking me a number of questions--more than a dozen, by my count. Since I cannot respond to all of them in the space of a blog entry, I will instead focus on his central queries, which form the basis for most of his other questions. Prof. Arnhart's key questions arise as part of his main response to my criticisms of his account of the origin of the mind as well as the implications of his view for human volition. He asks:

Does Dilley have his own detailed explanation of how exactly the human mind originated? If he does, he does not lay it out in this article. It's hard to know how to respond to his criticism of my account of the evolutionary emergence of mind, because he offers no alternative explanation of his own. Similarly, it's hard to respond to his criticism of my account of human mental freedom, because he never explains his alternative.

Regarding my critique of his view of human volition, he also queries:

So what is Dilley's alternative? It's not clear. He refers to "agent causes." He never explains what that means. But since he rejects my idea that in human choices, our beliefs and desires causally determine our actions, I can only infer that he is implicitly appealing to free will as uncaused cause.

In his original post, as well as his recent follow-up, Prof. Arnhart also picks up on my observation that his naturalism prohibits appeal to "God, spiritual beings, or non-material causes." He wonders if I believe that these entities explain the origin of the mind and volition. He then goes on to critique this view, as well as the notion of free will as "uncaused cause," asking me a range of questions about Aristotle, Jonathan Edwards, and the like.

There are two salient features of Prof. Arnhart's inquiries: first, he states that "it's hard to know how to respond" to my criticisms of his view of mind and will because I do not supply an alternative. Second, he wonders about my (undeveloped) alternative, critiquing what he takes to be my reliance on non-material causes or uncaused causes.

So what can I say for myself? My main reply, in brief, is that his questions send him in the wrong direction. The point of my article (as well as the 2009 APSA paper) was to offer a critique of his position. That is, my intention was to raise criticisms of his positive account by contending that it led to determinism, which I argued destroys any meaningful account of human morality, including traditional conservative morality. I did not intend--and still do not intend--to offer a positive account of human volition or the origin of the human mind. The simple fact is that I do not need to give my own account in order to criticize Prof. Arnhart's account. One does not need a positive theory of one's own in order to argue that a colleague's theory is mistaken. I do not need to own my own baseball team in order to recognize that the Seattle Mariners play lousy ball. Nor do I need my own developed foreign policy in order to recognize that randomly bombing other countries just for kicks makes for sketchy diplomacy.

(As it happens, I have puzzles or questions about the major theories of the nature of human volition as well as questions about the major theories of the origin of the mind. In my article, I included talk of "agent causes" and related concepts in order to explain a "common sense" view of free will--held by conservatives and non-Westerners--which I juxtaposed to Prof. Arnhart's deterministic perspective; nothing in my article implied that I personally accept "agent causation" or "uncaused causes.")

But, more to the point, my personal account (or lack of account) about the nature of human volition and the origin of the mind is entirely irrelevant to the key point at issue--namely, whether Prof. Arnhart's view leads to the disintegration of meaningful morality. To see this, suppose for the sake of argument that my own views about the human mind and will are pathetically mistaken--on par with something, say, Paris Hilton would dream up after a long night of cocktails. Does this imply that my original criticisms of Prof. Arnhart's view are incorrect? Not the least. Does it also imply that Prof. Arnhart's account harmonizes with meaningful morality? Of course not. It may be the case that both of our views are incorrect. And just because I may have a false or unjustified (or non-existent) positive account does not epistemically or logically preclude me from point out difficulties in his positive account.

(If Prof. Arnhart has an interest in criticizing alternative views of mind and will, I would suggest he take a look, among other places, at the work of analytic philosophers like J. P. Moreland, Angus Menuge, Steward Goetz, and Charles Taliaferro. I think there is much to admire, as well as to wonder about, in their work.)

