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Darwin and Derrida

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Here’s a letter that The American Scholar declined to publish. Unfortunately, the magazine has no electronic presence. The printed copy is the only access. The article “Getting It All Wrong” appeared in the Autumn 2006 issue. I reprint the letter here with the permission of László Bencze, who happens to be my professional photographer. (Note that the picture on the UD banner is not by László; one of his will be appearing in the next week or so when the entire blog is revamped.)

The Editor
The American Scholar
1606 New Hampshire Avenue, N.W.,
Washington DC 20009

24 September 2006

Re: “Getting It All Wrong”

It is not often one reads an article which contradicts itself so unashamedly as Mr. Boyd’s “Getting It All Wrong.” He wishes to refute the conclusions of Derrida, Menand and others of the post-modern crew who claim there is no truth. (Is that true?)

Unfortunately, he founds his own case on evolution which tells us “our brains are not guarantors of truth [or] citadels of reason…Evolution has no foresight and no aims, least of all an aim like truth.” This being so, there is no reason to suppose that any concepts, including evolution itself, are anything more than incidental artifacts of a long process of survival. They cannot be measured against a universal standard because any such standard is likewise an artifact of evolution and so ad infinitum.

Given this corrosive world view, it is plain the literary critics really have understood the implications of evolution: There are no universals, only communities of belief. Nor have we any way to distinguish worth amongst any of them, not even in the sciences. Nor can evolutionary epistemology be “progressive,” even imperfectly as Mr. Boyd asserts, because (as he makes clear above) there is no goal towards which it can progress.

Is it possible to refute Menand’s Theory without refuting the evolutionary premises which nourish it? Like squaring the circle with straightedge and compass, the task, though tantalizing, will prove futile.

László Bencze

That depends on how you measure a successful idea, Grayman. Is a successful idea that which, in the long run, brings us closer to truth or is it that idea which takes over for a while within a specific area (geographical or otherwise) in a manner somewhat akin to a plague or "virus scare?" Furthermore, how do you define metaphysics as pertaining to the intellectual pursuit which, as you state, has been "pretty much complete[ly destroyed] outside of theological circles." I'm pretty sure that metaphysics relates to that which is above description by physics (nature). This would include the study of logic and reason -- which both deal with truths in a way that physics can not, since nature is neither true nor false; it just exists. Metaphysics would also include the creation of physics itself. Has the study of the areas of logic, reason, and the source of physics been vanquished? If logical positivism is indeed the dominant philisophical school in most of the English speaking world, then that is probably why we, as student, are baing brainwashed into "thinking" that the ability to be "logical" is "merely" a result of that which has survived in accordance with reproductive success, that reason is "merely" the interplay between electrochemical impulses again in accordance with survival due to reproductive success (as opposed to a pathway to truth since the concept of truth -- or any concept that requires consciousness to comprehend -- should be a metaphysical illusion), and that our finely tuned universe is only one in an infinite set that for no apparent reason spits out an infinite number of universes covering an infinite range of natural laws; not to mention where this universe creating machine comes from. Oh ... ooops ... can't discuss that last one since it is metaphysical in nature. CJYman
"This is why logical positivism never had a chance of success. " What a bizarre statement! Logical positivism was the corner-stone of analytic philosophy which remains the dominant philosophical school in most of the English speaking world. Its major project, the destruction of metaphysics as a serious intellectual pursuit, is pretty much complete outside of theological circles. Grayman
Anthony O'Hear's Beyond Evolution: Human Nature and the Limits of Evolutionary Explanation demonstrates quite compellingly that evolutionary theory has absolutely no means of explaining a normative activity such as morality. If we evolved by purely naturalistic means, then morality is subjective. Notions such as compassion and altruism are totally anomalous to such a view. Evolutionary theory cannot explain these things, yet they exist. A truly objective interpretation would lead us to conclude that evolutionary theory must be incomplete in some way. But because of their prior philosophical commitments that state that science can only be scientific it it is naturalistic, the evolutionists' only options are either to live with the contradictions or pretend they don't exist. Thus, NDE, at its core, is a delusional state of mind. How staggeringly odd that otherwise very intelligent people should commit themselves to it. This is why logical positivism never had a chance of success. TerryL
Yep, for both the Darwinian evolutionist and the post-modernist there can be no piercing the veil, no way to connect with reality as it actually exists. As some philosopher depicted it, it is as if we are each, as individuals, stuck in a booth observing a multi-media presentation, with no means by which to exit the booth and observe reality. We are dependent on the translated and interpreted signals from our senses, and our reasoning that takes place in our natural brain processes. Stuck in a gilded cage that isn't always so gilded. Makes one feel just a bit claustrophobic, does it not, if you ponder it to excess? Nope, the filter of survival of the fittest can only be argued to promote a sort of internal consistency to our senses and thoughts. Like red is red everytime we see it, and it seems to link up with certain light frequencies, as we perceive. That and $5 will get you a venti latte. Being here only proves that we, well, succeeded to exist, for what that's worth. Now, here is where revelation comes in. Some believe that certain thoughts and information are received from the "reality" outside ourselves, without simply being "created" by our physical brain processes. In other words, some claim to have exited their booth for a brief moment to breath the fresh air and take in some element of the real world, and then tell us about it. Oh, but this makes the Materialists furious!! They will neither believe any of it, nor make any real attempt of an exit themselves. No, they enjoy their stale aire, and they know for certain that such things could never happen. And why? Because their brain chemistry and electrical impuses told them so. Yes indeed, their blind faculty, which they must admit is blind, prove to them that nothing else exists, and this is the hill on which they will live and die. Amazing, is it not????? Ekstasis

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