"Arnhart thinks modern Darwinians can walk a middle road between essentialism and nominalism (Arnhart 1998, 235). But this is untenable. At issue is whether the term species represents a stable ontological reality (that is, a substantial form and/or divine idea) rather than a temporarily useful description. The essentialist says yes, the nominalist no. There is no middle ground. Arnhart's asservation that species can be 'enduring' without being 'eternal' is a distraction. He is right that individual organisms' similarities are not arbitrary given universal common descent, but the designation of 'species' (if meant in the classical sense) on a given group of individuals is. In this way, Arnhart and Darwinian conservatives do not just deny the eternality of species but their classical ontological status.
"The broader Western tradition--from which classical liberalism inherits much--embraced essentialism. . . ." (145)He then indicates that the nominalism that he rejects was espoused by Locke. But now Gage is contradicting himself. If classical liberalism is rooted in essentialism, and if Locke was "the quintessential classical liberal" (198), then how was it possible for Locke to embrace nominalism rather than essentialism?
I have defended a Darwinian conception of species in Darwinian Natural Right (232-38) and many times on this blog. Gage dismisses my arguments quickly: "There is no middle ground. Arnhart's asserveration that species can be 'enduring' without being 'eternal' is a distraction." A distraction? What is that supposed to mean? My argument is that as long as a species has an enduring pattern of distinctive traits, that enduring pattern is real even if it is not eternal. Is Gage a Platonist who believes that nothing is really real unless it is eternally unchanging? Is Gage denying the extensive evidence for the extinction of species, because he believes no species ever has, or ever will, go extinct?
Later on, Gage warns about the dangers that will come from "changing human nature" through biotechnology. "If modern conservatives merely argue that the reason the Left should not seek to remake the family, sex differences, and so on, is because it is impossible to change human biological nature, what will they say as these changes become more and more possible?" (149)
This makes no sense. If Gage is convinced that the human species is eternal, then he must believe that changing human nature is impossible. I have noticed this same contradiction among the many conservatives who worry about the "abolition of man" through biotechnology, while professing to believe in the eternity of species (for example, see Bruce Gordon at pp. 170-171).
A few of my posts on the biological reality of species can be found here, here, and here.
This concludes my series of posts on Stephen Dilley's edited book--Darwinian Evolution and Classical Liberalism. I have invited Dilley to write a response that I will post on this blog. I extend the same invitation to those who contributed to his book.