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Stuart Hampshire reviews ‘Beast and Man’ by Mary Midgley · LRB 25 October 1979
"In fact, civilised human beings are remarkable among animal species for being sex-obsessed, and for their habits of indiscriminate killing and wanton cruelty, particularly to other animals. In these respects, they have been less charming, more disgusting, in their habits than wolves, hyenas and wild dogs."
lrb_project  sociobiology 
october 2018 by joncgoodwin
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
Humans' capacity for culture is the key to our success, an anthropologist argues -
Robert Boyd: The last 10,000 years have been pretty stable, but before that there were climatic swings when the world average temperature would rapidly change from glacial to almost interglacial periods. You could be living in Phoenix one day and your great-grandchildren living in Toronto and then their great-grandchildren back in Phoenix—all without moving—and you have to figure out to survive. It was the kind of environment in which selection would favour a psychology that says “Even though it seems to me I should be doing X, everybody else is doing Y: they must know something.” So our story would be that’s why humans evolved when they did the way they did.
november 2017 by zryb
Nicolas Claidière and Dan Sperber - Imitation explains the propagation, not the stability of animal culture (2008) - Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Biological Sciences
For acquired behaviour to count as cultural, two conditions must be met: it must propagate in a social group, and it must remain stable across generations in the process of propagation. It is commonly assumed that imitation is the mechanism that explains both the spread of animal culture and its stability. We review the literature on transmission chain studies in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and other animals, and we use a formal model to argue that imitation, which may well play a major role in the propagation of animal culture, cannot be considered faithful enough to explain its stability. We consider the contribution that other psychological and ecological factors might make to the stability of animal culture observed in the wild. -- Keywords: imitation, cultural evolution, animal culture -- See addendum commentary "The natural selection of fidelity in social learning" in Commun Integr Biol, volume 3 (2010) -- Both downloaded to Tab S2
article  downloaded  imitation  cognitive_science  cognition-social  cultural_transmission  cultural_stability  social_learning  cultural_change  evolution-as-model  evolutionary_biology  evolution-social  evolution-group_selection  cultural_evolution  natural_selection  sociobiology  socialization  epistemology-social 
august 2016 by dunnettreader
David Pietraszewski, et al - Constituents of political cognition: Race, party politics, and the alliance detection system, Cognition (April 2015)
David Pietraszewski, Oliver Scott Curry, Michael Bang Petersen, Leda Cosmides, John Tooby -- Cognition 04/2015; 140:24-39. DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2015.03.007 (Impact Factor: 3.63).Source: PubMed -- ABSTRACT -- Research suggests that the mind contains a set of adaptations for detecting alliances: an alliance detection system, which monitors for, encodes, and stores alliance information and then modifies the activation of stored alliance categories according to how likely they will predict behavior within a particular social interaction. Previous studies have established the activation of this system when exposed to explicit competition or cooperation between individuals. In the current studies we examine if shared political opinions produce these same effects. In particular, (1) if participants will spontaneously categorize individuals according to the parties they support, even when explicit cooperation and antagonism are absent, and (2) if party support is sufficiently powerful to decrease participants' categorization by an orthogonal but typically-diagnostic alliance cue (in this case the target's race). Evidence was found for both: Participants spontaneously and implicitly kept track of who supported which party, and when party cross-cut race-such that the race of targets was not predictive of party support-categorization by race was dramatically reduced. [Same setup for age and gender didn't produce race results] -- downloaded pdf to Note
article  evo-psych-politics  political_science  parties  groups-identity  groups-cohesion  groups-exclusion  groups-cognition  race  bias-unconscious  sociobiology  cooperation  groups-conflict  downloaded 
january 2016 by dunnettreader
Melissa Emery Thompson and Alexander V Georgiev - Issue Intro - High Price of Success: Costs of Mating Effort in Male Primates, International Journal of Primatology (2014) | via Researchgate
Melissa Emery Thompson, U of New Mexico, and Alexander V Georgiev, U of Chicago -- Issue Intro -- International Journal of Primatology, 08/2014; DOI: 10.1007/s10764-014-9790-4 (Impact Factor: 1.99). -- ABSTRACT
While males are generally the low investing sex when it comes to offspring care, males of many species experience intense and persistent mating effort. Mating effort incurs a variety of costs which are expected to have non-negligible effects on fitness, as well as how reproductive tactics are selected and investment in mating activity is moderated over time. This special issue features contributions investigating the costs of male mating effort across primate species. Here, we place these exciting new works in context, addressing the specific types of mating effort expected for male primates and the significance of these costs for our understanding of primate life histories and socioecology. -- downloaded pdf to Note
article  primatology  evolutionary_biology  sexual_practices  behavior-male  natural_selection  sociobiology  mating  behavior-animals  downloaded 
january 2016 by dunnettreader
Jonathan Kaplan and Rasmus Grønfeldt Winther - Realism, Antirealism, and Conventionalism about Race , Philosophy of Science, Dec 2014 | via Researchgate
