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The meaning to life? A Darwinian existentialist has his answers | Aeon Ideas
I feel that deep contentment that religious people tell us is the gift or reward for proper living.
I come to my present state for two separate reasons. As a student of Charles Darwin, I am totally convinced – God or no God – that we are (as the 19th-century biologist Thomas Henry Huxley used to say) modified monkeys rather than modified mud. Culture is hugely important, but to ignore our biology is just wrong. Second, I am drawn, philosophically, to existentialism. A century after Darwin, Jean-Paul Sartre said that we are condemned to freedom, and I think he is right. Even if God does exist, He or She is irrelevant. The choices are ours.

we are free, within the context of our Darwinian-created human nature.

What, then, is human nature? In the middle of the 20th century, it was popular to suggest that we are killer apes: we can and do make weapons, and we use them. But modern primatologists have little time for this. Their findings suggest that most apes would far rather fornicate than fight. In making war we are really not doing what comes naturally. I don’t deny that humans are violent, however our essence goes the other way. It is one of sociability. We are not that fast, we are not that strong, we are hopeless in bad weather; but we succeed because we work together. Indeed, our lack of natural weapons points that way. We cannot get all we want through violence. We must cooperate.

there is no eternal future or, if there is, it is not relevant for the here and now. Rather, we must live life to the full, within the context of – liberated by – our Darwinian-created human nature.

First, family. ....We have big brains that need time to develop. Our young cannot fend for themselves within weeks or days. Therefore humans need lots of parental care, and our biology fits us for home life, as it were: spouses, offspring, parents, and more.

Second, society. Co-workers, shop attendants, teachers, doctors, hotel clerks – the list is endless. Our evolutionary strength is that we work together, helping and expecting help. I am a teacher, not just of my children, but of yours (and others) too. You are a doctor: you give medical care not just to your children, but to mine (and others) too. In this way, we all benefit.

‘When people who are fairly fortunate in their material circumstances don’t find sufficient enjoyment to make life valuable to them, this is usually because they care for nobody but themselves.’

Third, culture. Works of art and entertainment, TV, movies, plays, novels, paintings and sport. Note how social it all is.

Draw it together. I have had a full family life, a loving spouse and children. I even liked teenagers. I have been a college professor for 55 years. I have not always done the job as well as I could, but I am not lying when I say that Monday morning is my favourite time of the week. I’m not much of a creative artist, and I’m hopeless at sports. But I have done my scholarship and shared with others. Why else am I writing this? And I have enjoyed the work of fellow humans. A great performance of Mozart’s opera The Marriage of Figaro is heaven. I speak literally.

This is my meaning to life. When I meet my nonexistent God, I shall say to Him: ‘God, you gave me talents and it’s been a hell of a lot of fun using them. Thank you.’ I need no more. As George Meredith wrote in his poem ‘In the Woods’ (1870):

The lover of life knows his labour divine,
And therein is at peace.
philosophy  meaningoflife  death  work  career  psychology  humannature 
4 weeks ago by emmacarlson
[Medium/劉仲敬] 史觀系列 (一):讀史早知今日事
判斷和追求真相主要不靠知識或材料,而是靠你對整個格局的把握和判斷,就像好獵人的那種直覺,就像堅持在陰溝裡而不是路燈下找鑰匙。你必須心裡有了七八分,再用史料來充實它。 ... 事實在歷史當中,猶如物自體在哲學當中。沒有適當詮釋,你不可能接觸到物自體。真實史料可以支援偽造的歷史,例如司馬昭解釋高貴鄉公死因的文告;虛假史料可以反映真實歷史,例如奧斯丁小說暴露的英國鄉紳習俗。可信度的估計主要還是要依靠個別史料在整體背景當中的協調程度,也就是說還是取決於情景模擬。史料正確而結論基本錯誤、史料錯誤而結論基本正確,都是有可能的。提高認知層次比具體的正誤重要的多,高層次的高細節錯誤率比低層次的低細節錯誤率更有利於達爾文意義上的格局判斷力。
@Article  @Concept  @Comparison  @Example  History  WorldView  PerspectiveAndFraming  MeaningManagement  HabitRoutineAndPattern  HumanNature  Decision-making  FutureTrend  Scenario 
february 2019 by jslu
[Medium/劉仲敬] 史觀系列 (二):古今之變的關鍵節點(上)
「通古今之變」是一切歷史最原始的目的,但是隨著秩序的演化,有時候我們會忽略甚至遺忘這些原始的目的,這就是捨本逐末。所以無論你們對中西歷史如何瞭解,最關鍵的問題是通古今之變。這句話是什麼意思?什麼叫歷史?歷史是一種認知結構,他是教你怎樣從紛繁、外化的各種細節中間,發現結構和規律的一種藝術。 ... 研究歷史是認識格局,發現格局,尋找格局演變的意義的過程。 ... 通過對格局和節點的選擇,你能夠對自己的命運做出選擇。你能夠知道,在什麼情況下你的命運是沒有選擇餘地的,在什麼情況下你的命運是有選擇餘地的。
@Article  @Concept  @Example  History  WorldView  HabitRoutineAndPattern  Politics  Research  Decision-making  CycleAndRhythmOfLife  Scenario  HumanNature  Motivation  LatentDesire  ActionSpeaksLouderThanWords  MeaningManagement  GroupActivity  Consciousness 
january 2019 by jslu
Mary Midgley - The Gifford Lectures
"An interviewer from the Guardian newspaper once wrote that Mary Midgley ‘may be the most frightening philosopher in the country: the one before whom it is least pleasant to appear a fool’. In a series of books, particularly Beast and Man (1978), Evolution as a Religion (1985),Science as Salvation (1992; her 1990 Edinburgh Gifford Lectures) and Science and Poetry(2001), Midgley offers a trenchant critique of science’s pretence to be much more than it actually is, of the ways in which science often becomes a religion.

