Why phil

Rahul Mahajan rahul at hagar.ph.utexas.edu
Fri Apr 14 07:09:12 MDT 1995


Lisa, I don't know if you read my post on the subject, but you addressed
certain questions that I mentioned. Comments below. Rahul Mahajan
>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
>in.
That's nice, but what have you replaced it with?
>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.

Don't you see something more sinister than just the publishing mania and
self-indulgent narcissism of academia? It seems to me that the case against
science and against objective truth is largely directed at the Marxist
left, the only kind of left movement that can produce viable modern
societies -- the mother-goddess cults and back-to-naturists will all starve
to death in short order if they take over.

>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?

Have you read Gould carefully? His arguments are often a little more
profound than that. And, in fact, some people have advanced such ideas.
There was a sociobiologist who came up with an argument for a genetic basis
for homosexuality, based on the idea that maybe they'd help mom take care
of the kids. Sorry, I can't remember the name.
>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.)

Why can't we tell similar just-so stories about other species?

>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.

That's a good point, but when you read one or two things and see that
they're crap, it's hard to get excited about others that share the same
methodology and are directed at the same political ends.
>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 is missing the biggest point. "When does it pay to help others?" is
surely an interesting question to ask with regard to different social
groupings involving different species. However, the salient point for all
species, including human beings, is "How does such behavior evolve?" For
that, an adaptationist explanation alone is simply not science. You need to
posit some material basis -- obviously, not a single gene. Unfortunately,
the state of the art in the science does not really permit one to answer
such questions for complex behaviors or even for difficult questions about
structure of organisms.
>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....

Or unless one believes that people can be changed so they're not like that
(at least, most of them).
>Calling me "cynical" is not helpful.
>
>More on why evolution usually creates individual interest rather than group
>interest, later.

Surely true on the whole, but there are interesting cases like the
evolution of social behavior in insects to consider.
>To all who read this far, I hope you enjoyed it,
>Lisa Rogers
>
>
>
>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
>inconsistency.
>> ..... 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
>reasoning.
>> ....
>> 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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