Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Science of Modern Virtue--A New Book

Northern Illinois University Press has published a new book edited by Peter Lawler and Marc Guerra, The Science of Modern Virtue: On Descartes, Darwin, and Locke.  My chapter in the book is entitled "The Darwinian Science of Aristotelian Virtue." 

Here's the Table of Contents:

Preface: Modern Science on Who We Are as Free and/or Relational Beings
1—Locke, Darwin, and the Science of Modern Virtue
Peter Augustine Lawler
2—The Virtue of Science and the Science of Virtue: Descartes' Overcoming of Socrates
Thomas Hibbs
3—Notes on “The Virtue of Science and the Science of Virtue”
Daniel P. Maher
4—More Cartesian than Descartes: Reflections on Spinoza in the Spirit of Tocqueville
Samuel Goldman
5—Locke's Explanation of How the Science of Civil Society Corrects the Natural Authority of Virtue
James R. Stoner, Jr.
6—The Problem of Human Equality in Locke's Political Philosophy
Sara M. Henary
7—Locke, Darwin, and the Social Individualism of Virtue
Lauren K. Hall
8—Descartes, Locke, and the Virtue of the Individual
Marc D. Guerra
9—Science, Virtue, and the Birth of Modernity; Or, On the Techno-Theo-Logic of Modern Neuroscience
Jeffrey P. Bishop
10—The Mutual Sacrifice of Science and Virtue
Ralph Hancock
11—The Scientific Life as a Moral Life? Virtue and the Cartesian Scientist
Tobin L. Craig
12—The Darwinian Science of Aristotelian Virtue
Larry Arnhart
13—Logon Didonai: The Case of the Darwinian Conservative
Paul Seaton

This book is based on material from a conference at Berry College, in the fall of 2010, on "The Science of Virtue."  I wrote a post on the conference, which includes links to other relevant posts.

At the conference, Paul Seaton (a philosophy professor at Saint Mary's Seminary in Baltimore) was the commentator on my lecture.  His commentary consisted of some strangely comic remarks that were hard to understand.

Later, when I saw the edited NIU Press manuscript, I discovered that Seaton had written a long paper criticizing my paper, although he had not sent me a copy of his paper or even alerted me that he was writing such a paper.  Consequently, I had no opportunity to write a response.

I assume this was deliberate, because he says in his paper that he had concluded that "genuine philosophical dialogue was unlikely with Arnhart."  He also identifies me as "someone who shows no signs of being philosophical," as having "a mind that couldn't get outside of itself," as having a "phantasmagoric fancy," and as showing "carelessness of characterization and reading."  Those who read our papers can decide for themselves whether he's right.  But I doubt that anyone would say that I have the imaginative capacity required for "phantasmagoric fancy"!

The Freiburg Workshop (6): The Evolutionary Science of Classical Liberalism

        At the Freiburg workshop, I restated my argument that we have at least twenty natural desires rooted in our evolved human nature, and that a free and open society as promoted by classical liberalism gives individuals the fullest freedom to pursue the satisfaction of those natural desires.  If the good is the desirable, then we can judge the classically liberal society to be better than those societies that do not allow individuals the same freedom to satisfy their natural desires.

        In his paper for the workshop, Jan Schnellenbach (Economics, Walter Eucken Institute, Freiburg) contended that I was wrong about this, because we must make trade-offs between these natural desires, and the trade-offs made by liberal policies are no more closer to human nature than the trade-offs made by illiberal policies.  “In general,” he wrote, “our many natural dispositions need not be mutually consistent, and the weights between them are likely to differ between individuals."  He claimed that “evolution likely endows individuals with a variety of heterogeneous traits and dispositions, which in turn implies a variety in policy preferences.” 

        But here he misses my point that it’s precisely this heterogeneity in how individuals rank their natural desires that makes liberal policies superior to illiberal policies, because while illiberal policies impose coercively a single ranking of desires, liberal policies do not impose a single ranking of desires on all.  In a liberal, largely open society, individuals are free to choose how to rank their natural desires, as long as this respects the equal liberty of others in their ranking.  Thus, liberal policies respect the natural heterogeneity of individuals, while illiberal policies do not.

         As indicated by Victor Vanberg at the workshop, Hayek makes this same point when he distinguishes between two kinds of “social planning.”  Illiberal planning organizes society by “a system of specific orders and prohibitions,” while liberal planning establishes “a rational system of law, under the rule of which people are free to follow their preferences.”