Perhaps appropriately, Midgley the scourge of ‘science as religion’ was born to an army and Cambridge college chaplain, Canon Tom Scrutton, and educated in a boarding school in Charles Darwin’s old home, Downe House. Perhaps Midgley’s fascination with science came from her mother’s side; Lesley Hay’s father was an engineer who built the Mersey tunnel. It was in the Downe House library that Midgley first picked up Plato, and, in her own words, ‘thought it was tremendous stuff’ (although in later life perhaps Aristotelian questions have proved more fascinating). By this time, Midgley also realised that she was not a Christian, a position her clergyman father accepted rather matter-of-factly. Nevertheless, Midgley remains convinced that ‘the religious attitude’ is essential to human thriving, and in her work has repeatedly defended the place of religious belief (rather than particular religious beliefs) against its arrogant critics from the sciences.

A number of Midgley’s contemporaries at Somerville College, Oxford, went on to achieve philosophical distinction in later life, including Iris Murdoch, another Edinburgh Gifford Lecturer, with whom Midgley became a close friend. Midgley relished doing philosophy in wartime Oxford, partly because there wasn’t ‘an endless gaggle of young men’ to offer distraction. But she considered it ‘providential’ that she did not get the post she applied for at St. Hugh’s College, and left Oxford, since she thought that the then-prevailing climate of Oxford philosophy would have destroyed her as a philosopher.

She met Geoffrey Midgley while at Oxford. They married in 1950 at Newcastle, where Geoffrey had a job. She then raised a family and did not take up a post in the Department of Philosophy in Newcastle until 1962, where she remained until she retired as Senior Lecturer when the department closed.

Midgley’s animated critique of scientism—science become religion—has been taken by some, especially scientists, as an attack on science itself. This may partly be because Midgley seems much more adept at demolishing others’ positions than in stating her own clearly. In fact, Midgley’s critique of science should be seen against her own metaphor of the philosopher as plumber: the philosopher, like the plumber, engages in an activity that civilisation depends on, but it is an activity which people only notice and require when certain rather essential workings have gone wrong. At her best, Midgley is a ‘science critic’ (using the word ‘critic’ in the way it is used in ‘literary critic’), seeking dialogue with the important activity called science to enable it to do more good and less harm in the modern world. Midgley’s contribution to this project is perhaps largely that of negative criticism. However, her friendship with and support for James Lovelock, the scientist who developed the Gaia hypothesis (that the planet earth as a whole is a living system), tells us a lot about her positive beliefs. Presumably, in Lovelock, she finds a scientific approach that is more congenial and conducive to human flourishing."
marymidgley  scientism  2018  philosophy  behavior  humans  richarddawkins  eowilson  evolution  thinking  science  religion  theselfishgene  selfishness  society  feminism  cognition  humannature  animals  sociobiology  reductionism  christianity 
october 2018 by robertogreco
Mary Midgley, 99, Moral Philosopher for the General Reader, Is Dead - The New York Times
"The biologist Stephen Rose, writing in The Times Literary Supplement in 1992, called Dr. Midgley “a philosopher with what many have come to admire, and some to fear, as one of the sharpest critical pens in the West.”

Andrew Brown, writing in The Guardian in 1981, called her “the foremost scourge of scientific pretension in this country.”

