Human Origins & Philosophy
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Michael Ruse remarked that Ðunfortunately there is simply nothing in the literature by philosophers on human origins. Explore how the data on human emergence can become an interesting way to approach a philosophical anthropology.
Since the time of Darwin it has been recognised that biological species are essential to the process of evolution. A species consists of a population rather than unconnected individuals. The population of any species is reproductively isolated from that of others because of the fertility criterion. This means that despite the cohabitation of similar species in a specific territory no interbreeding will occur. Mayr states that ÐEach species is a delicately integrated genetic system that has been selected through many generations to fit into a definite niche in its environment. Palaeontology, according to Darwin, accounted for the formation of any new species through a gradual transformation of the ancestral population with large numbers of individuals in the inhabited territory. Eldredge and Gould later named this process phyletic gradualism. This phyletic gradualism, however, continued the tradition of extrapolation from local populations and also used the accepted model for adaptive geographical variation, namely the gradual substitution of genes directed by natural selection, as a paradigm for the origin of species . This theory, as Mayr argues, does not take into account the advantage of the isolate. Mayr recognised that speciation occurred more rapidly and more effectively in small, isolated populations. That is populations that have migrated from the larger ancestral population and therefore are isolated from the homogenizing effect of the gene flow. In this way successful speciation occurred due to the cumulative effects of small variations over a number of generations. This process is more commonly known as evolution.
Humans are social animals; we are better suited to live socially than to live in isolation or anarchy. ÐNo denial to the reality of ethics, nothing offensive to its dignity, follows from accepting our evolutionary origin. Human moral capacities are, in fact, exactly what can be expected when a highly social creature evolves sufficiently to develop intelligence and becomes aware of the conflicts of its own nature. Darwins aim was not to produce the antidote to John Lockes conceptual paralysis or to realise the grand cosmological alternative that had eluded Hume. Although his theories did essentially achieve these results, Darwin began his research not to discover the meaning of life or its origins, but simply the origin of species. Darwins theory of evolution, however, contains significant gaps, statements or assumptions never carried to their logical conclusion. The most important of these is the lack of a central concept, or more specifically the lack of a convincing mechanism of heredity to explain the adoption of the parents traits while maintaining an underlying and unchanged identity. This problem was to be remedied initially by the Austrian monk Gregor Mendel in 1865 and was later secured by the works of Julian Huxley, Ernst Mayr and Theodosius Dobzhansky. ÐThe fundamental core of contemporary Darwinism, the theory of DNA based reproduction and evolution, is now beyond dispute among scientists. However, the fundamental core of human emergence, our evolution from that of animals, remains in dispute among philosophers.
G.L. Stebbins has shown that cultural evolution is much more rapid and effective than biological evolution. Cultural traits have been known to spread through large populations in less than a decade, whereas adaptations of human genes under selective pressure would take several hundred years . He also introduced the idea of templates, both biological and cultural. In biological evolution, DNA is the genetic template for the transmitting of hereditary biological capacities. In cultural evolution, cultural templates are ubiquitous.
A safe generalization is that genetic templates transmit potentialities or capacities rather than adult behavioural traits, which is for cultural templates.
Society has developed, in respect to cultural evolution, from the primitive basis of an irrational or instinctive association of hominids to a highly organized structure governed by values. Biological evolution created the human genotypes that equip the human brain with the propensities for learning languages, altruistic behaviour and other such cultural activities, including those systems of values that mould and govern society. Without the development of these genotypes the lot of modern Ðhumans would be very different indeed. Philosophy itself, to name just one example, could not have come into being. The development of values, more specifically those of a moral, ethical and social nature, have formed the basis of philosophy.
The problem of equating human origins and evolution with philosophy and certain prominent philosophers arises from the views held by many philosophers, that animals are essentially evil or base and that their treatment by humans can be seen as a means to an end. Aristotle, in his Nicomachean Ethics, asks what is the true function of man and concludes that the function of man is the life of reason because that life only is peculiar to man. Animals, in this way, are used to prove the value of reason and also to represent examples of irrational conduct. Spinoza believed that animals, though conscious, are entirely at the disposal of man in any and every respect. Descartes stated that animals are actually unconscious and without souls. He attributed this, in part, to their capacity for seemingly intelligent behaviour but also their lack of behavioural continuity, in that they also act stupidly or without rational thought. Humans, however hypothetical it may seem, viewed by a more intelligent being may also be found to exhibit similar behavioural or rational defects, which might then be attributed to our own lack or intelligence or rational thought. Humans, it seems, are judged by their ideal performance, animals by their actual one. Kant also states in his Lectures on Ethics that ÐSexuality exposes man to the danger of equality with the beasts , yet another obstacle to the acceptance of the theory of human emergence and evolution in relation to philosophy. The dangers Kant identified in sexuality could have been better expressed in terms more central to his ethics, such as the dangers of treating people as objects, treating them without respect or using people as means rather than ends in themselves. Kant continues by stating that humanity, and everything in human form, must be respected because it is rational, not because it is conscious. This does not necessarily