Philosophy of Science (Impact Factor: 0.83). 12/2014; 81(5):1039-1052. DOI: 10.1086/678314 -- ABSTRACT -- This paper distinguishes three concepts of " race " : bio-genomic cluster/race, biological race, and social race. We map out realism, antirealism, and conventionalism about each of these, in three important historical episodes: Frank Livingstone and Theodosius Dobzhansky in 1962, A. W. F. Edwards's 2003 response to Lewontin's 1972 paper, and contemporary discourse. Semantics is especially crucial to the first episode, while normativity is central to the second. Upon inspection, each episode also reveals a variety of commitments to the metaphysics of race. We conclude by interrogating the relevance of these scientific discussions for political positions and a post-racial future. -- downloaded pdf to Note
article  philosophy_of_science  biology  genetics  race  anthropology  kinds  ontology-social  racism  racialism  sociobiology  sociology_of_knowledge  sociology_of_science  sociology_of_science_&_technology  constructivism  politics-and-science  downloaded 
january 2016 by dunnettreader
Herbert Gintis - Gene–culture coevolution and the nature of human sociality | Royal Society - Issue Theme "Human Niche Construction" - Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B, 27 March 2011, vol. 366, no. 1566, 878-888
Human characteristics are the product of gene–culture coevolution, which is an evolutionary dynamic involving the interaction of genes and culture over long time periods. Gene–culture coevolution is a special case of niche construction. Gene–culture coevolution is responsible for human other-regarding preferences, a taste for fairness, the capacity to empathize and salience of morality and character virtues. -- Keywords: gene–culture coevolution, sociobiology, epistatic information transfer -- Published 14 February 2011 doi: 10.1098/rstb.2010.0310 -- downloaded pdf to Note
article  gene-culture_coevolution  sociobiology  social_theory  genetics  cultural_change  social_process  niche_construction  evolution  evolution-social  evolutionary_biology  human_nature  character  preferences  altruism  fairness  empathy  moral_sentiments  moral_psychology  morality-innate  morality-conventional  virtue  tradition  cultural_transmission  evolution-group_selection  downloaded  EF-add 
february 2015 by dunnettreader
Kim Sterelny - From hominins to humans: how sapiens became behaviourally modern | Royal Society - Issue Theme " Human Niche Construction " - Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B, 27 March 2011, vol. 366, no. 1566, 809-822
Philosophy Program and Tempo and Mode, Australian National University and Philosophy Program, Victoria University of Wellington -- This paper contributes to a debate in the palaeoarchaeological community about the major time-lag between the origin of anatomically modern humans and the appearance of typically human cultural behaviour. Why did humans take so long—at least 100,000 years—to become ‘behaviourally modern’? The transition is often explained as a change in the intrinsic cognitive competence of modern humans: often in terms of a new capacity for symbolic thought, or the final perfection of language. These cognitive breakthrough models are not satisfactory, for they fail to explain the uneven palaeoanthropological record of human competence. Many supposed signature capacities appear (and then disappear) before the supposed cognitive breakthrough; many of the signature capacities disappear again after the breakthrough. So, instead of seeing behavioural modernity as a simple reflection of a new kind of mind, this paper presents a niche construction conceptual model of behavioural modernity. Humans became behaviourally modern when they could reliably transmit accumulated informational capital to the next generation, and transmit it with sufficient precision for innovations to be preserved and accumulated. In turn, the reliable accumulation of culture depends on the construction of learning environments, not just intrinsic cognitive machinery. I argue that the model is (i) evolutionarily plausible: the elements of the model can be assembled incrementally, without implausible selective scenarios; (ii) the model coheres with the broad palaeoarchaeological record; (iii) the model is anthropologically and ethnographically plausible; and (iv) the model is testable, though only in coarse, preliminary ways. - Keywords : niche construction, behavioural modernity, hominins -- doi: 10.1098/rstb.2010.0301 -- downloaded pdf to Note
article  sociobiology  anthropology  paleontology  prehistoric  evolution  evolution-social  evolutionary_biology  genetics  gene-culture_coevolution  niche_construction  brain  social_process  cultural_change  learning  cognition  cognition-social  cultural_transmission  downloaded  EF-add 
february 2015 by dunnettreader
Luke Rendell, Laurel Fogarty and Kevin N. Laland - Runaway cultural niche construction | Royal Society Issue Theme " Human Niche Construction " - Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B, 27 March 2011 vol. 366 no. 1566, 823-835
School of Biology, University of St Andrews, -- Cultural niche construction is a uniquely potent source of selection on human populations, and a major cause of recent human evolution. Previous theoretical analyses have not, however, explored the local effects of cultural niche construction. Here, we use spatially explicit coevolutionary models to investigate how cultural processes could drive selection on human genes by modifying local resources. We show that cultural learning, expressed in local niche construction, can trigger a process with dynamics that resemble runaway sexual selection. Under a broad range of conditions, cultural niche-constructing practices generate selection for gene-based traits and hitchhike to fixation through the build up of statistical associations between practice and trait. This process can occur even when the cultural practice is costly, or is subject to counteracting transmission biases, or the genetic trait is selected against. Under some conditions a secondary hitchhiking occurs, through which genetic variants that enhance the capability for cultural learning are also favoured by similar dynamics. We suggest that runaway cultural niche construction could have played an important role in human evolution, helping to explain why humans are simultaneously the species with the largest relative brain size, the most potent capacity for niche construction and the greatest reliance on culture. Keywords: niche construction, cultural transmission, gene–culture coevolution, human evolution, spatially explicit models -- doi: 10.1098/rstb.2010.0256 -- didn't download
