Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON
LECTURE ONE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d__In2PQS60
LECTURE TWO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Al7O2puvdDA

ALSO AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ONE THROUGH TEN ON IDEOLOGICAL CRITIQUE



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Saturday, October 5, 2013

WHAT HAVE I BEEN READING?

Having finished The Rainbow and the Worm, I am now reading the fascinating Combes book about Parasites  [The Art of Being a Parasite].  I sent the following email message to my sister, who agreed with me:

"I am reading the Combes book slowly and enjoying it a great deal. The following thought struck me about it:

There has of course been an enormous and rather acrimonious debate about "neo-Darwinism" and all, in the course of which the critics of neo-Darwinism make it sound as though there is nothing at all to the theory of natural selection. It is nice to read a book that is replete with remarkable examples of the most elaborate adaptations, in critters one had never before heard of, just to remind oneself of what a powerful explanatory tool the theory of natural selection is in the right hands. I don't mean to suggest that those wonderful examples settle the debate, which has been fruitful and valuable, especially in digging beneath the surface of species to get at what happens at the molecular level, but it really is true that the sheer fecundity of variation in the natural world is astonishing, and surely natural selection explains a great deal of it."

Once again, I will say, what I have said several times before on this blog:  One really ought not to write about the philosophy of science without immersing oneself in a variety of the many books setting forth the remarkable work now being done in a number of branches of Biology.  Almost sixty years ago, when I was having tea with Bertrand Russell at his home outside London, he said that if he had it to do over again, he would have become a physicist rather than a philosopher.  ["And," I thought, when he said it, "you would probably have won the Nobel Prize for Physics rather than for Literature, which was all that the Nobel Committee had available for you."]  If Russell were alive today, I think he would become a biologist, for that is where the most exciting intellectual is now being done.
Reading the Combes book is slow going, even though it is engagingly and clearly written with first-rate diagrams.  I mean, unless you are up on all the species of metacircariae, it is a trifle hard tom keep track of the infinitely various ways in which they have adapted to their hosts.  But I think you can recapture some of the wonder that Darwin must have felt as he discovered, over and over again, the astonishing adaptations throughout the world of animals, plants, fungi, bacteria, and viruses.

7 comments:

Chris said...

Wolff,
That movie I recommended to you, The East, is now out on DVD. I highly recommend it. It's about corporate exploitation of the environment, and radical resistance against it.

Don Schneier said...

One topic that distinguishes at least some 'philosophers' from at least some 'scientists' is generally known as 'self-consciousness'. Its application to the ongoing theme here can sharply illustrate that distinction. While most evolutionary scientists continue to discuss the methods and findings of Darwin, some philosophers who accept it will also attempt to integrate the discovery of the theory into the theory, as a moment of evolutionary development, a moment that can be characterized as the 'coming to self-consciousness' of the theory. Accordingly, for such philosophers, the theory itself evolves at that moment, perhaps to a related Praxis, e. g. to Eugenics. Note that that transformation is one for which the objective scientists lack the resources to evaluate.

David Auerbach said...

re: "a moment that can be characterized as the 'coming to self-consciousness' of the theory."

Since theories have neither consciousness nor self-consciousness, I have to assume that many of the words here mean something other than their normal meaning. Just as 'evolves' must mean something other than its Darwinian meaning in the penultimate sentence of DS's comment.

Don Schneier said...

David--Re: your "normal". I'm citing formulations that are familiar in some philosophical contexts, e. g. Hegelianism. Anyway, rather than jumping to play 'gotcha', maybe you can take a few more minutes to think about how the theory of Evolution applies to the discovery of the theory. If, instead, you want peremptorily to insist that that moment of discovery is independent of its object, then you are exposing a groundless prejudice. In either case, you will note the distinction between formulating a scientific hypothesis, which generalizes some empirical data, and thinking through some of its systematic implications.

David Auerbach said...

I simply don't see how a the theory of evolution applies to the discovery of the theory. (Unless that simply means that humans, who evolved, come equipped with brains capable of discovering and comprehending natural selection, etc.) In fact, I don't see how it could, given the phenomena that the theory of evolution explains. If jargon is involved, then explain it.

Don Schneier said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Don Schneier said...

By the way, if the Darwinian purist were to examine Darwin's proposition that 'Evolution is a means to survival', they might detect two violations of rigorous scientific procedure. First, the implied means-end relation is not empirical, so could not have been derived from observation. Second, granting that use, that survival is the 'end' of evolutionary processes is an ungrounded hypothesis. So, a pure concept of 'Evolution' is one that Darwin himself did not advocate, which renders his purported authority on the use of it questionable, at best.