Sunday, August 04, 2013

Debating Darwinian Liberalism (9): Gage on the Eternity of Species

In Dilley's book, Logan Paul Gage argues that I am wrong in claiming that Darwinian science can support classical liberalism, because I fail to see that classical liberalism requires an essentialist conception of species as eternal that is denied by Darwinism.

Gage writes:
     "Arnhart thinks modern Darwinians can walk a middle road between essentialism and nominalism (Arnhart 1998, 235).  But this is untenable.  At issue is whether the term species represents a stable ontological reality (that is, a substantial form and/or divine idea) rather than a temporarily useful description.  The essentialist says yes, the nominalist no.  There is no middle ground.  Arnhart's asservation that species can be 'enduring' without being 'eternal' is a distraction.  He is right that individual organisms' similarities are not arbitrary given universal common descent, but the designation of 'species' (if meant in the classical sense) on a given group of individuals is.  In this way, Arnhart and Darwinian conservatives do not just deny the eternality of species but their classical ontological status.
     "The broader Western tradition--from which classical liberalism inherits much--embraced essentialism. . . ." (145)
He then indicates that the nominalism that he rejects was espoused by Locke.  But now Gage is contradicting himself.  If classical liberalism is rooted in essentialism, and if Locke was "the quintessential classical liberal" (198), then how was it possible for Locke to embrace nominalism rather than essentialism? 

I have defended a Darwinian conception of species in Darwinian Natural Right (232-38) and many times on this blog.  Gage dismisses my arguments quickly: "There is no middle ground.  Arnhart's asserveration that species can be 'enduring' without being 'eternal' is a distraction."  A distraction?  What is that supposed to mean?  My argument is that as long as a species has an enduring pattern of distinctive traits, that enduring pattern is real even if it is not eternal.  Is Gage a Platonist who believes that nothing is really real unless it is eternally unchanging?  Is Gage denying the extensive evidence for the extinction of species, because he believes no species ever has, or ever will, go extinct?

Later on, Gage warns about the dangers that will come from "changing human nature" through biotechnology.  "If modern conservatives merely argue that the reason the Left should not seek to remake the family, sex differences, and so on, is because it is impossible to change human biological nature, what will they say as these changes become more and more possible?" (149) 

This makes no sense.  If Gage is convinced that the human species is eternal, then he must believe that changing human nature is impossible.  I have noticed this same contradiction among the many conservatives who worry about the "abolition of man" through biotechnology, while professing to believe in the eternity of species (for example, see Bruce Gordon at pp. 170-171).

A few of my posts on the biological reality of species can be found here, here, and here.

This concludes my series of posts on Stephen Dilley's edited book--Darwinian Evolution and Classical Liberalism.  I have invited Dilley to write a response that I will post on this blog.  I extend the same invitation to those who contributed to his book.


Troy Camplin said...

The concept of strange attractor solves the problem. You have the species as attractor, with each particular individual an interation around the attractor. Speciation is the branching we see in chaos and bios theory.

Mitchell said...

Given that her second big album was called "Born This Way" - obvious codewords for essentialism - it should be no surprise to see Gaga taking this pos-- oh wait, I think I misread something...

Kent Guida said...

Thanks for the commentary. Haven't read the book yet, but I'm curious about Roger Masters' contribution. When DC was first published, he declined to comment. What did he have to say in this volume?

Larry Arnhart said...

I haven't commented on Roger's chapter because it's hard for me to interpret.

He concludes: "scientific research is--in itself--on a different dimension than political or cultural preferences," and so "Darwinism properly understood is simply on a scientific plane that is distinct from liberal or conservative political attitudes."

I don't understand what he's saying here.

In his chapter, he indicates how he came to the conclusion that Darwinian science could help determine the truth of what political philosophers say. So, for example, he decided that Rousseau's account of human beings in the state of nature as purely solitary beings could be judged as simply false, because evolutionary anthropology shows that human beings are naturally social animals.

If that's the case, doesn't that indicate that Darwinian science can be used to adjudicate debates in political philosophy?

Some years ago, Roger wrote a book review of Alexandra Maryanski and Jonathan Turner's THE SOCIAL CAGE: HUMAN NATURE AND THE EVOLUTION OF SOCIETY. They argued that an evolutionary view of human nature could show that modern liberal societies were more in accord with evolved human nature than other kinds of social order. Their argument was very similar to the arguments I have made. Roger praised their book--"one of the most important works in social and political theory published in the last decade." If he's open to their argument, he should be open to mine. Perhaps he has changed his mind.

Kent Guida said...

Very interesting. I'll read the review in addition to the new piece.

This may be off the wall, but that suggests Roger's reluctance to embrace Darwinian Conservatism may have something to do with the name. For some people, anything bearing the label 'conservative' is simply unthinkable. Some of your other critics seem to have a similar problem with 'Darwinian.'

You may have the mother of all branding problems.

Thanks for giving us such a complete run-down of the MPS meeting. It's great to see your ideas get in front of the right audience. Will your paper be published in some other form soon?

Larry Arnhart said...

Roger's review was in ETHOLOGY AND SOCIOBIOLOGY 15 (1994): 107-111.

Eventually, I hope that my MPS paper will be turned into a book.