So, I am puzzled by Prof. Arnhart's claim that "it's hard to know how to respond" to my criticisms of his views because I don't supply an alternative. Surely, even if my own positive theory is crazy or non-existent, he must still reply to the criticism that his view leads to determinism and the disintegration of meaningful morality, including conservative morality. This is the key point. And, for the record, it is not clear to me that Prof. Arnhart has given a satisfactory response to this challenge.

Perhaps I should end my response here. But because it seems to me that Prof. Arnhart has not adequately met the challenge, let me briefly trace some of its contours once again. The task for Prof. Arnhart is to show how meaningful morality--including the morality presupposed in conservatism--is compatible with his determinism. He takes a Humean compatibilist tact, which holds that determinism and human mental freedom do not conflict (see DNR, pp. 83-87). To my knowledge, Prof. Arnhart has not given a clear and exact definition of determinism, but, as I gestured in my original article, his naturalistic metaphysics implies something like the following: event or entity X is determined if and only if X arises entirely due to prior material causes and, given these causes, could not have been different. What Prof. Arnhart's determinism implies for human beings is that a given individual's beliefs, desires, actions, etc. could not have been different. As such, all of the individual's beliefs, desires, actions, etc. are entirely outside of his control. Even if the individual has "freedom" in the compatibilist sense that he always acts according to his beliefs and desires (as opposed to acting due to external coercion), his beliefs and desires are still determined by prior material causes completely beyond his control. He may feel "from the inside" as if he is choosing, but this is an illusion. He no more chooses his actions than a domino chooses its action in a falling line.

As I see it, Prof. Arnhart's determinism destroys meaningful morality. It is nonsense to say that a person "ought" to do something when he has no control over whether or not he can. Should we condemn a paraplegic for failing to save a drowning child? If so, then why not rebuke a toaster for moving slowly in the fast lane? Or why not chastise a coffee machine for not photocopying? Likewise, it does not make sense to condemn Hitler for his actions when he could not have done otherwise. Like the toaster and the coffeemaker, his actions were entirely the product of forces beyond his control.

Prof. Arnhart may appeal to the evolution of the neocortex as gracing human beings, unlike toasters and coffeemakers, with the "emergent" property of deliberation and choice. But as I show in my article, Arnhart's account of emergence does not escape determinism--a claim that Prof. Arnhart did not dispute in either of his blog responses. If he now disputes this claim, I am puzzled as to why he did not do so earlier and why, more fundamentally, he self-consciously adopts Humean compatibilism, which attempts to reconcile freedom and determinism. (Typically, a person only attempts to reconcile two views when he accepts both; reconciliation is unnecessary when he has rejected one or both views.)

Accordingly, the pressing question for Prof. Arnhart to answer straightforwardly is: how can there be meaningful morality (consonant with conservatism, no less) when his view implies that each individual's beliefs, desires, actions, decisions, etc. are entirely the product of prior material causes (in play before his or her birth)and that given these causes, an individual's beliefs, desires, actions, etc. could not have been different? Even if rival theories of the human mind and will are deeply mistaken, Prof. Arnhart must still provide a compelling answer to this question.

One final point remains: in my opinion, Prof. Arnhart does not fully appreciate the implications of determinism for his whole project. To point to just one example, if determinism is true, then all of an individual's beliefs, like her behaviors, are products of material forces beyond her control. (While we don't typically exercise direct control over our beliefs, the typical pre-theoretic view--rightly or wrongly--holds that we have some level of volition that allows us to have at least some indirect influence on our belief formation, say, by spending time reading relevant sources, listening carefully to both sides, trying to weigh evidence judiciously, and the like.) But on Prof. Arnhart's view, none of these activities is within our control. In fact, the ultimate reason a person accepts the claims she does is entirely due to material causes prior to her birth, causes which preclude her from accepting any other claims. He beliefs, like her behavior, are due to causes beyond her (direct or indirect) power.

