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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
This volume appeared originally in French in 2004 (de Sousa is an Emeritus Professor of the University of Toronto) and then in his own translation in 2007; what we have now is a handy paperback edition.
Evolution by natural selection has yielded eyes of exquisite apparent design, as well as appendices. Humans react and come to quick decisions that may not agree with the answers reflective thinking would give, we have however constructed elaborate systems of logic and mathematics that give us, at least within their own assumptions, what are the right answers. But both of these capacities have presumably been shaped by evolutionary pressures. De Sousa sets out to explore the parallels and specificities of these processes and hopes to reveal that our inheritance provides us with "a virtually unlimited range of possibilities for human flourishing" (p. vi).
Along the way de Sousa points out several important distinctions -- e.g., 'rational' versus 'irrational' compared with 'rational' versus 'non-rational' (pp. 6-9), analog versus digital (pp. 12-18), 'general' versus 'specific' compared with 'general' versus 'particular' (pp. 74-75) -- and comments on a host of topics in the area: detection versus representation and tropism versus desire (pp. 9-11), teleology (ch. 2), individual versus collective rationality and the units of selection (ch. 4) and modularity (ch. 5). among many others.
The reader is introduced to many of the standard issues in the common ground between rationality and evolution. In some cases de Sousa pursues his own take on the problems, defending Dawkins' focus on the gene rather than the organism, for instance; elsewhere he simply sets out the pertinent findings. It is an informative and amusing survey of the issues.
Some of the major steps in the argument are not too clear. The capacity to distinguish between a general feature and a particular object that exemplifies it is "accessible only to minds capable of using the machinery of language" (p. 73) - this is also "one of the conditions that makes possible the multiplication of values" (p. 73). A little later he says "what animals and machines lack is the means to apprehend the particular as distinct from the specific" (p. 75). But then we are told (p. 83) that dogs can recognize their masters and vampire bats practice reciprocal altruism. The thought is presumably that this is done, not by identifying reference to individuals, but by highly specific general features -- de Sousa notes that such animals can be fooled by an individual who makes itself indistinguishable from the trustworthy individual. But so can we all. The fact that language permits us to raise a finer-grained question does not necessarily help us that much in distinguishing Maurice from his identical twin David.
Relatedly I did not see how the fact of being able to make individual reference yielded the variety of human goals that de Sousa applauds. Of course, if A can distinguish B from C then A can have the goal of B's welfare rather than C's; and so the population can have any number of distinct goals; but value pluralism is surely more than that: it is that A values one kind of life for A and maybe others, while B values a different kind of life for B and maybe others. Creatures with the capacity for individual reference might not go so far: Popper's closed society is not a logical impossibility.
At one point de Sousa seems to respond by pointing to the gap between me, the person who is able to reflect on his or her goals, and the selected-for goals of the genes I happen to embody. But he also seems to equate deciding against these primordial pressures with irrationality (p. 86), though it would seem now pretty obvious that the multiplication of homo sapiens genes is no longer in any species' interest, unless it be that of various bacteria and viruses.
In a brief survey of so many issues it is almost inevitable that some connections will seem less than convincing. My more general worry is perhaps about the title and aim of the book than the detailed content. De Sousa's preface mentions the view that we ought not to engage in reflective thinking but rather go with our gut feelings and says he will take this seriously. He reminds us of our fallibility in many areas of reasoning, especially when statistics or probabilities crop up. But his concern to display the 'wisdom' of processes that have presumably been selected for means that it is not at all clear whether in the end he is recommending a change from the status quo. As he remarks at the end of the first chapter, "our faculties' defects are just the flip side of their virtues" (p. 18). This is, I think, a reflection of the problem labeled the 'naturalistic fallacy' in ethics: if what is has been selected for, it has been overall pretty successful, so how can one maintain that things should be different? More generally, if the normative is the natural, what scope is there for demanding change, for appealing to norms to promote different, 'non-natural' ways of doing something, leaving aside naturalistically specifiable impairments?
But let me not end on a critical note. De Sousa has provided a well-informed and argumentative survey of issues relating to how we do in fact think and how we sometimes fail to get what we have convinced ourselves are the right answers. His brief concluding remarks about the functions of emotions are but one of the topics on which he leaves the reader with important unsolved problems to ponder (I should acknowledge that the emotions are the main topics of earlier and later, more technical books by de Sousa).
© 2012 Ed Brandon
Ed Brandon is, by training, a philosopher, and now is working in a policy position in the University of the West Indies at its Cave Hill Campus in Barbados.