Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Nagel on Evolutionary Hand-Waving

Two quotes from Thomas Nagel's The View from Nowhere. HT: Jim Slagle. I am providing a link to his blog.

Evolutionary hand waving is an example of the tendency to take a theory which has been successful in one domain and apply it to anything else you can't understand -- not even to apply it, but vaguely to imagine such an application. It is also an example of the pervasive and reductive naturalism of our culture. 'Survival value' is now invoked to account for everything from ethics to language....

Even if randomness is a factor in determining which mutation will appear when (and the extent of the randomness is apparently in dispute), the range of genetic possibilities is not itself a random occurrence but a necessary consequence of the natural order. The possibility of minds capable of forming progressively more objective conceptions of reality is not something the theory of natural selection can attempt to explain, since it doesn't explain possibilities at all, but only selection among them.


Josh said...

I think Michael Ruse distinguishes between "West Coast evolutionists" and "East Coast evolutionists". The former are the universalists who attempt to apply the theory of evolution (specifically selection) to everything, while East Coasters are unwilling to make such pronouncements until they see some hard evidence. It's like the difference between the Churchlands and Gould.

Gordon Knight said...

_The View From Nowhere_ is a damn good book.

mattghg said...

I also like this one from Jerry Fodor:

"At this point in the dialectic [when discussing concept acquisition], there's a strong temptation to dump the load on Darwin; a standard tactic, these days, when a philosopher gets in over his head." (Concepts: Where Cognitive Science Went Wrong(Oxford: OUP), 128)

Blue Devil Knight said...

East v West works for cogsci (GOFAI versus connectionsm), seems like a stretch for panselectionism. The big battle was between Gould and EO Wilson, both east coasters anyway. :)

For that matter, East Coasters are more likely to try to apply selection to everything. Dennett, Pinker, all the standard linguist types in Boston in the Chomskian cult of personality. The West Coasters like the Churchlands don't do that at all, and tend to be anti modularity and all that, anti evolutionary psychology. So someone got it backwards.

I look forward to Dawkins new book that just lays out what he takes to be the key evidence for evolution. Should be a fun jaunt.

mattghg said...

Dennett, Pinker, all the standard linguist types in Boston in the Chomskian cult of personality

But not Chomsky himself, funnily enough.