Why, then, does Prof. Arnhart accept the tenets of his own Darwinian Conservatism? Why does he accept the "emergence" thesis of the origin of the human mind? And why, I wonder, did he miss the point of my original article? The answer is because he was determined to. Given the array of physical causes prior to his birth, he could not have believed anything else. And why do scads of biologists accept that the neo-cortex evolved by natural processes from some simpler primate brain? The familiar refrain sounds again.

It seems to me that this view comes as close as anything to destroying the justification for our beliefs as well as rationality itself. (For those who are interested, Angus Menuge, Victor Reppert, and Alvin Plantinga, among others, have independently given rigorous formulation to this general line of thinking.) By Prof. Arnhart's lights, the reason that I persist in my stubborn unbelief of his views, and that he does not, is because neither of us could do otherwise. Our intellectual lives, like our actions, are essentially meaningless. Material causes have swallowed us whole.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Aristotle's Darwinian Ethics (3): Holloway on Courage and Nobility

About 15 years ago, I taught my graduate seminar on "Evolution and Political Theory" for the first time. One of the students in that class was Carson Holloway. Although he was interested in the idea of a Darwinian political theory, he was also skeptical about it, because he thought it did not rightly recognize the importance of religious belief for moral and political order.

By the second or third meeting of the seminar, the graduate students were clearly divided into two groups--those defending Darwinian political theory and those criticizing it. The two groups even sat on opposite sides of the seminar table. Those attacking Darwinian science called themselves "the priests," and they were lead by Carson. Those defending Darwinism called themselves "the scientists," and they were led by another student--Dave Ivers, who now teaches at Eastern Michigan University. It was an amazing class. Typically, I would start each class by asking a question. Then, the two opposing teams would go after one another for the rest of the class. I was little more than a referee. I always remember this as the best example of what a graduate seminar should be like.

Ever since then, Carson has elaborated his criticisms of "Darwinian natural right" in a series of publications, beginning with The Right Darwin? (Spence Publishing, 2006). Most recently, he contributed an essay to Darwinian Conservatism: A Disputed Question (2009). I have responded to him in that book and in various posts for this blog. But I don't think I have ever responded fully to Chapter 3 of his book--"Ennobling Democracy" (pp. 41-70).

Carson argues that Darwinian ethics reduces morality to "mere sociability or decency" and thus ignores what Aristotle recognizes as the transcendent longing for "nobility or beauty of character," which expresses a "natural religious longing" that requires a "publicly sanctioned revealed religion" (45-46, 58). Thus, "virtue as Aristotle understands it requires that we transcend virtue as Darwinism understands it" (51). In some of my other responses to Carson, I have questioned his appeal to "revealed religion" and his attributing this to Aristotle. But I haven't responded to Carson's comments on the nobility of true courage in Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics.

In Book 3 of the Ethics, Aristotle takes up the virtue of courage. He defines it as a mean with regard to fear--and particularly, with regard to the fear of death. Death is the most fearful thing, "for it is the end of one's life, and for the dead nothing is thought to be either good or bad" (1115a27). Courage in the face of death is noblest in war. The cowardly person fears death too much. The rash person fears death too little. The courageous person faces death in the right way, at the right time, in the right circumstances, as dictated by reason. The courageous person fears death in war, but he also fears the bad reputation that would come from being a coward (1115a10-15).

Aristotle then goes through five ways in which the term "courage" is used. The courage of citizen-soldiers in war is first, and it most resembles true courage, because like Homer's heroes, the citizen-soldiers face death in war because they are afraid of being punished and being dishonored.

Aristotle later goes on to say that the truly courageous people are those who have complete virtue, and therefore happiness, and so life is most worth living for them. Consequently, they will be courageous in war, because they will want to be noble. But these truly courageous people might not make the best soldiers. The best soldiers might be those with less to lose, who might risk their lives for little gain (1117b1-20).

In The Descent of Man (Penguin, 2004), Darwin explains how the virtue of courage might have contributed to moral progress through evolutionary group selection.