         I largely agreed with what Vanberg said about Hayek and the need for “evolution within constraints.”  I also agreed with him in criticizing Hayek’s suggestion that the market order requires a suppression of our natural human desires.  This is what I have identified as Hayek’s Freudian theory of human evolution, in which civilization requires the repression of our evolved human instincts.  Here is where Hayek’s argument for liberalism becomes incoherent. 

         If a liberal society is so painful because it requires the suppression of our deepest natural instincts, why does it succeed?  And if a socialist society satisfies our deepest natural instincts, why does it fail? 

         As I have indicated in some previous posts, I see the same incoherence in the “mismatch theory” of Leda Cosmides and John Tooby.  Last June, at the meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society in the Galapagos Islands, Cosmides and Tooby indicated their agreement with Hayek on this point.  At times, they seemed to say that Karl Marx was right about the “primitive communism” of hunter-gatherers, but at other times, they seemed to say that Marx was wrong, because even hunter-gatherers show only conditional sharing or reciprocation, and therefore their sharing is not indiscriminate.  Moreover, Tooby and Cosmides seemed to agree with John Locke and Adam Smith in seeing trading behavior in hunter-gatherers that would provide the natural basis for the modern commercial society.

         Understanding our evolution as moral animals requires that we understand the complex interaction between our moral nature, our moral culture, and our moral judgment.  This interaction of nature, culture, and judgment was a theme in the paper presented by Margaret Shabas (Philosophy, University of British Columbia).

         Schabas said that John Stuart Mill “believed that some of our traits are instinctive while others, our moral sense for example, are acquired.  But they emanate out of our intrinsic nature and in that sense are organic to our species.”   She then quoted from Mill’s Utilitarianism: “Like the other acquired capacities above referred to [speech and reason], the moral faculty, if not part of our nature, is a natural outgrowth from it; capable, like them, in a certain small degree, of springing up spontaneously; and susceptible of being brought by cultivation to a high degree of development.”

          In his Descent of Man, Darwin quotes from this same passage in Mill’s Utilitarianism, which Darwin finds contradictory.  Darwin argues that human morality is rooted in evolved social instincts.  He finds Mill confusing on this point, because Mill seems to say that morality both is and is not naturally instinctive. 

          Darwin and Mill are actually in agreement, I think, in seeing that natural moral instincts are necessary but not sufficient for the full development of moral life.  For Darwin, the first step in the evolution of morality is to have the social instincts that “lead an animal to take pleasure in the society of its fellows, to feel a certain amount of sympathy with them, and to perform various services for them.”   But this is only the first step.  The other steps include the mental capacity for deliberation, language that expresses social praise and blame, and social habituation.

While we commonly separate nature and nurture or nature and art, animal nature—including human moral nature—must be nurtured if it is to reach its natural completion, and this nurturing of our nature includes both cultural learning and individual judgment.  That’s why I say that Darwinian anthropology moves through three interacting levels.  Human nature constrains but does not determine human culture.  And human nature and human culture jointly constrain but do not determine human judgment.
The issue of whether liberal democratic regimes conform better to the constraints of evolved human nature than do illiberal authoritarian regimes is an empirical question.  Albert Somit and Steven Peterson have argued that liberal democracies require an egalitarian social structure that is contrary to our evolved human inclination to a hierarchical social structure in which the submissive many defer to the dominant few. 
Gregory Levit (History of Science, King's College & Jena University) criticized this argument in his paper for the workshop.  I agree with him.  But he doesn’t see the fundamental problem with the position of Somit and Peterson.
They assume that liberal democracy must be completely egalitarian, with no hierarchy at all.  If this were true, then the record of history would show that there has never been a liberal democracy, because every society has some differences in social rank.  And, indeed, I have argued that there is a natural desire for social ranking.
Levit cites Christopher Boehm’s book Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior.  But he doesn’t notice that Boehm argues against Somit and Peterson in claiming—rightly I think—that even in foraging societies, there is a hierarchy, but it’s an “egalitarian hierarchy,” in which subordinates use sanctions to restrain those with propensities to dominate.  Boehm then shows how modern liberal democracies can be interpreted as egalitarian hierarchies, with a formal or informal system of checks and balances that allows for “a moderate degree of leadership” without exploitative rule of dominants over subordinates.  Here, then, modern liberal democracies conform to the natural human dispositions shaped in the evolutionary history of hunter-gatherers.
In the evolution of hunter-gatherers, we can also see the evolution of social order as based on sympathy, which is rightly understood by Adam Smith as “our fellow-feeling with any passion whatever.”  Smith shows us how the moral order of society can be explained through our natural desire for a mutual sympathy of sentiments. 
In his paper for the workshop, Alain Marciano (Economics, University of Montpellier) made a good argument for how Smith’s sentimentalist psychology of sympathy supports the liberal understanding of how social order can emerge as a largely spontaneous, self-regulatory order.  
Marciano also showed, however, that Smith recognized the limits of sympathy as extended to strangers or people outside one’s own group, and so he saw that economic exchange might need to depend mostly on self-interest rather than benevolence.
Modern evolutionary psychology has largely confirmed Smith’s understanding of how our nature as both self-regarding and other-regarding animals supports the social orders of moral and economic cooperation. 
And, thus, once again, we see , as I argued at the workshop, that Darwinian science supports classical liberalism by showing that Adam Smith was right about almost everything.


