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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Natural-born existentialists

Ronnie de Sousa
aeon.com
Originally posted December 10, 2017

Here are two excerpts:

Much the same might be true of some of the emotional dispositions bequeathed to us by natural selection. If we follow some evolutionary psychologists in thinking that evolution has programmed us to value solidarity and authority, for example, we must recognise that those very same mechanisms promote xenophobia, racism and fascism. Some philosophers have made much of the fact that we appear to have genuinely altruistic motives: sometimes, human beings actually sacrifice themselves for complete strangers. If that is indeed a native human trait, so much the better. But it can’t be good because it’s natural. For selfishness and cruelty are no less natural. Again, naturalness can’t reasonably be why we value what we care about.

A second reason why evolution is not providence is that any given heritable trait is not simply either ‘adaptive’ or ‘maladaptive’ for the species. Some cases of fitness are frequency-dependent, which means that certain traits acquire a stable distribution in a population only if they are not universal.

(cut)

The third reason we should not equate the natural with the good is the most important. Evolution is not about us. In repeating the well-worn phrase that is supposed to sum up natural selection, ‘survival of the fittest’, we seldom think to ask: the fittest what? It won’t do to think that the phrase refers to fitness in individuals such as you and me. Even the fittest individuals never survive at all. We all die. What does survive is best described as information, much of which is encoded in the genes. That remains true despite the fashionable preoccupation with ‘epigenetic’ or otherwise non-DNA-encoded factors. The point is that ‘the fittest’ refers to just whatever gets replicated in subsequent generations – and whatever that is, it isn’t us. Every human is radically new, and – at least until cloning becomes routine – none will ever recur.

The article is here.
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