It must not be forgotten that although a high standard of morality gives but a slight or no advantage to each individual man and his children over the other men of the same tribe, yet that an increase in the number of well-endowed men and an advancement in the standard of morality will certainly give an immense advantage to one tribe over another. A tribe including many members who, from possessing in a high degree the spirit of patriotism, fidelity, obedience, courage, and sympathy, were always ready to aid one another, and to sacrifice themselves for the common good, would be victorious over most other tribes; and this would be natural selection. At all times throughout the world tribes have supplanted other tribes; and as morality is one important element in their success, the standard of morality and the number of well-endowed men will thus everywhere tend to rise and increase. (157-58)

In Darwinian Natural Right, I quote this passage and compare it with Aristotle's account of courage as manliness in the face of death in war. Carson criticizes me, however, for not seeing that while Aristotle recognizes the courage of citizen-soldiers, he does not think that this is true courage. The courage of soldiers in war typically comes from a social concern for the good of one's group and a desire to be praised by one's fellow citizens and to avoid being blamed. But this desire for honor, Aristotle suggests, falls short of the desire for nobility, which moves the truly courageous. According to Aristotle, the love of nobility or moral beauty transcends the sociable concern for being praised or honored, Carson argues, and it points to a transcendent or religious conception of perfection that goes beyond the mediocre morality of social praise and blame.

My response to this criticism turns on two points--one about Aristotle and another about Darwin. First, I would note that what is commonly translated as "noble" in Aristotle's text is the Greek word kalon--the "beautiful." Occasionally, Carson acknowledges this when he speaks of nobility as "moral beauty." The concern for nobility, Aristotle suggests, is a concern for appearing beautiful in the eyes of one's fellow human beings. In our common speech today, we sometimes convey this when we tell someone who has done a noble deed, "that was a beautiful thing that you did."

Aristotle says that doing what is "beautiful" is "the end of virtue" (1115b13). Moreover, Aristotle repeatedly speaks of virtue as what is praised, and vice as what is blamed (1101b32,1103a10, 1109b30-35, 1155a17-21). Praise and blame are the common tests of virtue and vice. And thus our morality grows out of our sociality, because we are naturally concerned with winning social approbation and avoiding social disapprobation.

Of course, as Aristotle suggests in his account of magnanimity (in Book 4 of the Ethics), those with the greatest virtues are so confident in their knowledge of their virtue that they don't depend on the praise or honor coming from others. The truly virtuous are concerned not so much with being praised as with being praiseworthy. That might explain what Aristotle means by true courage as distinguished from the courage of citizen-soldiers.

A similar thought can be found in Darwin's Descent:

The moral nature of man has reached its present standard, partly through the advancement of his reasoning powers and consequently of a just public opinion, but especially from his sympathies having been rendered more tender and widely diffused through the effects of habit, example, instruction, and reflection. It is not improbable that after long practice virtuous tendencies may be inherited. With the more civilized races, the conviction of the existence of an all-seeing Deity has had a potent influence on the advance of morality. Ultimately man does not accept the praise or blame of his fellows as his sole guide, though few escape this influence, but his habitual convictions, controlled by reason, afford him the safest rule. His conscience then becomes the supreme judge and monitor. Nevertheless the first foundation or origin of the moral sense lies in the social instincts, including sympathy; and these instincts no doubt were primarily gained, as in the case of the lower animals, through natural selection. (682)

So while the "first foundation or origin of the moral sense" was in the "social instincts," including the sensitivity to social praise or blame, human reasoning and experience has led to moral progress so that for some human beings, individual conscience has become "the supreme judge and monitor."

Darwin seems to be pointing here to what Adam Smith identified as the "impartial spectator." We begin with a concern for how we appear to others--we want to look good in their eyes. But eventually, we can imaginatively conceive of how we would appear to a well-informed audience of spectators, and that becomes our conscience or inward monitor. We might then act in whatever way seems praiseworthy to us, even when our behavior is blamed by those around us.

