Critique of TSW Part 23a Heredity-Environment Muddle

Blog 20141029 

Bill’s belief in finity and quest for definition prevents him from considering the interaction between heredity and environment as a unity.

I am ever so grateful to Bill Westmiller, whose comments are marked "BW: ". The quotes marked TSW are from "The Scientific Worldview" and my comments are marked "[GB: ".

Heredity-Environment Muddle (Part 1 of 2)

TSW: "By defining needs as univironments - that is, relations between the microcosm and the macrocosm rather than as properties of either one - ..."

BW: If a Univironment is all things and "needs" are just relations between different sizes, ignoring all other properties, then there isn't anything more to say: one is big, the other small.

[GB: Huh? Bill, where did you ever get that idea? Looks like you just won the championship for over-reduction. Remember the Second Assumption of Science, causality (All effects have an infinite number of material causes). Where do you see anything about “ignoring all other properties” in that assumption?

TSW: "Arrayed on one side of the muddle were the hereditarians ... environmentalists ... believing that [one] is far more important than [the other]."

BW: Perhaps, but neither side claimed the other was unimportant. The general reader might be better able to identify the views as "Nature v. Nurture", but it's actually an issue of causation: "what motivates human action?"

TSW:  "The conservative view can be traced at least as far back as social Darwinist Herbert Spencer ..."

BW: Essentially a Lamarckian (not sure how you can characterize him as a conservative), who believed thoughts and behaviors were inherited by offspring. However, you've taken a big leap from determining what are human "needs" to the political question of how they are satisfied. You've entirely skipped over any analysis of what IS a "need", whether a particular "need" motivates human action, and whether or not it is logically or evidently
"legitimate" to act on that need. Politics is not a good substitute for philosophy.

[GB: There really is only one question that needs to be answered in politics, and it is a univironmental one: Should we do it together or apart? This question permeates all relationships, whether for a couple or a species. The answer continually changes as both the microcosm and macrocosm change. Each answer amounts to an experiment. It applies to all political systems for all time. You are correct that politics is not a substitute for philosophy. While the answer to the political question must continually change, the correct answer to the philosophical question remains unchanged, although the struggle between determinism and indeterminism likewise is interminable.

BTW: I have already explained how we use univironmental determinism to discover needs. Like the political question, these are continually in flux. For the most part, we must observe behavior before we can, after the fact, claim that a need has been met. Thus, I need food, but do I need it right this second, or later today, or after a week? I sense that, like Freud and many others, you would like to reduce the millions of human needs to one or a few so you could make your explanations fit your particular politics and ethics. Good luck with that.]

TSW:  "Spencer ... failed to see the attempt to eradicate poverty as part of the evolutionary process."

BW: You're simply assuming that there is a legitimate human "need" to eradicate poverty. You might make the case that every human has a "need" to acquire resources, or that relative wealth is a bad condition, but you haven't
done that: you've simply assumed it.

[GB: I think that concern for others is univironmental. From birth, we are social beings who reach out to others as “part of the evolutionary process.” The rejection of others is also “part of the evolutionary process.” From early on, our species found it necessary to distinguish between friend and foe. The tribe of one’s birth was the friend and the neighboring trespasser was the foe. Overtime, of course, we have changed that assessment from tribal to nation state, and now to a global state as we inevitably widen our acquaintanceship. Malthus’s analysis, like Spencer’s, was from a conservative, myopic point of view. Both could dismiss all those millions of starving people only because they did not consider them friends. In this case, their microcosmic mistake must be considered one of great failures of systems philosophy, second only to the Big Bang Theory itself.

Whether extreme wealth or extreme poverty is bad or good is merely a political question. Like all political questions, it will be handled in political ways. Wealth, like power, is neither good nor bad, its effect simply depends on who has it. Even bourgeois economists worry about what will happen as global wealth becomes ever-more concentrated (Thomas Piketty, 2014, Capital in the twenty-first century: Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 685 p.).]

BW: Politics is not a good substitute for philosophy.

TSW:  "... whenever different races are compared, the investigator’s own race does best of all."

BW: Is race consciousness or preference an illegitimate "need" of humans? Maybe, maybe not. You haven't made the argument, you've simply assumed that it was a "bad" need, entirely jumping over the discussion of whether race is a *fundamental characteristic* of homo sapiens ... because that would require defining your terms, establishing identities, and arguing that racial views are logically inconsistent with the evidence. Apparently, you don't want to talk about human "needs", just means to satisfy what you assert to be legitimate needs.

[GB: Huh? The quoted statement is correct. I thought that Gould did a good job in backing that up in his book (Gould, S.J., 1981, The mismeasure of man: New York, Norton, 352 p.). It is fact, not opinion. In science, we try to avoid political statements, such as those about what is good or bad, legitimate or illegitimate. Maybe you are thinking of some other book.]