The Freiburg Workshop (5): Ruse on Darwin's "Terrifying" Liberal Theory of Morality

Michael Ruse is the most important philosopher and historian of evolutionary thought of the past fifty years.  I remember well how instructive it was for me to read his Darwinian Revolution in 1979, when I was starting to think about the implications of Darwinian evolutionary science for political philosophy.  Since then, he has written a shelf of books that have made a profound contribution to our understanding of the moral, political, theological, and epistemological ramifications of evolutionary thinking.

At the Freiburg workshop, Ruse presented a paper on "Darwin and Liberalism: Adam Smith and John Rawls."  He argued that Darwin's thought was decisively shaped by the liberalism of his family and by liberal English and Scottish thinkers like David Hume and Adam Smith.  He also argued that while John Rawls could accept Darwin's liberal theory of morality as explaining the origin of morality, he could not accept it as explaining the justification of morality, because he agreed with Kant that the justification of morality required morality to be rooted in the necessary conditions for rational beings in society.

Despite my fundamental agreement with Ruse, I disagree with some of the ways that he describes the Darwinian approach to morality.  For example, he says that Darwin’s evolutionary theory of morality is “terrifying,” and that it shows “total skepticism about the foundations of morality,” because “being good is just a matter of a fancy kind of emotion.”

This reminds me of a remark by Ruse and E. O. Wilson in a 1985 article, in which they said: “Ethics as we understand it is an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to cooperate (so that human genes survive). . . . Furthermore, the way our biology enforces its ends is by making us think that there is an objective higher code to which we are all subject.”  This remark has been made famous (if not infamous) by creationists and intelligent design theorists who repeatedly quote it to show the immoralism or nihilism of any Darwinian account of morality.

I think that Ruse’s point here is the same as my point in my paper for the workshop about liberal evolutionary morality being rooted in a moral anthropology but not in a moral cosmology.  That is to say, human morality is rooted in human nature, human culture, and human judgment, but not in a cosmic Nature, a cosmic God, or a cosmic Reason. 

But I see no warrant for describing this as a “terrifying” teaching that morality is an “illusion.”  Ruse seems to assume a Platonic or Kantian view that the truth of morality would require that it be written into the eternal order of the cosmos, and so if it isn’t, then morality is an illusion. 

But surely the fact that we humans have evolved to be moral animals is an objective truth about us that will remain true for as long as we endure as the kind of animals that we are.

Darwin agreed with me about this, as indicated by his response to Frances Cobbe, who was like Ruse in finding Darwin's teaching "terrifying," because it denied her Kantian belief that only a cosmic morality could be an objectively true morality.  Like most moral and political philosophers today, Ruse takes the side of Cobbe against Darwin.

Some of my posts on this point can be found here, here., here, and here.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Freiburg Workshop (4): Hayek's Evolutionary Liberal Morality in "The Fatal Conceit"

At the Freiburg workshop, much of the discussion of whether evolutionary science supports classical liberalism turned on the interpretation of Friedrich Hayek's account of the evolution of civilization through the spontaneous moral order of cooperation created by competitive markets.  Hayek's fullest statement of his evolutionary theory is in his last book--The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism (University of Chicago Press, 1988).  Some of Hayek's readers see this book as contradicting some of his other writing.  Many of those who otherwise agree with Hayek find his argument in this book for evolution by group selection unpersuasive.  This discussion is complicated by the fact that Hayek became too ill in the last years of his life to finish The Fatal Conceit, which was completed through the editorial work of W. W. Bartley III, and some of Hayek's readers suspect that much of the writing in the book is not Hayek's but Bartley's.