Now, Carson might want to point to Darwin's appeal to "the conviction of the existence of an all-seeing Deity" as supporting moral conduct that transcends ordinary praise and blame. This does show Darwin's recognition that religious belief can promote moral progress. But for Darwin, this conception of an "all-seeing Deity" can be understood as a product of human cultural evolution. "The idea of a universal and beneficent Creator does not seem to arise in the mind of man, until he has been elevated by long-continued culture" (682).

Aristotle shows the same respect for religious belief that supports morality. But there is no suggestion from either Aristotle or Darwin of a "divine command theory" of morality as impossible without some knowledge of God as the only source of moral norms. Instead, Aristotle and Darwin see religious morality as sanctioning the natural morality that arises from ordinary human experience and cultural evolution.

My previous posts responding to Carson Holloway can be found here, here, here, and here.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Aristotle's Darwinian Ethics (2): Deliberate Choice Versus Free Will

One of the most common criticisms of my position is the charge of biological determinism. It is said that any attempt to explain human thought and action as biological denies "free will," and this denial of "free will" makes it impossible to explain how human beings can be morally responsible for their thoughts and actions.

Two years ago, Stephen Dilley wrote an article directing this criticism against me, to which I responded in a post. I raised some questions for Dilley in that post, which I sent to him. But he chose not to respond. Subsequently, he wrote a conference paper for the 2009 convention of the American Political Science Association. But, again, he chose not to respond to my questions. I am still interested in how he would answer my questions, if he ever chooses to do so.

I am reminded of Dilley's concept of "free will" now as I teach my course on Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. In Book 3 of the Ethics, Aristotle explains how in judging virtues and vices, we recognize actions as "voluntary" (ekousion) or "deliberately chosen" (proairesis). Children and nonhuman animals can act voluntarily when the origin of the act is in themselves--in their beliefs and desires. Only human adults, however, can act with deliberate choice, when they self-consciously choose present courses of action in the light of past experience and future expectations to conform to some general plan of life. Aristotle derives this analysis from his biological writings--especially, On the Movement of Animals. I have adopted this Aristotelian understanding of volition and deliberate choice, while arguing that this arises from the emergent evolution of the mind in the brain.

Notice that there is nothing in this Aristotelian and Darwinian understanding of volition and deliberate choice to suggest the concept of "free will," if by "free will," we mean "uncaused cause." In fact, there's a good argument for the claim that the idea of "free will" is not found in the ancient philosophers, because it did not arise prior to the early Christian Church fathers (such as Augustine).

"Free will" is a projection onto human beings of a divine power, because only the Biblical God can act as an "uncaused cause." Of course, that points to the fundamental problem--the absurdity of attributing to human beings a power that belongs only to God--which is why theologians like Jonathan Edwards have rejected it.

This raises lots of questions. If we can't explain moral responsibility without the concept of "free will," as Dilley assumes, then how did Aristotle do it? Or would Dilley say that Aristotle was mistaken in not understanding that "free will" was required? If "free will" is required, exactly how is it possible for human beings to exercise a power that belongs only to God? How would Dilley answer Edwards?

Notice, however, that I admit in my previous post on Dilley that, as far as I know, no one has yet worked out a detailed explanation for exactly how the human mind arises from the evolution of the brain. And yet there is lots of evidence pointing to the evolutionary history of the primate brain as passing over some kind of critical threshold at which fully human mental capacities appear. Once that happened, human beings were able to exercise a freedom of thought and choice that no other animal has.

In Darwinian Conservatism, I illustrate this through the work of Jeffrey Schwartz with patients suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder, who can be taught to use "directed mental force" to change the neural circuitry of their brains in countering the effects of OCD.

