Re: [asa] Alex Rosenberg essay

From: Gregory Arago <>
Date: Fri Dec 11 2009 - 11:34:07 EST

hi folks, kinda jumping into this one mid-way through, as i only read Rosenberg's article for the first time last night, and finished it this morning. haven't read any of the comments to it yet and only just glanced at Edward Feser's blog. many distractions now, in these last days of dissertation translation and handover. lots of provocative thoughts there. thanks for sending the link! naturalism, even if one wants to attach the qualifier 'methodological' to it, is under great stress when it faces such philosophers as Rosenberg and his problematic position. a few of the highlights imo:   "Scientism is my label for what any one who takes science seriously should believe, and scientistic is just an in-your face adjective for accepting science’s description of the nature of reality."   It looks like he holds to a different definition of 'scientism' than most people on this list. Can a person 'do science' i.e. be a 'scientist' and not adhere to 'scientism' according to Rosenberg's definition. The same could be asked of the ideology of 'naturalism.'   "scientism’s metaphysics is, to more than a first approximation, given by what physics tell us about the universe." Yes, in the language of people like Kuhn who elevate physics. But today's cutting-edge science is based on what biology tells us about the universe. The 'metaphysics of scientism' has rearranged its disciplinary source, putting Darwin and other evo biologists ahead of Newton and Eintein and the physicists. "Ever since Newton physics has ruled out purposes in the physical realm." ... "physics fixes all the facts" "the mechanism Darwin discovered for building adaptations is the only game in town. Any explanation of the very existence of even the slightest adaptation must be Darwinian." "Science has to be nihilistic about ethics and morality." "You can’t justify morality by showing its Darwinian pedigree. That way lies the moral disaster of Social Spencerism (better but wrongly known as Social Darwinism)." Though speaking about 'Social Spencerism' probably won't catch on - e.g. Talcott Parson's opened up one of his books with the line "Who reads Herbert Spencer anymore?" - it serves as an example of the way that 'Darwinism' is an exagerrated ideology. 'Christian Darwinists,' as Cameron showed recently on this list, are an oxymoron, just as Christian or Muslim Spencerists would be. "Since natural selection has no foresight, we have no idea whether the moral core we now endorse will hold up, be selected for, over the long-term future of our species, if any." Rosenberg seems to believe there is a 'moral core,' but has no way to justify the 'we' that he suggests. He would surely need a human-social theory to do so. But he cannot admit *any* moral source in the naturalism that he holds! "the mind is no more a purpose-driven system than anything else in nature. This is just what scientism leads us to expect. There are no purposes in nature; physics has ruled them out, and Darwin has explained them away." Natural-physical scientists who read things like this: what does it mean to you? I can only imagine it sounds like such an alien language that it doesn't make any sense. In other words, you don't draw these conclusions from 'physics' or from Darwin's 'science'. "In human cultural evolution, the relevant selective environment is ever-increasingly other people, other families, other groups, other cultures, societies, their mores, norms, institutions, technologies, etc. Since the environment in which humans operate is largely one created by humans, it changes with accelerating rapidity over time, and almost from the beginning of social history it is driven by arms races." This paragraph reveals how impoverished Rosenberg is in the human-social sciences. 'Cultural evolution' - he just borrows this term from ethologists, evolutionary psychologists and anthropologists and evo biologists who've decided in their later years to throw their hat into the ring of trying to 'better humanity'. Environtmental or natural selection is quite distinct from human-social selection. And to speak of 'arms races' is to betray his own cultural and ethnic biases. There is no need to take such a conflict-centric approach as Rosenberg does wrt human beings. "Human history is a nested series of arms races that never attain more than a temporary and unstable equilibrium." "Since, as science can show, Darwin’s solution is the only one possible in biology, it must be the only one possible in social science." Recently this position was echoed to me, however, with much more humility by an entomologist. Against the charges of reductionism, anthropomorphism and illegitimate trespassing in another sovereign scientific field, this scholar simply responded that natural-physical scientists simply won't give up the term 'altruism,' even though it was coined by a human-social scholar and originally meant 'love of others.' I didn't ask him if ants love each other, but I'm sure you catch the drift. Surely those who are reading this understand why I am opposed to both naturalism in the human-social sciences and also the universal ideology of evolution being assumed there too. It may be worth noting that the title of the article takes the word 'disenchantment' probably from Max Weber, who is one of my favorite sociologists. Weber opens up the possibility of discussing things related to theology and even theology itself as legitimate 'scientific' endeavours, even though he was himself 'religiously unmusical'. Wrt to Nietzsche, sure he is very important to face for any thinker in our post-modern age. The Russians here basically hold the attitude that the further west you go, the less people understand Nietzsche. He raises issues that require opponents like Solovyev or Berdyaev, rather than Putnam or Nagel. Just a few cents on this provocative essay! Cheers, Gregory   ________________________________ From: Schwarzwald <> To: Sent: Fri, December 11, 2009 12:26:31 AM Subject: Re: [asa] Alex Rosenberg essay Heya Murray, I agree. I think Rosenberg's complaints on that front amount to, "Lots of commentators have pointed out how problematic my position is. Well, I *know* that, damnit!" But he does seem to imply that being aware of these problems is sufficient to disarm them, or at least take the edge off them. His problem (and naturalism's problem) is larger, vastly larger, than simply being aware that intentionality (among other things) has no place in a naturalist world. I'd also point out that this is yet another philosopher who treats "unguided and purposeless", re: evolution, as not only a scientific question but a proven one as well. But I agree with your final estimation. I think few people realize just how high (low?) the bar is to actually accept a consistent naturalism. __________________________________________________________________ The new Internet Explorer® 8 - Faster, safer, easier. Optimized for Yahoo! Get it Now for Free! at

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Received on Fri Dec 11 11:34:39 2009

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