TSW:  "Racists, by anyone’s definition, are to be found on the hereditarian, microcosmic, side of the argument."

BW: Racism is the belief that incidental physical attributes are the *fundamental criterion" for deciding whether one human's "needs" are more legitimate than another's. That's ridiculous, but entirely posterior to the question
of what generic human "needs" are, whether they are proper, and how they might be satisfied. Simply saying that it's a "microcosmic" view is superfluous: genomes are small, individual genes are smaller; some are critical and
others are not. An analysis of "needs" has nothing to do with arbitrary divisions based on size.

[GB: Remember that the discussion here involves the relation between microcosm and macrocosm (heredity and environment)—nothing to do with size. Univironmental analysis is useful because it emphasizes the microcosm and macrocosm equally. When an investigator fails to do this by overemphasizing either the microcosm or the macrocosm, the analysis is sure to be incorrect.]

BW: Moreover, race isn't any more or less "hereditarian" than nose size. One can acknowledge the role of hereditary genetic characteristics without being a racist. Nor is racism "one side of the argument" about whether Nature or
Nurture is more influential: it's just a false claim about what IS the "Nature" of human beings. So, your characterization of the "sides" is almost entirely false.

[GB: Disagree. As I have been stressing all along, we must not view the microcosm as being estranged from its macrocosm. The point in this chapter is show that univironmental determinism applies to humans as well. The Heredity-Environment Muddle was just a handy example of what can go wrong in the analysis when the proper univironmental balance is not honored, whether for overt political reasons or not. Again, I do not think of humans as having a “nature” independent of their environments.]

Next: Heredity-Environment Muddle (Part 2 of 2)

cotsw 048


Bligh said...

TSW: "The conservative view can be traced at least as far back as social Darwinist Herbert Spencer ..."
Not a social Darwinist.
“ Herbert Spencer SEP First published Sun Dec 15, 2002; substantive revision Mon Sep 17, 2012
Herbert Spencer (1820–1903) is typically, though quite wrongly, considered a coarse social Darwinist. After all, Spencer, and not Darwin, coined the infamous expression “survival of the fittest”, leading G. E. Moore to conclude erroneously in Principia Ethica (1903) that Spencer committed the naturalistic fallacy. According to Moore, Spencer's practical reasoning was deeply flawed insofar as he purportedly conflated mere survivability (a natural property) with goodness itself (a non-natural property).
Roughly fifty years later, Richard Hofstadter devoted an entire chapter of Social Darwinism in American Thought (1955) to Spencer, arguing that Spencer's unfortunate vogue in late nineteenth-century America inspired Andrew Carnegie and William Graham Sumner's visions of unbridled and unrepentant capitalism. For Hofstadter, Spencer was an “ultra-conservative” for whom the poor were so much unfit detritus. His social philosophy “walked hand in hand” with reaction, making it little more than a “biological apology for laissez-faire” (Hofstadter, 1955: 41 and 46). But just because Carnegie interpreted Spencer's social theory as justifying merciless economic competition, we shouldn't automatically attribute such justificatory ambitions to Spencer. Otherwise, we risk uncritically reading the fact that Spencer happened to influence popularizers of social Darwinism into our interpretation of him. We risk falling victim to what Skinner perceptively calls the “mythology of prolepsis.”
Spencer's reputation has never fully recovered from Moore and Hofstadter's interpretative caricatures, thus marginalizing him to the hinterlands of intellectual history, though recent scholarship has begun restoring and repairing his legacy. Happily, in rehabilitating him, some scholars have begun to appreciate just how fundamentally utilitarian his practical reasoning was……..”

Bligh said...

Response part 2
But yes, he was a conservative…”Recent scholars have misinterpreted Spencer's theory rights because, among other reasons, they have no doubt misunderstood Spencer's motives for writing The Man Versus the State. The essay is a highly polemical protest, in the name of strong rights as the best antidote, against the dangers of incremental legislative reforms introducing socialism surreptitiously into Britain. Its vitriolic, anti-socialist language surely accounts for much of its sometimes nasty social Darwinist rhetoric, which is unmatched in Spencer's other writings notwithstanding scattered passages in The Principles of Ethics and in The Principles of Sociology (1876–96).[2]”
I am not an expert on Spencer either but labeling Spencer Lamarckian implies that Spencer thought that acquired characteristics were passed on directly from acquirer to progeny. I think (see ref) that he meant acquired as inherent in evolution. At a fundamental level, change is an acquiring process where the microcosm reacts to the macrocosm. I think he meant that, not as we would think of genetic transference of traits. Two different subjects. I might be wrong but it appears the literature doesn’t clarify what I just said, therefore the debate. Bligh http://evolutioncognition.wordpress.com/2013/05/26/adaptation-and-progress-spencers-criticism-of-lamarck/

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