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Is the consensus in favor of Neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory as strong among

Is the consensus in favor of Neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory as strong among philosophers of science as it is among scientists in general?

Yes. As far as I know, there is not a live debate in philosophy of biology (or philosophy more generally) regarding the viability of neo-Darwinian theories of evolution. There are lots of interesting debates about the details of the theories (e.g., levels of selection, how to understand the mechanism of natural selection, etc.), but no respectable philosophers I know of defend Intelligent Design as an alternative biological theory to evolution by natural selection. There are debates about how to treat the debate itself (e.g., whether ID should be taught--I like to teach Darwin vs. ID in my intro to philosophy class to teach abduction or argument to the best explanation), and philosophers still teach the teleological argument or Design argument for the existence of God (the new versions of these arguments that invoke the probabilities regarding the laws and constants being 'ripe' for a stable, evolution-friendly universe are interesting to discuss). But philosophers often teach such arguments as exercises in the history of ideas and in how to uncover what makes them unsound.

But again, the answer is yes, the consensus is that neo-Darwinian theory is the only viable theory that provides unifying and informative explanations of biological phenomena.

dear sir or madam

dear sir or madam i am a university student of philosophy who is really eager to know about all philosophical aspects of human cloning and actually i am going to write my thesis in ethics of cloning. would you mind if i ask you to kindly tell me which philosophers have worked on this issue and as i am in Iran and i have a very limited access to foreign library, can you please introduce some books to me? your faithfully Hananeh H.

Theists often claim that the complexities of nature and the tiny details that

Theists often claim that the complexities of nature and the tiny details that allow human life to exist are evidence of god, as nothing so intricate and unlikely could happen without a designer. I believe that this is not the case as the universe is infinitely massive, and there are thousands, probably even millions of different planets. Logically, it is inevitable that at least one of those randomly created planets would have the required characteristics for life to survive. Can anybody provide a convincing counter argument to this?

Actually the universe is not infinite, although it is extremely large. Your claim that "it is inevitable that at least one of the millions of planets has the required characteristic for life" is not a logical claim (it is not true because it follows the laws of logic); it is an empirical claim and depends crucially on the likelihood of (a) a suitable planet and (b) suitable evolution on that planet. We don't yet know how likely or unlikely the evolution of life is, because our understanding of evolution, and life, is paltry. Intelligent design theorists take advantage of this ignorance to argue that a designer was necessary for the wonderful yet highly improbable complexity of life. But in fact we do not know how (un)likely life is in this universe or how a designer might work in the universe.

According to Kant, as I understand him, nature has an orderliness that appears

According to Kant, as I understand him, nature has an orderliness that appears (or compels belief in) to have been ordered by a divine power, but that the validity of such an appearance can neither be proved or disproved by the power of (pure) reason. Darwin's theory shows (as I understand it) that all life is the product of successive random forces. Does Kant's philosophy remain unaffected by this Darwinian insight?

You're quite right about Kant. The purposiveness--orderliness--of organisms in particular and, indeed, of nature in general, while manifest in experience, cannot themselves, according to Kant, be proven from experience. In the Critique of Judgment (henceforth referred to as 'KU' and cited from James Creed Meredith's translation, revised by Nicholas Walker [Oxford University Press, 2007]), Kant explains that the principle of the intrinsic purposiveness of organisms "must be derived from experience....But owing to the universality and necessity which that principle predicates of such purposiveness, it cannot rest on merely empirical grounds, but must have some underlying a priori principle" (§ 66). Since, however, according to Kant, and in accordance with Kant's understanding of Newtonianism, nature itself is merely a realm of efficient causes, there is no room in nature for purposiveness (KU § 66), which leads to an antinomy of teleological judgment (KU §§. 69-78, esp. §§. 69-71), very roughly--Kant's conception of an antinomy is somewhat more complicated, but an exposition of it would take us too far afield--a tension between the claims that there is no purposiveness in nature and that there is purposiveness in nature. Kant concludes that it is necessary for the human capacity for reflective judgment--which is the subject of the Critique of Judgment, a title more literally rendered as Critique of the Power of Judgment, as it is translated by Paul Guyer for the edition of that work in the Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant--to conceive of organisms, and, indeed, of nature itself as purposive: "by the constitution of our cognitive faculties...we are absolutely incapable of forming any concept of the possibility of [a purposively ordered] world unless we think a highest cause operating designedly" (KU § 75; my bold). This, however, is no proof of God's existence. "But all that is permissible for us human beings," Kant writes later in § 75, "is the narrow formula: We cannot conceive or render intelligible to ourselves the purposiveness that must be introduced as the basis even of our knowledge of the intrinsic possibility of many natural things, except by representing it, and, in general, the world, as the product of an intelligent cause--in short, of a God."

