February 19, 2012

4 strands of biology, sociology, economics, philosophy connect

The four strands? Competitiveness in general, capitalism, Pop Evolutionary Psychology and social Darwinism.

Regular readers know that I’ve recently written about No. 4, including listing one candidate most wouldn’t put there. I’ve regularly written about Pop Ev Psych and its largely unscientific, occasionally pseudoscientific claims; I’ve been wary of it even when less liberal than I am now, so this is not driven by political issues.

I am that liberal, though … left-liberal of a sort for America, at least. So, in various ways, I’ve definitely written about No. 2, capitalism?

No. 1, competitiveness, somewhat ties all the others together.

Evolution by natural selection does involve a degree of competitiveness, to be sure. However, that competitiveness is usually against members of other species, more than members of one’s own species. To the degree there is intraspecific competition, it’s often sexual selection that’s the driver. That said, at the same time, group selection can be a driver for collaboration with other members of the same species.

So, that’s biology. Pop Ev Psych is sociology, primarily in what it says about its adherents. Ditto for social Darwinism (the fourth modern variety of social Darwinism, New Atheism, has many libertarian adherents, and yes, adherents is the right word). Capitalism is obviously a matter of economics.

Philosophy? Trying to extrapolate from the biological basis of and need for competitiveness to the other three gets us to Davie Hume’s famous is-ought distinction. (It’s worth noting that, in my opinion, many people who claim that Hume’s comments on this are misconstrued, misinterpreted, wrongly implied, etc., have personal reasons for stating this; see ox, whose and goring.)

Just because we have to fight to escape a lion (or per the old joke, run faster than a companion also seeking to escape it) doesn’t mean that Wall Street plutocracy, Pop Ev Psych “just so” stories and the beliefs behind them, or the social Darwinism of either New Atheism or old-time religion has to be that way.

Because it doesn’t.

And, this is part of why the American education system is problematic, and not just K-12 education.

I don’t think I am overstating matters when I say 90 percent of Americans are unfamiliar with Hume’s is-ought distinction. And that’s sad. Hume is one of the most “approachable,” largely non-technical, philosophers in modern, or even modern plus ancient, philosophical history.

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