Genetics and Evolution

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A Companion to GenethicsA Companion to GenethicsA Cooperative SpeciesA Mind So RareA Natural History of RapeAcquiring GenomesAdapting MindsAgeing, Health and CareAlas, Poor DarwinAn Introduction to Evolutionary EthicsAncient Bodies, Modern LivesAnimal ArchitectsAping MankindAre We Hardwired?Bang!BehavingBeyond EvolutionBeyond GeneticsBlood MattersBody BazaarBoneBrain Evolution and CognitionBrain StormBrave New BrainBrave New WorldsChoosing ChildrenCloneCloningConceptual Issues in Evolutionary BiologyConsciousness EvolvingContemporary Debates in Philosophy of BiologyControlling Our DestiniesCooperation and Its EvolutionCreatures of AccidentDarwin Loves YouDarwin's Brave New WorldDarwin's Gift to Science and ReligionDarwin's UniverseDarwin's WormsDarwinian ConservatismDarwinian PsychiatryDarwinism and its DiscontentsDarwinism as ReligionDebating DesignDecoding DarknessDefenders of the TruthDo We Still Need Doctors?Doubting Darwin?Early WarningEngineering the Human GermlineEnhancing EvolutionEnoughEntwined LivesEthical Issues in Human CloningEthical Issues in the New GeneticsEvil GenesEvolutionEvolutionEvolution and Human BehaviorEvolution and Human BehaviorEvolution and Human Sexual BehaviorEvolution and LearningEvolution and ReligionEvolution and the Human MindEvolution in MindEvolution, Gender, and RapeEvolution: The Modern SynthesisEvolutionary Ethics and Contemporary BiologyEvolutionary Origins of MoralityEvolutionary PsychiatryEvolutionary PsychologyEvolutionary Psychology and ViolenceEvolutionary Psychology as Maladapted PsychologyExploding the Gene MythFaces of Huntington'sFlesh of My FleshFrom Chance to ChoiceFrom Darwin to HitlerGenesGenes in ConflictGenes on the CouchGenes, Environment, and PsychopathologyGenes, Environment, and PsychopathologyGenes, Women, EqualityGenetic Nature/CultureGenetic PoliticsGenetic ProspectsGenetic ProspectsGenetic SecretsGenetics in the MadhouseGenetics of Criminal and Antisocial BehaviourGenetics of Mental DisordersGenetics of Original SinGenetics of Original SinGenomeGenomeGenome: Updated EditionGenomes and What to Make of ThemGlowing GenesHow Women Got Their Curves and Other Just-So StoriesHuman CloningHuman Evolution, Reproduction, and MoralityImproving Nature?In Our Own ImageIn Pursuit of the GeneIn the Name of GodIngenious GenesInheritanceInside the Human GenomeInside the O'BriensIntegrating Evolution and DevelopmentIntelligence, Race, and GeneticsIs Human Nature Obsolete?Language OriginsLess Than HumanLiberal EugenicsLiving with Our GenesMaking Genes, Making WavesMaking Sense of EvolutionMan As The PrayerMean GenesMenMood GenesMoral OriginsMothers and OthersNature Via NurtureNever Let Me GoNot By Genes AloneOf Flies, Mice, and MenOn the Origin of StoriesOrigin of MindOrigins of Human NatureOrigins of PsychopathologyOur Posthuman FuturePhilosophy of BiologyPlaying God?Playing God?Portraits of Huntington'sPrimates and PhilosophersPromiscuityPsychiatric Genetics and GenomicsPsychologyQuality of Life and Human DifferenceRe-creating MedicineRedesigning HumansResearch Advances in Genetics and GenomicsResponsible GeneticsResponsible GeneticsScience, Seeds and CyborgsSex and WarSociological Perspectives on the New GeneticsStrange BedfellowsStrange BehaviorSubjects of the WorldSubordination and DefeatThe Age of EmpathyThe Agile GeneThe Ape and the Sushi MasterThe Biotech CenturyThe Blank SlateThe Book of LifeThe Boy Who Loved Too MuchThe Bridge to HumanityThe Case Against PerfectionThe Case for PerfectionThe Case of the Female OrgasmThe Century of the GeneThe Common ThreadThe Concept of the Gene in Development and EvolutionThe Debated MindThe Double-Edged HelixThe Epidemiology of SchizophreniaThe Ethics of Choosing ChildrenThe Ethics of Human CloningThe Evolution of CooperationThe Evolution of MindThe Evolution of MindThe Evolved ApprenticeThe Evolving WorldThe Extended Selfish GeneThe Fact of EvolutionThe Folly of FoolsThe Future of Human NatureThe God GeneThe Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThe Impact of the GeneThe Innate MindThe Innate MindThe Innate Mind: Volume 3The Limits and Lies of Human Genetic ResearchThe Lives of the BrainThe Maladapted MindThe Meme MachineThe Misunderstood GeneThe Moral, Social, and Commercial Imperatives of Genetic Testing and ScreeningThe Most Dangerous AnimalThe New Genetic MedicineThe Nurture AssumptionThe Origin and Evolution of CulturesThe Origins of FairnessThe Paradoxical PrimateThe Perfect BabyThe Robot's RebellionThe Selfish GeneThe Shape of ThoughtThe Shattered SelfThe Stem Cell ControversyThe Story WithinThe Stuff of LifeThe Talking ApeThe Temperamental ThreadThe Terrible GiftThe Theory of OptionsThe Top 10 Myths About EvolutionThe Triple HelixThe Triumph of SociobiologyThe Woman Who Walked into the SeaTwinsUnderstanding CloningUnderstanding the GenomeUnnatural SelectionUnto OthersUp From DragonsVoracious Science and Vulnerable AnimalsWar Against the WeakWhat Genes Can't DoWhat It Means to Be 98 Percent ChimpanzeeWho Owns YouWhose View of Life?Why Evolution Is TrueWhy Think? WondergenesWrestling with Behavioral GeneticsYour Genetic Destiny

