Full piece here.
NY Times review here for contrast.
E.O. Wilson is a popular biologist and naturalist, known particularly for his work with ants. Arnhart reviews:
‘To answer these fundamental questions about our human place in the cosmos, Edward O. Wilson suggests in his new book, we need to unify all our knowledge of nature by combining the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities. Traditionally, we have looked to religion, philosophy, or the creative arts to answer these great questions. Wilson argues that these three ways to understand the human condition have failed. This leaves science–in its quest for a complete knowledge of nature–as the only way to understand the human story.’
That sounds extremely ambitious. Who needs religion, philosophy, or the creative arts when they don’t yield the same standard of knowledge Wilson is proposing?
Arnhart’s suggests looking to…philosophy:
‘If Wilson’s project for a Darwinian unification of knowledge is to succeed, it must revive that Aristotelian tradition of natural philosophy that includes Thomas Aquinas, Hume, and Adam Smith. Darwin understood himself as part of that intellectual tradition, particularly in adopting ideas from Hume and Smith about the natural moral sentiments. Even Darwin’s fundamental idea of the evolutionary emergence of life as an unintended order was derived from Smith and other Scottish philosophers’
So isn’t there a tension between Aristotelians and Platonists? If neo-Platonists give-up the World-Of-Forms as a source of transcendental knowledge, will they slip into the modern problem of nihilism?
Is Darwinism nihilism? If you are a Platonist, yes. If you are not a Platonist, no.
Most Platonists today are disappointed Platonists—people with Platonic expectations that are unfulfilled, because they accept Darwinian evolution as true, and therefore since all living forms have evolved, they cannot be eternal in conforming to Plato’s intelligible realm of eternal Ideas. If everything has evolved, this must include moral and political order, and thus there is no eternally unchanging Idea of the Good by which we can see absolute standards of right and wrong. Consequently, there are no moral absolutes, and we must accept moral relativism or nihilism. Darwinism is “true but deadly” (as Friedrich Nietzsche said). And thus these disappointed Platonists become nihilists.’
As always, worth a read. Below is Wilson briefly discussing the book on Charlie Rose:
**Martha Nussbaum has used Aristotle’s natural philosophy. On this site, see: Bryan Magee Via Youtube: ‘Martha Nussbaum On Aristotle’
***In the realm of political philosophy, for what it’s worth, many libertarians and liberaltarians in lieu of tracing the moral source of the laws back to a transcendent God (thus creating daylight between themselves and religious and often social conservatives), instead turn to the ‘classical’ liberalism of the Scottish Enlightenment: Hume’s empiricism and atheism, Smith’s invisible hand, and later Hayek’s adoption of Hume’s principle that the propositions of ethics cannot be proven.
In addition to putting daylight between themselves and religious conservatives, this tends to put a lot of daylight between these classical liberals and the increasingly progressive Democratic party in the U.S. See this position fleshed out: Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-’Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’
-Steven Pinker, Harvard experimental psychologist and cognitive scientist wrote a piece in the New Republic, entitled: ‘Science Is Not Your Enemy‘
-Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of the New Republic since the 60′s, responded at The New Republic: ‘No, Science Doesn’t Have All The Answers.‘
-Ross Douthat, conservative Catholic columnist at the Times jumped in the fray: ‘The Scientism Of Steve Pinker’
-Jerry Coyne, evolutionary biologist, responded to Douthat.
-Wieseltier jumped back in with: ‘Crimes Against Humanities: Now science wants to invade the humanities. Don’t let it happen.‘
-Now Daniel Dennett, philosopher, cognitive scientist, one of the New Atheists and Boston-based secularist responds to Wieseltier:
‘Pomposity can be amusing, but pomposity sitting like an oversized hat on top of fear is hilarious. Wieseltier is afraid that the humanities are being overrun by thinkers from outside, who dare to tackle their precious problems—or “problematics” to use the, um, technical term favored by many in the humanities. He is right to be afraid. It is true that there is a crowd of often overconfident scientists impatiently addressing the big questions with scant appreciation of the subtleties unearthed by philosophers and others in the humanities, but the way to deal constructively with this awkward influx is to join forces and educate them, not declare them out of bounds.’
Related On This Site: From The NY Times Book Review-Thomas Nagel On John Gray’s New ‘Silence Of Animals’…From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The Evolution of Mind and Mathematics: Dehaene Versus Plantinga and Nagel’…
Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’…