Dr. Midgley unhesitatingly challenged scientists like the entomologist Edward O. Wilson and the biologist, and noted atheist, Richard Dawkins. By her lights they practiced a rigid “academic imperialism” when they tried to extend scientific findings to the social sciences and the humanities.

In place of what she saw as their constricted, “reductionistic” worldview, she proposed a holistic approach in which “many maps” — that is, varied ways of looking at life — are used to get to the nub of what is real.

One challenge came in 1978 in her first book, “Beast and Man: The Roots of Human Nature,” based on a conference she had organized on that slippery, perennial subject as a visiting scholar at Cornell University.

She was later asked to revise her original manuscript to reflect her critical reaction to Professor Wilson’s best-selling 1975 book, “Sociobiology: The New Synthesis” (“a volume the size of a paving stone,” she wrote later in a well-received 2005 autobiography, “The Owl of Minerva”). She described the field of sociobiology as a kind of reactionary “biological Thatcherism.”

Sociobiology — the application of gene-centered theories of natural selection to the social life of organisms — was not itself overly controversial, especially, as Professor Wilson originally used it, in the study of ants and insects. Dr. Midgley, given her own interest in emphasizing humans’ animal nature — that “we are not, and do not need to be, disembodied intellects” — praised parts of Professor Wilson’s book.

What provoked her and others was his hypothesis that the tenets of sociobiology could be applied to humans. That idea, according to scholars, threatened to radically revise generally accepted notions of human nature.

“The term ‘human nature’ is suspect because it does suggest cure-all explanations, sweeping theories that man is basically sexual, basically selfish or acquisitive, basically evil or basically good,” Dr. Midgley wrote in “Beast and Man.”

In “The Owl of Minerva,” she wrote that the need to address Professor Wilson’s concepts had distracted readers from her crucial topic: “the meaning of rationality itself — the fact that reason can’t mean just deductive logic but must cover what makes sense for beings who have a certain sort of emotional nature.”

She added that “Beast and Man” remained “the trunk out of which all my various later ideas have branched.”

Dr. Midgley took pains to distinguish between the important contributions of science and the philosophy of “scientism,” in which “prophets,” she wrote, decree that science is “not just omnicompetent but unchallenged, the sole form of rational thinking.”

“We do not need to esteem science less,” she continued. “We need to stop isolating it artificially from the rest of our mental life.”

Dr. Midgley did not align herself with any specific school of thought: She wrote that moral philosophy and plain “common sense” often covered the same ground. She targeted what she saw as some of the basic errors of modern scientific orthodoxy, including misplaced objectivity, the exclusion of purpose and motive, and the propensity to depersonalize nature.

The very titles of her books — among them “Science as Salvation: A Modern Myth and Its Meaning” (1992) and “Evolution as a Religion” (1985) — and even irreverent chapter headings, like “Knowledge Considered as a Weed Killer,” conveyed her stance against what she called the “parsimonious” worldview of science.

In 1979, in the journal Philosophy, she issued a scathing critique of Professor Dawkins’s widely popular book “The Selfish Gene,” taking issue with what she called his “crude, cheap, blurred genetics.”

In that book, Professor Dawkins suggested that evolution is a product of an innate drive in genes to perpetuate themselves, “selfishly,” through the vehicle of a given species, and that the behavior of living things is in service to their genes.

Dr. Midgley explained her disagreement years later in The Guardian, writing: “Selfish is an odd word because its meaning is almost entirely negative. It does not mean ‘prudent, promoting one’s own interest.’ It means ‘not promoting other people’s’ or, as the dictionary puts it, ‘devoted to or concerned with one’s own advantage to the exclusion of regard for others.’”

She refuted the notion that selfishness underpinned all life.

“Just as there would be no word for white if everything was white, there could surely be no word for selfish if everyone was always selfish,” she wrote, adding, “Selfishness cannot, then, be a universal condition.”

In a long career as a published philosopher, Dr. Midgley addressed a great number of subjects. Evolution, the importance of animals, the role of science in society, cognitive science, feminism and human nature all came under her scrutiny.

She ranged more widely in “Science and Poetry” (2001), in which she considered the place of the imagination in human life. She found excesses of materialism and fatalism in human life, discussed the unusual compatibility of physics and religion, and approved of philosophical and metaphorical aspects of the Gaia hypothesis, which looks at the earth as a living system.

