lisa.rogers at m.cc.utah.edu
Thu Apr 13 22:07:51 MDT 1995
I know it's been a "long" time since April 3rd, but I've been savoring
some of Justin's comments (appended below) the whole time. I've studied a
little philosophy and the Schwartz that I've seen on the list makes the
most sense to me, and uses more normal English (less jargon) than much
I've seen lately. Of course, I may like it partly because I had come to
some similar conclusions already, or because I've been conditioned to
respect the opinions of specialized degrees, or maybe great minds just
think alike. Or I'm mis-reading him and therefore inaccurately
attributing my ideas to him? Who can tell? I'm sure Justin will let us
When I was an undergrad frosh, I was considering a philo. major. By the
end of 101, I had figured out that every philosophy was another way to
look at things. There were no absolute standards of anything. There was
no truth to be found, only to be agreed upon by choice and convention.
Therefore, I must choose my philosophy, by the standards of my choice.
My standards include usefulness, logic, consistency, etc. Of course, I
didn't make these up on my own. I was already fascinated with biology,
and science seemed the best method to use to make sense of the apparently
real world. Next, add animal behavior to the "real biological world" and
notice that category includes humans, and here I am. (This is the short
Now here I know I differ from some others on the list - I don't see how
anyone can come up with objective or transcendental or universal or any
kind of "moral theory." I admit I haven't put a lot of study into it.
But even if I'm wrong, and there is some ultimate morality (I really am
curious how anybody thinks they can come up with one) it is probably
impossible to convince everyone to agree on it (this is where Justin's spiel
about emancipation and justice loses me.) Every since I shed religion, I
just don't believe and haven't seen an absolute morality. Until I joined
this list, I didn't know it was a topic of much interest in Marxism. (So
I'm still new, okay?)
I am sure that being a scientist does not at all make me an empiricist or
positivist, and I don't believe anything transcendental, as I understand
these things. I am very encouraged by
Justin's remarks because all the scientists that I know and respect are
already well aware that empiricism and positivism are crap, and some of us
are getting fed up with being slammed for crap that we don't even believe
The more I try to cross-over department or even sub-dept. lines to find
out what's going on, exercise my other related or unrelated interests and
maybe even look for cross-pollination of ideas if not out-right
collaboration, the more I have found that there is an apparently growing
trend of what I call anti-science among some of the so-called social
sciences. It has been so bad that I have been told, personally, that I
cannot be a true feminist and also a scientist, because science is a
product of bourgois patriarchal empiricism, and therefore incapable of
producing anything of worth or non-sexist. We are all to be punished for
the sins of past BAD science, it seems.
(BTW Justin, is it a fair read of you to say that "bad sociobiology" is a
form of "bad science"?)
Much of the "radical critique" (yes, they call themselves that sometimes)
of science is a critique of positivism and empiricism, which some
sociologists, post-modernists, deconstructionists, dialectical
anthropologists, Marxists and others claim to be the philosopical basis of
modern science. I don't get it. Just because a horse is dead, that does
not appear to be a reason for them to stop beating it. In fact, they've
gone so far as to stuff the damn thing and set it up as a straw horse.
Would it be too much trouble for them to find out the truth about the
philosophy of science? or would that turn out to be more difficult to
attack? Or why bother, they are already getting published, what the hell.
Which reminds me, Steven J. Gould and Richard Lewontin often do the same
thing with so-called sociobiology - a lot of what Gould is cursing DOES
NOT EVEN EXIST. Nobody is claiming that there is actually a gene for
altruism!! Not any scientist! Not in any species! Not ever! That is
not at all what Hamilton was on about. But doesn't or shouldn't a
scientist like Gould know anything about simple models that are built to
explore, illuminate, illustrate and make a point about something? Doesn't
he understand the basics of modern evolutionary theory?
Does Gould notice or mention that Hamilton was not just talking about
humans? Apparent "altruistic" behavior occurs in many other species, and
we surely can't tell a "cultural just-so story" to "explain" it for
non-humans! (And group selection doesn't cut it either, more later...)
Anti-sociobiologists also often make bad anti-reductionist arguments, so I
have found myself simultaneously defending it and disavowing it (I think
it gets slammed because it gets loaded with undeserved pejorative
interpretations, so I have to use a different word. I don't bother to
call myself a sociobiologist for similar reasons.)
Sometimes Gould says misleading things when it seems he really ought to
know better, and one begins reluctantly to wonder if he is sincere in what
he is saying or if he just wants to be rich and famous for being published
in the popular press, or what?
And why do his readers not often look up the originals that he is talking
about? Well, why bother when one already knows that it is crap, because
Gould said so, especially if he just reinforces some previous prejudice
in the reader.
The point of "kin-selection" models, "genes for altruism" (you get the same
result if you replace the gene with learning or contingent behavior, or
whatever), the point of game theory and such is to address the question:
under what circumstances is self-sacrifice actually advantageous to the
sacrificer? or when does it pay one to help others?
This question is of interest to behavioral ecologists, also known as
evolutionary ecologists. These are biologists who study the evolution of
animal behavior, but not in terms of reconstructing the past. It is
because of evolutionary theory that we can expect (not only observe or
"induct") we expect living things to behave, each one in ITS OWN INTEREST
in terms of survival and reproduction.
If behavior is flexible, it is expected to respond to costs and benefits,
constraints and opportunities (Which does not ignore social behavior or
social environment, quite the contrary. Social status and alliance, etc.
can have enormous effects on individual Darwinian fitness for any social
animal. For humans add income, access to health care, occupation...)
This question, how to get selfish individuals to be nice to each other,
is surely also of interest to socialists.
Unless one just does not believe that people are like that....
Calling me "cynical" is not helpful.
More on why evolution usually creates individual interest rather than group
To all who read this far, I hope you enjoyed it,
On Mon, 3 Apr 1995, Justin Schwartz wrote:
>.... Anyway, all
philosophical positions are problematic, > so that isn't an objection that
especially affects anyone.
> Well, if transcendental arguments
are supposed to give us a priori results > and naturalism is a matter of
rejecting a priorism in all its varieties > and letting our conclusions
instead by constrained by the way things are, > as best we can find out,
rather than conditions derived independently of > experience and
scientific inquiry, there is an obvious tension. Perhaps an > outright
> ..... Behavioral science may be different from natural
science in > various ways, or it may not, but while all science, arguably,
uses > induction, it requires a case that any science use transcendental
> But positivism is rather a dead horse these days.
> Logical empiricism [is] long dead.
> I wrote a dissertation
and published > several papers defending reductionism against bad
anti-reductionism > arguments.
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