article  sociobiology  anthropology  genetics  gene-culture_coevolution  niche_construction  social_theory  social_process  change-social  cultural_transmission  evolution  evolution-social  evolutionary_biology  human_nature  evolution-group_selection  EF-add 
february 2015 by dunnettreader
Jeremy Kendal, Jamshid J. Tehrani and John Odling-Smee - Human niche construction in interdisciplinary focus | Royal Society - Theme Issue "Human Niche Construction" Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B, 27 March 2011, vol. 366, no. 1566, 785-792
doi: 10.1098/rstb.2010.0306 Jeremy Kendal1 and Jamshid J. Tehrani - Centre for the Coevolution of Biology and Culture, Department of Anthropology, University of Durham -- John Odling-Smee - School of Anthropology, University of Oxford -- Issue introduction -- Niche construction is an endogenous causal process in evolution, reciprocal to the causal process of natural selection. It works by adding ecological inheritance, comprising the inheritance of natural selection pressures previously modified by niche construction, to genetic inheritance in evolution. Human niche construction modifies selection pressures in environments in ways that affect both human evolution, and the evolution of other species. Human ecological inheritance is exceptionally potent because it includes the social transmission and inheritance of cultural knowledge, and material culture. Human genetic inheritance in combination with human cultural inheritance thus provides a basis for gene–culture coevolution, and multivariate dynamics in cultural evolution. Niche construction theory potentially integrates the biological and social aspects of the human sciences. We elaborate on these processes, and provide brief introductions to each of the papers published in this theme issue. -- downloaded pdf to Note
article  evolution  evolution-social  evolutionary_biology  sociobiology  human_nature  genetics  gene-culture_coevolution  niche_construction  ecology  species  environment  social_theory  social_process  change-social  cultural_change  cultural_transmission  downloaded  EF-add 
february 2015 by dunnettreader
Feminist Philosophy of Biology (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
From its inception, the SEP was designed so that each entry is maintained and kept up-to-date by an expert or group of experts in the field. All entries and substantive updates are refereed by the members of a distinguished Editorial Board before they are made public. Consequently, our dynamic reference work maintains academic standards while evolving and adapting in response to new research. You can cite fixed editions that are created on a quarterly basis and stored in our Archives (every entry contains a link to its complete archival history, identifying the fixed edition the reader should cite).
feminism  philosophy  research  resources  biology  gender  tools  epistemology  sociobiology  determinism  reductionism  metaphor  pluralism  bibliography  Stanford  openaccess 
may 2014 by derishus
Sergei Morozov -- Sex and Rank: 2. The World of Conflicting Groups
'The most savage wars occur when one nation divides into two, because both new nations occupy habitats very close to one another. Nations very close to one another offer the most potential for strife. Chimpanzees experience a similar situation. Very often after victory over a neighbouring clan the victorious clan splits, and then these two troops that previously belonged to one clan try to destroy each other. -- If there exists a world of conflicting groups, then who must fight with whom? Theoretically, everyone with everyone else. Until the system of universal division of labour was created people fought with their territorial neighbours. Chimpanzees are no different, because as a rule neighbouring populations occupied similar habitats. Populations who occupy similar habitats are enemies. -- Lions hunt antelope, but lions are not enemies of the antelope. Habitats are different. But hyenas also hunt antelope. Lions and hyenas share the same habitat. Therefore lions and hyenas are enemies that cannot stand each other, like cats and dogs. Lions kill hyenas whenever they get the opportunity, although lions do not eat hyenas. -- The same situation exists for nations. Nations occupy different habitats. The best of these habitats is where hi-tech goods and banking services have been developed. The main enemies here are America and Europe. They may demonstrate unanimity in a whole range of areas, but they are biological enemies because they share one food source. At the level of industrial production the main enemies are India and China. Again similar habitats, but they do not hide their antipathy towards each other. At the level of raw materials provision Russia and Saudi Arabia are enemies, although on the surface there would not seem to be any enmity between them; however, Saudi Arabia hugely contributed to the financial ruin of the USSR, a process that culminated in its collapse. -- Methods of waging war change, but their essence remains the same: seizing someone else’s resources. And seizing someone else’s resources is not possible without suppressing those who used to own those resources. -- The most savage wars occur when one nation divides into two, because both new nations occupy habitats very close to one another. Nations very close to one another offer the most potential for strife. Chimpanzees experience a similar situation. Very often after victory over a neighbouring clan the victorious clan splits, and then these two troops that previously belonged to one clan try to destroy each other.'
sociology  war  groups  sociobiology  evolutionarypsychology  psychology  evolution 
march 2014 by adamcrowe

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