“With this book,” Brian Appleyard wrote in The Sunday Times of London, “Professor Midgley establishes herself as the most cool, coherent and sane critic of contemporary superstition that we have.”"
marymidgley  scientism  2018  philosophy  behavior  humans  richarddawkins  eowilson  evolution  thinking  science  religion  theselfishgene  selfishness  society  feminism  cognition  humannature  animals  sociobiology  reductionism  christianity 
october 2018 by robertogreco
The Sociology of C. Wright Mills by Frank W. Elwell Rogers State University
Before exploring the sociology of C. Wright Mills, there are two points about his sociology that I wish to briefly note. First, he is one of the few sociologists in the 20th century to write within the classical tradition of sociology. By this I mean that Mills attempts interpretive analysis of the total sociocultural systems, attempting to base this analysis on an overall worldview and empirical evidence. In addition, he writes about issues and problems that matter to people, not just to other sociologists, and he writes about them in a way to further our understanding.

From a neo-classical theoretical perspective, Mills writes about the growth of white-collar jobs, and how these jobs determine the values and perceptions of the people who hold them, and how the growth of these jobs affect other sectors of society. He writes about the growth in the size and scope of bureaucratic power in industrial society, how this concentration of authority affects those who hold it and those who are subject to it, and how this growth affects traditional democratic institutions.

He writes about the Cold War and what is at stake in the conflict. He writes about the meaning of communist revolutions around the world. He writes explicitly about the ideology and material interests of elites, and the rise of militarism and military solutions. Mills writes (albeit, almost in passing) about the coming automation of office work, and the impact this automation will have on workers and institutions. Mills writes on the role of ideology and material interest in the new science of management, concluding that this new science is just an elaborate manipulation of workers. Most forcefully, he writes about the proper role of social science in exploring and clarifying these and other central issues of our time, for all people.

While the secondary literature on Mills often remarks on the influence of Marx and Veblen on his sociology--and these two theorists certainly have an influence--the main influence upon his overall world view is very much Max Weber. In all of his writings Mills interprets the world through a coherent theoretical perspective. He uses this theory to explain social structures and processes, rather than obscuring them (either intentionally or inadvertently) through data and jargon. Like the classical theory of the discipline, Mills’ vision is a holistic view of entire sociocultural systems, this system is interdependent, and it has profound effects on human values, thought, and behavior. Consequently, his writing remain quite relevant and useful today in our efforts to understand social reality—in our efforts to understand what is going on "out there."