Some of the problems in the interpretation and assessment of The Fatal Conceit were evident in Viktor Vanberg's presentation of his paper on "The Darwinian Paradigm, Cultural Evolution, and Human Purposes: On F.A. Hayek's Evolutionary View of the Market," which has been published online as an article for the Journal of Evolutionary Economics.  Here's the abstract:
"The claim that the Darwinian paradigm of blind-variation-and-selective-retention can be generalized from the biological to the socio-cultural realm has often been questioned because of the critical role played by human purposeful design in the process of cultural evolution.  In light of the issue of how human purposes and evolutionary forces interact in socio-economic processes, the paper examines F.A. Hayek's arguments on the 'extended order' of the market (capitalism), in particular with regard to their policy implications.  Its focus is on the tension that exists in Hayek's work between a rational liberal and an agnostic evolutionary perspective.  A reconstruction of his arguments is suggested that allows for a reconciliation of these seemingly contradictory views."
"Rational liberalism" is Vanberg's term for Hayek's promotion in much of his writing of the classical liberalism of Hume and Smith as a "conception of a desirable order" (Studies in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics, University of Chicago Press, 1967, p. 160).  In The Constitution of Liberty, Hayek presents himself as a political philosopher arguing for classical liberalism as an ideal that indicates "desirable directions of development" (5).  Rather than provide a detailed program of policy, he is concerned to indicate how particular policies should be guided by "some general conception of the social order desired, some coherent image of the kind of world in which the people want to live" (114).

This seems to be contradicted, however, by the "evolutionary agnosticism" that Vanberg sees in Hayek's Fatal Conceit.  Evolution selects for survival and reproductive success, Hayek claims, and through cultural group selection, the groups that adopted the moral rules supporting the extended order of cooperation tended to have larger populations and greater wealth than those groups that resisted the extended order.  Now, as a consequence of this evolution, accelerating over the last three hundred years, the market order supports the largest human population and greatest wealth that has ever appeared in human history.  But in this evolution, "our desires and wishes are largely irrelevant" (134), and "there is no reason to suppose that the selection by evolution of such habitual practices as enabled men to nourish larger numbers had much if anything to do with the production of happiness" (69).  Hayek even uses italics in stating his general denial that evolution conforms to our moral desires: "Evolution cannot be just" (74).  Evolutionary success does not conform to moral goodness.  "I do not claim," Hayek observes, "that the results of group selection of traditions are necessarily 'good'--any more than I claim that other things that have long survived in the course of evolution, such as cockroaches, have moral value" (27).

Far from satisfying human desires, Hayek argues, the evolution of civilization has required that human beings adopt abstract rules for an extended order of cooperation based on market exchanges among strangers motivated by self-interest, even though this frustrates the instinctive desires of human beings for living in small tribal groups in which social order is based on solidarity and altruism in serving shared common ends with known individuals.  Hayek compares his argument here to Freud's argument in Civilization and Its Discontents, in which the cultural evolution of civilized norms requires the repression of the deepest instincts of human nature (Fatal Conceit, 18).

There seems to be a clear contradiction here--between arguing for liberalism as a desirable order and arguing that the evolution of a liberal order does not conform to human desires.  To overcome this contradiction, we might suggest that The Fatal Conceit is not an genuine expression of Hayek's thought, because of the influence of Bartley's editing. But as Vanberg indicates, the general argument of The Fatal Conceit can be found in Hayek's Hobhouse lecture--"The Three Sources of Human Values"--published in 1979 as an Epilogue to the third volume of Law, Legislation, and Liberty.  As in The Fatal Conceit, Hayek there insists that the evolution of the extended order that constitutes civilization does not necessarily conform to our desires.  "Man has been civilized very much against his wishes.  It was the price he had to pay for being able to raise a larger number of children" (1979, 168).  I agree with Vanberg about this, and I would add that even in The Constitution of Liberty (particularly in chapters 2-4), we can see the general argument of The Fatal Conceit.

This apparent contradiction in Hayek's writing points to a problem in any evolutionary defense of liberalism--such as mine!  How can we defend the liberal order of extended cooperation as desirable, while conceding that the evolutionary process through which that liberal order has emerged has not been directed to the fullest satisfaction of human desires?

Vanberg resolves this contradiction by distinguishing two kinds of human desires: "what is at stake here is not a conflict between 'man's wishes' per se and the order of the market, but a conflict between different kinds of human desires, between desires that are served by the cooperation in small groups and desires that can be better satisfied in the extended order of the market.  Even if the market frustrated certain kinds of human wishes, it was able to prevail because it offered a more attractive environment for people to live in than the alternatives."