Would Dilley say that the reality of "free will" has nothing to do with the emergent evolution of the primate brain? If so, what alternative explanation does he have? In his first article, he complains that in my reasoning, "God, spiritual beings, or non-material causes are out of the picture." But then he never explains exactly how "God, spiritual beings, or non-material causes" create human mental freedom. When Schwartz is dealing with his patients, exactly where, when, and how do "God, spiritual beings, or non-material causes" intervene to show a "free will" that transcends nature?

Dilley assumes a Kantian distinction between the determinism of the "phenomenal" world of nature and the freedom of the "noumenal" world of morality. But he never explains exactly how that "noumenal" world enters the "phenomenal" world of natural experience. According to Kant, the "noumenal" world is unknowable by natural experience. But if it's unknowable by natural experience, how did Kant know it?

In his APSA paper, Dilley has one footnote that reads: "The notion of 'free will' used in this essay will be clarified below." But I was unable to find that promised clarification anywhere in the essay.

If he could provide that clarification, I would be grateful.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

PZ Myers, Moralist

This continues my thinking about PZ Myers from my previous post.

In a recent post on his blog, Myers responds to this question from "EvolutionSkeptic": "what is your motivation to live a moral, upstanding life without the guidance of the rules of God and the Bible?"

Myers answers: "I live a moral life for the simple reason that I empathize with my fellow human beings and have a desire to avoid doing them harm that's almost as strong as my desire that they avoid harming me."

This rooting of morality in "empathy" is similar to Adam Smith's account of "sympathy" or "fellow-feeling" as the ground for the "moral sentiments." Charles Darwin adopted this Smithian teaching in The Descent of Man, and he explained how it could have evolved as the natural root for the moral sense. Recent research in evolutionary moral psychology confirms this--for example, evidence from behavioral game theory and neuroscience ("mirror neurons"?).

Does Myers agree with this idea that his morality might be grounded in his evolved human nature?

If he does, would he also agree that a social order that cultivates this natural moral sense based on sympathy is superior to one that does not?

Liberals like Adam Smith believed that the natural moral sentiments were best cultivated as products of the spontaneous order of civil society working through natural and voluntary associations--families, neighborhoods, fraternal organizations, churches, schools, and so on. This was to be achieved through what Smith called a "natural system of liberty" in which individuals associated with one another freely and were only constrained when they initiated harm to others.

Is this the view of morality that Myers favors? If so, would he agree with me that a liberal social order is desirable insofar as it cultivates the moral sentiments in a free society?

A few of my related posts can be found here, here, here, here, and here.

PZ Myers, Creationist

PZ Myers is famous for his science blog "Pharyngula,", where he defends evolutionary science against the proponents of Creationism and Intelligent Design Theory. So, when I wrote an essay for "Cato Unbound" on "Darwinian Liberalism," and he was asked to be one of the people writing a response, I was interested to see what he would say.

I wasn't surprised when, in his reaction essay, he disagreed with me. After all, I find that few people completely agree with me about anything!

But I was surprised when I saw his argument that evolutionary science cannot explain morality and politics at all. He conceded that Charles Darwin himself was a classical liberal. But he insisted that this had nothing at all to do with his evolutionary science, because science cannot explain the moral life of human beings, which is completely unconstrained by natural evolution.

Myers never makes a single reference to Darwin's Descent of Man, which offers an evolutionary account of human morality, and which reflects Darwin's life-long determination to develop a scientific explanation of human morality and politics. In doing this, Darwin was arguing against Alfred Russel Wallace, who claimed that although evolution by natural selection could explain the "animal nature" of human beings, it could not explain their "spiritual nature"--their moral and intellectual powers. Pope John Paul II agreed with Wallace in his claim (in a 1996 statement) that evolution could account for the human body but not for the human soul as expresed in morality, politics, and religion. To explain that, John Paul insisted, we needed an "ontological leap"--some kind of miraculous transformation that could not be explained by science.