The second point about the sociology of C. Wright Mills that I wish to note is that, aside from being a sociological genius, Mills is also a very gifted writer (two traits that are almost mutually exclusive). He truly has a gift for frank and forthright expression (note). This was particularly true in his "later" years as he took to writing social criticism rather than straight academic prose, with little of the cant and caveat of the modern social scientist. White Collar, despite some lapses, is Mills at his most sociologcal. Beginning with The Power Elite, Mills becomes far more polemical and far more critical in his language (note).
C.WrightMills  Sociology  ColdWar  HumanNature 
september 2018 by juandante
Why the Predatory Theory of Human Nature is False (And Foolish) Or, Why People Aren’t Just the Sum of Their Appetites ~~~ Umair June 2018
There’s a strange and ignorant theory going around, in these troubled times. A theory of human nature. Which is leading young men astray, making fools of old men, and beginning to lead whole societies into the darkness.
Let me call it the Jordan Peterson theory of human nature. It goes something like this:
— Nature is red in tooth and claw. Creatures in the natural world are only born to compete — so that they consume and prey on each other.
— Human beings are just such creatures.
— It is thus natural — right, just, noble — for human beings to express their most vicious competitive tendencies. Anything less is contemptuous and weak.
— Therefore, might is right, greed is good, power is predation, and the strong should justly trample the weak.
Now. Before I prove trivially that this theory is wrong. I want to give you an example of where it leads.
There is a lonely young man. He calls himself an incel. He finds others like him. They read theories like this. They reason that women are things to be preyed upon, since they are preying on men right back — using them for their money, power, and muscles. They “observe” that the most predatory men win the prettiest women. That is only “natural”, isn’t it? And so three things happen. A) they do not learn how to have relationships B) they admire predatory figures and c) they lose are filled with anger, rage, resentment, and hate, towards themselves, women, and society in general. Like Jordan Peterson, he ends up believing that women are (let me quote) “a sickness”, “an infection”, “a plague”, and even “child molestors” (no, I’m not kidding, he really wrote that).
What else could the outcome of a theory that human nature is only predatory lead to, but anger, hate, and spite? It can hardly lead to self-respect, dignity, love, trust, meaning, and purpose, can it? To flourishing lives and happy societies. So you are beginning to see the problem.
Now let us discuss why this theory is wrong. Think about a little meadow. There are some flowers, growing in the rich soil. Flitting around them, some bees. Above them, a grove of trees towers. The sun pours through the branches. Who is preying on anyone in this scenario? The bees pollinate the flowers. The bees build their hive on the branches of the trees. The sun and soil gives them all life, connection, meaning. Do you see how each is supporting and nourishing the other? What a tiny, gentle, improbable miracle it is.
Nature is not just predatory competition. Nature is beautiful and wondrous cooperation, too — without which competition and predation could not exist at all to begin with. Mutualism, symbiosis, interconnection. Predation and competition are indeed a part of nature. But they are the smaller, lesser, and secondary part — we will return to what I mean by that. First I want you to observe that nature is beings of all kinds shielding, protecting, safeguarding, and supporting one another, just as the bees do to the flowers, the trees do to the bees, and soil and sun do to all.
So this theory of human nature is not just wrong — it is easily disproven by the merest glance at the world. The question is why it has taken root so recently.
The answer is not that the natural world is predatory. It is because human beings have created a predatory institutional world. Societies, built upon a Nietzschean ideal, where the strong trample the weak, where the weak are left to die, and where the reward for ruthlessness is fortune and fame. But that is a human choice — it is the outcome of applying capitalism to every aspect and sphere of life.
But there is nothing the remotest bit natural about capitalism. The bees are not stockpiling honey to sell at a profit. The trees are not charging the bees to build their hive. The soil is not leasing itself to the flowers. The sun is not sending bills to them all. None of these beings are trying to seek some kind of predatory advantage from the next. They are merely supporting one another. That is their nature. It is the essence of them. Go ahead and think about all that for a moment.
Now. I said that predatory competition was secondary. What did I mean? I mean that animals prey on one another only to the extent that is necessary for survival. They don’t hunt one another for sport, for pleasure, or for social status. The tree doesn’t use more water than it needs — and indeed, if it has too much, it drowns.
So predation is only “natural” in a weak sense. Beings do just enough of it as they need — and no more. And then they go right back to their webs of mutualism, cooperation, and interconnection. The tree, having drunk, gives support to the hive. The bees, having fed, go on pollinating. The soil, having turned, gives up its water to the trees. No one is trying to take more than they need. Predation is limited in nature, by natural appetites of beings — and that is why it is secondary.
But we aren’t like this. We alone, human beings, these doomed, cursed, beautiful things. We can prey for sport, pleasure, worship, religion, politics — and for ideology, too. Because foolish old men tell us it is natural. But that does not make it natural.
All that it does is leave us unhappier, in the end. Because we have natural appetities, too, just like any creatures. Our natural appetities are for love, meaning, belonging, purpose, self-realization, fulfillment. But we cannot attain any of those if we are too busy believing that our only goal in this life is to compete to be the biggest predator. If we make this foolish mistake, our lives will end up full of bitter rage and futile desperation.
That sounds like the world now, doesn’t it? Everything goes back to our theory of human nature in that way. Ours is broken. It is time to see ourselves a little more clearly, then. We are part of nature. But nature is not just a predatory machine. It is a place where, like the trees, sun, flowers, and bees, life flows from one to another, in a beautiful and wondrous and endless dance. Let us see ourselves that way — and then maybe we will love ourselves for our nobility, instead of despising ourselves for our ugliness.
June 2018
september 2018 by juandante
How Social Media Is Designed Around Sin / by Gene Veith (Cranach/Patheos, 2018/04/13)
“This does not mean that the use of social media is sinful, as such. It’s just that it was designed to be in accord with human nature, which, being fallen, will entail a fixation on the self, the stimulation of its desires, the aggrandizement of its pride, and the cultivation of self-righteousness. OK, maybe it can be sinful, or, at least be a platform for teasing out our sinful tendencies. (How would you assess your online behavior?) A Christian should battle those tendencies, not necessarily by abandoning the technology–which does not get rid of that inner sinfulness–but by refusing to give in to them.”
SocialMedia  HumanNature  GeneVeith 
april 2018 by cbearden
The Divide Between Jefferson and Adams on Human Nature Is Ours Too - Law & Liberty
“But the party of Jefferson changed its view on the role of the federal government. Later progressives who shared his notions of malleability of nature by experience came to believe that social norms, particularly the market, not government, distorted natural equality. And some were more hopeful that a more democratic government than existed at Jefferson’s time could be successful at moving toward equality. It is pretty clear that Jefferson was open to this kind of change: he even believed that Constitutions should be wholly reconsidered every few decades in light of experience.”
ThomasJefferson  JohnAdams  HumanNature  Law&Liberty 
january 2018 by cbearden

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