In “A Cure Worse Than the Disease—Darwinism vs. Relativism I: Denis Dutton” (The Best Schools , January 30, 2012), James Barham talks about Arts and Letters Daily founder, the late Denis Dutton, who chose Darwin over Derrida:
This is a worrisome trend that we all need to think about carefully. Cultural relativism is highly detrimental, because it undermines all sense of objective right and wrong. But Darwinian reductionism is also very dangerous, because it undercuts, not just morality, but everything that is valuable about us as human beings.
What reader of Arts and Letters Daily , “a sort of high-brow Reader’s Digest for the digital age,” didn’t know about its founder’s affection for any and every crackpot theory of psychology based on Darwinism? Half the time, it was hard to tell that the stuff wasn’t a hoax. The other half, you had to hope it was, so you could praise the hoaxer for turning a good trick.
So, there is a great danger that the Darwinian-reductionist cure may turn out to be worse than the relativist disease.
After watching a TED lecture Dutton gave in 2010, entitled “A Darwinian Theory of Beauty”, which summarizes the argument of his book, I have come to the conclusion that Dutton was more sinned against than sinning. It is not so much that he was predisposed to reductionism as that he hated relativism. The trouble is, the intellectual climate he lived in misled him into believing that rejecting relativism meant embracing Darwinism.
So, let’s take a look at Dutton’s TED lecture, to see exactly where he goes wrong. More.