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Darwinian ConservatismReview - Darwinian Conservatism
A Disputed Question
by Kenneth C. Blanchard (Editor)
Imprint Academic, 2009
Review by Gustav Jahoda
Nov 2nd 2010 (Volume 14, Issue 44)

In 2005 Larry Arnhart published a book with the same title, but without the sub-title of the present one.  The original one is reprinted here, followed by a series of  pro and con commentaries .Many American conservatives reject Darwinism, believing that it espouses materialist atheism. Arnhart's aim was to persuade them that such views are unjustified and that the two are  not just compatible, but that Darwinism provides a firm biological basis for conservatism.

Arnhart's essay is closely argued, erudite, and wide-ranging historically and in terms of topics covered, including philosophy, politics, neuroscience, and biotechnology. He traces two broad historical trends, One is from Aristotle via Thomas Aquinas to Enlightenment (Adam Smith and especially Edmond Burke) and 19th-century liberalism to modern conservatism.  What they have in common is the  view that human nature is' imperfectible' [sic] and realist politics has to take account of this fact. He argues that Darwin's position is essentially the same. He dates the second trend, called 'utopian', from the French Revolution, via Marxism to modern socialism. The essential feature of utopians is that they regard human nature as plastic and capable of being shaped into members of an ideal society.

Much of the work is taken up with a characterization of human nature according to the first of the above trends which, it is suggested, parallels that to be found in Darwin's writings. For instance, Arnhart proposes a list of twenty 'natural desires' said to be shared universally. The various chapters mainly deal with particular human desires and the related institutions. These include the moral sense, family, property (allegedly rooted in part of the brain), religion, and others. Throughout the author makes an effort document the Darwinian correspondences and to deal with objections. One important point made is that in the course of increasing levels of evolution new features develop, irreducible to early ones, by a process of 'emergence'. In his discussion of evolution, Arnhart makes use of the recent scientific theories such as the concept of 'gene-culture co-evolution'. His central conclusion, after referring to natural human imperfection, is in the following:

And yet conservatives believe that human beings do have a natural moral sense that supports ordered liberty as secured by the social order of family life, the economic order of private property, and the political order of limited government. A Darwinian science of human nature shows how these conditions for ordered liberty conform to the natural desires of  the human species as shaped by evolutionary history.

The force and skill of Arnhart's exposition compels admiration, but the matter is of course a highly contentious one and few, including myself as a reviewer, are likely to remain neutral (as is perhaps already apparent). Yet generally I shall leave the attack and defense of the thesis to the contributors to the second part, except for mentioning one specific issue that is not touched by them.

          Arnhart is in favor of  students in school biology classes debating the relative merits of Darwin and 'intelligent design',  which as he rightly says is puzzling for Europeans; so he enlightens them: ' . . . what these Europeans cannot understand is that debating these questions shows the unique intellectual and spiritual vitality of American life..' Does it really?

          Let me now turn to a quasi-telegraphic account of some of the positions maintained in the second part, which is mainly critical  It is noteworthy  that only one out of nine contributors is a biologist, the rest being mostly political scientists. The biologist expresses surprise that Darwinism, as a science, should be taken to support a political stance.  Others include the following: Darwinism supports both conservative and progressive politics;  one cannot derive ethical principles from human nature alone;  Darwin and Locke are contrasted, and both are said to miss the point;  'intelligent design' is superior to Darwinism;  'seeking support for conservatism from Darwin is about as futile as trying to squeeze grape juice from raisins.'  Then Arnhart mounts a defense of his thesis, and the last contributor supports him by arguing that Darwin is not just compatible with Aristotle but completes Aristotle's story!

          Readers who enjoy lively discussions, and the tossing around of ideas, will like this book. Others who look for some kind of conclusion, not possible owing to the nature of the topic, are liable to be disappointed.         


© 2010 Gustav Jahoda



Gustav Jahoda, Ph.D. is Emeritus Professor of Psychology at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. His main fields of interest are cross-cultural and social psychology, especially the development of social cognition. He is the author of A History of Social Psychology (Cambridge University Press).


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