International Society for History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology

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THURSDAY, JULY 9  /  09:00 - 10:30  /  DS-M320
Individual papers
Ethics, Race, and Use-Inheritance

Pragmatic naturalism and the is-ought challenge

Jorge Oseguera Gamba (Florida State University, United States)

In his book The Ethical Project, Philip Kitcher (2011) offers a naturalistic account of Ethics, which he dubs Pragmatic Naturalism. Based in evidence from primatology, archeology and anthropology, and some speculation from evolutionary biology, his account is intended to be normative and not merely descriptive, therefore it has to fulfill a challenge posed by Hume that any normative naturalistic accounts of ethics has to fulfill: how to bridge the is-ought gap, i.e. how can a prescription of an ethical practice be made from purely descriptive premises. The purpose of this essay is to explore the details of how could this challenge be met using the framework of pragmatic naturalism. My answer will be that pragmatic naturalism is able to give a logically valid argument from ‘is’ to ‘ought’ using descriptive claims and conceptual truths as premises. Its normative force is not delivered as an absolute authority—as some moral realists would like—but that is not a problem for pragmatic naturalism, since it does not have that aim. First, I will explain what Hume’s challenge consists in. Then I will explain the “analytical history” of our ethical practices offered by Kitcher to spell out the function of Ethics and formulate the first premise. Next, I will sketch the metaethical picture of pragmatic naturalism in order to formulate two more premises. The missing premises will be formulated as conceptual truths. As I formulate each premise I will deal with the objections that can be made. Finally, I will point out at some objections—not related to the logical structure of the argument offered—that can be made, and reply to them.

Carleton Coon and the modern synthesis

David Depew (University of Iowa, United States); John Jackson (University of Colorado Boulder, United States)

The physical anthropologist Carleton Coon’s The Origin of Races (1962) argued that five great races of man evolved from separate H. erectus populations before these races independently (and at different times) became H. sapiens. The book provoked censure from the American Anthropological Association because Coon refused to repudiate the uses to which opponents of school integration, interracial marriage, and equal voting rights were putting it. This occurred at a critical moment in the Civil Rights Movement. One of us has shown that Coon’s refusal was not just a demand for academic freedom; he was complicit with his cousin Carleton Putnam, author of a notorious book called Reason and Race, in leading readers to think that science supports segregation (Jackson, 2005). The anthropologist Sherwood Washburn and the population geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky were Coon’s most trenchant critics. In a departure from the doctrinal unity that the makers of the Evolutionary Synthesis (ES) tended to presume or require of each other, however, two other founders of the ES, Mayr and Simpson, defended Coon not just on grounds of academic freedom, but because they thought he might be right, a possibility Dobzhansky ruled out on conceptual grounds. In this paper we argue that unacknowledged differences between what Mayr and Dobzhansky meant by ‘population thinking,’ a phrase they both had been using since 1950, may have played a role in this unexpected divergence. We make use Joeri’s Witteven’s 2013 study of ‘population thinking’ to characterize this difference and of Mayr’s and Dobzhansky’s archived correspondence with Coon to bring it to bear on the case. We touch on the disturbing possibility that unexpected strains of disunity in the early ES may have been tied to differing views about racial equality.

Spencer, use-inheritance, and the end of liberalism

Stephen Engelmann (University of Illinois at Chicago, United States); Matthew Beifuss (University of Illinois at Chicago, United States)

This paper explores the political-theoretical implications of the transition from Lamarckian to neo-Darwinist evolutionary paradigms at the end of the nineteenth century, particularly in imagining a post-imperial world order. Building on the work of David Weinstein and Robert Richards, we examine shifts in the voluminous *oeuvre* of “our great philosopher, Herbert Spencer” (Darwin, Descent of Man), especially in dialogue with J.S. Mill, Darwin, and August Weismann. Spencer's attempt to give liberal utilitarianism a naturalist basis was deeply reliant on Lamarckian use-inheritance, and the political conclusions he drew from it were anti-imperialist, but in the framework of a thoroughly imperial “civilizational” cosmopolitanism and globalism. At least in Europe, Spencer's failure to adapt his sociology and political theory to the emerging modern synthesis doomed it to a creeping irrelevance, and ceded the scientific high ground to the racial nationalism of theorists like Rudolf Kjellen. Our point of departure is a close reading of the fascinating Progress, Its Law and Its Cause (1857), and we close with some reflections on the possible political implications of post-genomic critiques of neo-Darwinism in our neo-liberal context.