It's not clear to me that Kant's view is at all affected by the evidence for Darwin's account of evolution that the 'modern synthesis' of Darwin's ideas with genetics has provided. For the "Darwinian insight," it seems to me, is a claim about how traits confer a reproductive advantage on organisms, which--in virtue of the work of geneticists--has been substantiated by our understanding of the efficient causal--that is, genetic--basis of traits. It seems to me that Kant would take Darwin simply to have made a claim about the efficient causal order of natural organisms, and not, therefore, to have shown anything about their purposiveness that would require Kant to reconceive his view that purposiveness itself cannot be proven from mere experience alone.

Let's go a step further. Although it has been claimed that Darwinism refutes the 'argument from design', it's not clear that it does so. After all, why not take the fact that so much is accomplished by such simple means--that organisms develop and change in virtue of the reproductive advantages of traits that are passed along to future generations in virtue of their genes--to be a further proof that there must be a designer? Now Kant himself would reject such 'dogmatism', on the grounds that even the inference from a complicated mechanism to a designer is itself unwarranted: "But suppose teleology brought to the highest pitch of perfection, what would it all prove in the end? Does it prove, for example, that...an intelligent Being really exists?....We are unable...objectively to substantiate the proposition: There is an intelligent original Being" (KU § 75). But Kant's reasons for rejecting the argument from design rest on his theory of cognition, a theory presented in the Critique of Pure Reason, and if one rejects that theory of cognition in favor of a more empiricist theory--a rejection that of course would take quite some argumentation, which I can't even begin to go into here--then one might be able to retain some version of the argument from design after all, even while acknowledging the power of Darwin's insights.

Do I have control over my own brain?

Do I have control over my own brain?

Yes! But my answer is based on my metaphysics. I think that your brain is an essential part of you (along with your body) and that the part of you that consciously considers what to do and makes decisions is a part of your brain. So, you have control over your own brain because processes occurring in your brain control other processes in your brain that cause your bodily actions. Conscious self-control is a (very complex) set of brain processes.

If this sounds counter-intuitive, it is partly because we simply have no good theory about how physical brain processes could be the basis of conscious experiences and thoughts (though we do have pretty good theories about how the brain carries out many cognitive tasks, such as perception, language, and initiation of movement). And it is partly because we have a competing metaphysical theory, largely based on religion, that says that our selves (our conscious minds) are non-physical entities separate from the brain and body (notice that this theory does less than the physicalist theory in giving us any information about how the mind works or how consciousness exists).

Now, if you are inclined to accept the dualist theory that says you are a non-physical entity (whatever that might mean), then it is more difficult to explain how you have control over your brain, because it is difficult to explain (1) how a non-physical entity could interact causally with a physical entity like the brain (surely, control requires causal interaction), and (2) when and where such interaction might occur. The latter problem becomes more difficult as we gain more and more information about how the brain works. There's less and less time and space for a non-physical soul to do any causal work.

So, the difficulty is coming up with a theory of how the brain works that captures most of what we wanted from (and thought was "explained" by) a non-physical mind or soul. We don't have such a theory yet. When we do, I suspect we'll find the problem of free will much less problematic.

Is it moral to use brain-enhancing drugs that have no negative consequences?

Is it moral to use brain-enhancing drugs that have no negative consequences?