Oddly enough, it seems, Myers agrees with Wallace and Pope John Paul about this "ontological leap," because Myers seems to believe that human beings have moral and intellectual powers that are expressed in political life that are completely unconstrained by evolutionary nature. As he says: "To suggest that the science of evolution supports a specific view of the narrowly human domain of politics is meaningless. Evolutionary theory supports the existence of ants and eagles, lichens and redwood trees, and finding an evolutionary basis for any human activity is trivial."

So Myers believes that Darwin's attempt in The Descent of Man to explain the morality and politics of human beings as a product of evolutionary history was wrong, because Darwin didn't realize that Wallace was right--that the moral and intellectual powers of human beings transcended human biological evolution. While human beings must satisfy the physical conditions for survival and reproduction, the character of their moral and political lives is completely free of any constraint by their evolved human nature, because as moral and intellectual beings, they transcend their animal nature.

If this is what Myers is implying, then he is a creationist like the Pope. While the human body can be explained as a product of natural evolution, he suggests, the human mind and morality transcend evolutionary science.

To put the question as sharply as possible, Does Myers accept Darwin's arguments in The Descent of Man about the evolved human nature of morality and politics?

Myers says that "the science of biology supports a communist world view." As Marx indicated, communism requires, at minimum, the abolition of all private property and the abolition of the family. But isn't Darwin quite clear in Descent that human beings are naturally evolved for family life? Doesn't he therefore clearly disagree with Lewis Henry Morgan's claim that human beings were originally completely promiscuous, with no stable marital or familial ties? And doesn't Darwin therefore disagree with Friedrich Engels' Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State, which adopted Morgan's anthropology? Is Myers saying that Marx and Engels were right and Darwin was wrong, because Darwin did not see that human history is free from human biology?

Myers has written a reply to this post.  In another post, I have elaborated some points on the creation-evolution debate.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Aristotle's Darwinian Ethics

Aristotle was a biologist. Of all of his writings that have survived, over one-quarter are biological treatises. These include The History of Animals, The Parts of Animals, The Generation of Animals, and The Movement of Animals. Even On the Soul is actually a work of biological psychology.

So it's remarkable to me that the scholarly students of Aristotle's moral and political philosophy almost never consider the influence of Aristotle's biological thinking on his moral and political thought. By contrast, it's very common for scholarly commentators and translators to look for connections between Aristotle's moral and political works and his Physics and Metaphysics. This is odd, because in the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle begins by rejecting Plato's metaphysical conception of the Idea of the Good, and he indicates that metaphysics has little relevance to ethics (1096a11-97a12). He also dismisses physics as irrelevant to his inquiries in the Ethics (1155a33-55b15). But Aristotle repeatedly in the Ethics makes observations on human biology and on comparisons with other animals that reflect the influence of his biological research.

There is a crucial dispute here that separates Aristotle from Plato. While Plato and Plato's Socrates find it hard to understand the human good--the moral and intellectual virtues--without appealing to some moral cosmology, Aristotle sees the human good as grounded in a moral biology that needs no cosmological or transcendent grounding. This is, I think, the ultimate truth behind Raphael's famous depiction of Plato and Aristotle in the "School of Athens"--Plato holding the TIMAEUS in one hand and pointing up to the sky with his other hand, Aristotle holding the NICOMACHEAN ETHICS in one hand and gesturing downward with the palm of his other hand. The TIMAEUS is the source of the cosmic model that dominated Western culture for two thousand years. The NICOMACHEAN ETHICS is the best statement of an ethics rooted in human nature and ordinary human experience.

My initial interest in biopolitical philosophy, going all the way back to my undergraduate days at the University of Dallas, came from my curiosity about this biological foundation for Aristotle's political philosophy and about whether this might be confirmed by modern Darwinian biology.

This semester I am teaching a graduate seminar on Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics and Rhetoric. I'll be thinking more about how Aristotle's biology influences these books and how this compares with Darwinian science.

I will be writing a series of posts on various topics related to Aristotle's biological ethics and the connections to modern evolutionary biology.