A well known neuro-pharmacologist once explained that there are no free rides with drugs-- no brain enhancing drugs that don't have serious negative consequences but if there were I can't imagine what would be morally wrong with using them. Suppose, for instance, that these positive effects followed from eating a certain type of vegetable - would it be wrong to eat the plant? I don't believe so. Now, inasmuch as we often compete on the basis of mental performance, it would be nice to think that everyone had access to this drug. Suppose, for instance, that only millionaires could afford it. Would it be wrong to take it then? Maybe so. But the rich already enjoy vast advantages in the foot race of life, so I don't know that this would be any different. It would just add to the inequalities that we already live with in our society.

My question is straight forward and people rarely have trouble answering. What

My question is straight forward and people rarely have trouble answering. What is life or what makes life to be life? Is it simply just living or is there more to its definitin that we haven't explored. What is life?

There are several sense to the word "life", which derives from a Norse word having to do with the body; in German we have Leib, body. (1) There is a biological sense, which used to be taken to say that things possess life only if they possess respiration, excretion, reproduction, growth, irritability - I like this one - and cells. Locomotion is also characteristic of animal living things. Physiological life is life in this sense. (2) Life can also be taken to be consciousness or psychological life, so that only conscious beings have life; but I think that this should be taken to mean that only conscious beings have a life. Grass is alive, practically eternal, but it does not have a life, and we do not say that the different kinds of grasses lead separate lives because they don't lead lives at all. A derivative sense here is a life, meaning a biography, as in "A life of Churchill". A life in this sense is a book. (3) "Life" can also mean "way of life", so habits, customs and attitudes, as in "the French way of life", and there is also the unappealing idea of a "lifestyle". "Life" here has a cultural and historical sense. "Life must go on", we say, after a war for example. (4) A life can also be a period of time. So my life started in 1951, and will probably end before 2051. "Life insurance" has to do with this sense, I think, though as we all know what you insure against is the thing insured, so that life insurance should really be called death insurance, as accident insurance is insurance against accident. (So-called house insurance is typically insurance against damage to a house and its contents.)

Perhaps it is only in the first of these four senses that there is anything which makes life to be life - as if it could be anything else! I mean that the seven characteristics (to which more recently are added an eighth characteristic - possession of DNA) are taken to make something which would otherwise be dead or non-living into a living thing. But it is not life which is made to be life by these things; rather it is a being or thing which they are said to make to be living.

In the other senses though what makes life life is just that it conforms to the definition, whatever that is. Though there would be no conforming to the psychological and cultural senses without living (unavoidable, more or less, in the psychological sense), there is an extended sense - living well - in which living badly is said to be no life at all. "Get a life", we say, and it can be a cruel saying or merely a hard one.

There may be as well a sense, though one very hard to grasp, in which "life" coincides with existence or world, so that the meaning of life has the sense of the meaning of existence. What I'm amazed at when I am amazed at the existence of life may be the existence of my life, but it may also be amazement at the existence of the world. 'The World and Life are one. Physiological life is of course not "Life". And neither is psychological life. Life is the world', Wittgenstein wrote in Notebooks 1914-1916. Here there is a sense of "true Life", the true Life, which means something one can live and participate in, no doubt, but more - what more is hard, or harder, to grasp.

In one hundred years, will an accomplished philosopher also have to be an

In one hundred years, will an accomplished philosopher also have to be an accomplished neurologist, or does the subject have something to say independent of advances in brain science (posed another way, if we become ultra intelligent humans/machines with thinking capacities far in excess of our current brain, will we still partake in philosophy)?

I suggest that no matter how developed our brain sciences become, we will still have philosophy because the sciences themselves rest on philosophy, a scientific worldview. Without a concept of ourselves, causation and explanation, concepts of observation, and so on, we would not have any science. As for whether philosophers will have to be accomplished neurologists, I think that those philosophers working on human nature will at least need to have a general understanding of the methods and findings of the brain sciences and the general state of play in physics, chemistry, biology and psychology, but not to the point of actually being a scientist in any one of these domains. There are many issues that cannot be settled within the brain sciences themselves, including the nature of thought, emotion, desire, sensation, and so on. I suggest that whether or not machines can think or that human thinking is identical with brain processes is a philosophical matter that cannot be determined scientifically.

Recent advances in scientific research claim to create "artificial life". They

Recent advances in scientific research claim to create "artificial life". They are only replacing DNA in living cells. I cannot find research that describes what life is, where it comes from, how it permeates inanimate molecules and makes them "live". Putting aside the impossible complexity of living cells required to capture and retain life, where does life come from in the first place? We've discovered dark energy and dark matter as being necessary to maintain the state of the universe, yet we can't detect them. We have no idea what gravity is, but it may originate in alternate dimensions. Is it plausible to consider life to be an energy that exists as dark energy exists? Is it all around us and only manifests itself within the proper matrix? Would it exist even if nothing was "alive" in the universe? What is it?

What is the difference between a living thing and a non-living thing? What is "vitality"? This is a difficult question. Once upon a time, it was widely believed that living things are distinguished by possessing a certain substance (an "elan vital") or perhaps by a certain force being present in them alone. This was a legitimate, testable scientific theory ("vitalism") that now appears to be false, since living processes can take place outside of living things (as when digestive enzymes can break down food in the test tube).

Another notable family of views on this question is that living things are alive in virtue of the fact that they carry out certain "life functions" such as growth, self-motion, metabolism, reproduction, and so forth. This view would account for the intermediate cases between life and non-life (such as viruses and whatever entities existed in the early stages of the origins of life on Earth). The intermediate cases could presumably carry out some but not all of the life functions.

Even if there were some sort of substance or energy that is possessed by all and only living things, presumably what makes that substance or energy able to give life is that it allows the living things to perform these characteristic life functions. That's another plus for the life-functions view.

However, it is notoriously difficult to specify these life functions in a way that all and only the canonical living things perform them. I set as a challenge for you to think of things that are not alive but can reproduce, respond to their environment, and undergo evolution by natural selection.

Another interesting complication here arises from the notion of "artificial life" -- not just life created by tinkering with DNA in living cells, but bits of software that behave like living things (such as computer viruses). Bits of computer code can reproduce, respond to their environment, undergo evolution by natural selection, and so forth. Are they alive (or even intermediate cases like biological viruses)? This is a controversial question. Some people think that if a bit of computer code simulates living things closely enough, it goes beyond merely simulating them to being actually alive. Other people think that this is an absurd result and shows that the life-functions view is mistaken.

Another option here is to say that what sets living things apart is not merely that they perform (many of) these life functions, but rather how they do so. Perhaps living things carry out these life functions "emergently": by bottom-up processes the precise outcomes of which cannot be predicted by some calculational short-cut. Some famous cellular automata are good examples of emergence (though they are not alive and perform none of the life functions).

There are many interesting examples in the history of science where the fact that something was alive was invoked to account for its behavior in much the way that an object's being copper can explain its properties and behavior. Whether these are genuine scientific explanations or not will ultimately depend on whether vitality turns out to have an essence or not. This remains an open scientific question.

If, as Dawkins reminds us in "The God Delusion", our cellular self is completely

If, as Dawkins reminds us in "The God Delusion", our cellular self is completely renewed over time, should we absolve the criminal of his crimes after time has passed on the grounds that he is no longer the person that committed the crime - for example, the rapist who is not caught until decades after his crime, or the aging general who committed war crimes. If not, does this prove that there is more to the self-hood of a person than just a collection of cells?

And one might add that the cells themselves are hardly immune from "renewal" at the molecular level. So the short version is: If identity requires complete coincidence of matter, then essentially nothing but sub-atomic particles survive over any reasonable stretch of time. That does rather suggest, though the contrary view is certainly held, that identity over time simply does not require complete coincidence of matter. What it does require is not very clear, but that is no reason to despair.

Of course, the question didn't ask about complete coincidence of matter. But it's unclear why anything less might suffice. And, if it does, then you run into issues about transitivity: A might share much of its matter with B, which shares much of its matter with C; but A and C do not share much of their matter.

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