I agree with this.  Although Hayek did not elaborate and emphasize this point as much as he should have, he did distinguish two fundamental levels or kinds of desire:
"Part of our present difficulty is that we must constantly adjust our lives, our thoughts and our emotions, in order to live simultaneously within different kinds of orders according to different rules.  If we were to apply the unmodified, uncurbed, rules of the micro-cosmos (i.e., of the small band or troop, or of, say, our families) to the macro-cosmos (our wider civilization), as our instincts and sentimental yearnings often make us wish to do, we would destroy it.  Yet if we were always to apply the rules of the extended order to our more intimate groupings, we would crush them.  So we must learn to live in two sorts of world at once" (Fatal Conceit, 18).
Hayek worries that the appeal of socialism to our instinctive desires to live in small communal groups will destroy civilization by applying the concrete rules of solidarity appropriate for small groups to the extended order that requires abstract rules of exchange.  But notice that he also sees the need to protect the intimate life of families and small groups based on love and personal commitment from the impersonal rules of a market order.

Spontaneous ordering works best for social coordination where the tasks are very complex and where they involve large numbers of people who interact anonymously. But deliberate organization works best for those tasks of social coordination that are simple enough and involve such a small number of people interacting face-to-face and sharing a common purpose that they can be planned out by deliberate design. The family is one of the social institutions that works best as a deliberate organization rather than as a spontaneous order.  It is important, then, Hayek explains, that we neither apply the rules of the market to family life nor apply the rules of family life to the market.

Family life serves at least three functions in satisfying our evolved natural desires for sexual mating, parental care, and familial bonding. Parental care provides for human offspring who have evolved needs for adult care to secure their existence, their nourishment, and their social education, which make possible their growth into healthy adults. Even childless families satisfy the evolved human desires for spousal love and kinship ties.

Hayek's idea of "living in two worlds at once" points to the need for the family as an institution in which children can learn the moral rules for both the micro world of face-to-face interactions and the macro world of anonymous interactions in the extended spontaneous order of society.

The Hayekian insight is that families are best situated to do this because of their advantage in knowledge and incentives. The intimacy of the family allows parents to have an intimate knowledge of each child's individual character and situation that allow parents to teach them their social lessons--by both explicit instruction and implicit example--in a manner that is suitable for the individual child. At the same time, parents (normally) have a love for their children that gives them the incentives to care for their children's rearing in a way that is specially designed for them. No extended order of spontaneous cooperation could provide either the knowledge or the incentives that arise within the intimate experience of families.

The reasons that justify private families--because parents have the most knowledge of their children and the strongest incentives to care properly for their children--are comparable to the reasons that justify private property, because private property owners have the knowledge and the incentives to care best for that property.

Steve Horwitz has elaborated a Hayekian view of the family, which was the subject of a previous post.

Living both in families and in extended market orders illustrates what Hayek means by living in two worlds.  The purpose of The Fatal Conceit is to explain why we must learn to live in two worlds by explaining the evolution of the moral rules that sustain those two worlds.  Thus, the book is primarily a book on the evolution of morality, and particularly the liberal morality of the extended market order.  The basic question it tries to answer, Hayek says, is "how does our morality emerge, and what implications may its mode of coming into being have for our economic and political life?" (8).

On the one hand, there is the instinctive altruistic morality of familial bonding and group solidarity that evolved genetically among our hunter-gatherer ancestors, which was adapted for life in small foraging groups of family members and friends intentionally acting for common ends.  On the other hand, there is the acquired commercial morality of private property, exchange, saving, honesty, and contract that evolved culturally after the development of agriculture and urban life allowed human beings to live in large settlements, which was adapted for living in an extended order of market exchange in which strangers could cooperate with one another for mutual benefit without knowing or caring for one another and without intentionally acting for common ends (34, 67, 70, 80-81, 118-19, 130, 134).

The whole history of civilization over the past 10,000 years, Hayek argues, is a history of cultural evolution moving from the primitive morality of small groups shaped genetically for foraging bands or tribes to the civilized morality of extended orders of cooperation shaped culturally for market exchange binding together great multitudes of individuals unknown to one another but collaborating spontaneously for the benefit of all.  Thus, the modern liberal order that has made possible the explosion of population and wealth over the past few centuries is the consummation of millennia of cultural evolution.

The critical turning point in this cultural evolution from altruistic morality to commercial morality was the development of moral rules of private property--or "several property" as Hayek prefers to call it.  Once individuals could own and exchange property, they could develop through exchange and specialization ever more extended networks of productive collaboration that would be mutually beneficial for all the participants.  This makes human civilization possible, as well as the modern emergence of the global commercial order that sustains the unprecedented growth in population and wealth that we have seen in recent centuries.

Consequently, the modern scorn for the morality of private property that began in the modern world with Rousseau and continues with the socialist threat to destroy civilization.

Hayek's argument for classical liberalism in The Fatal Conceit thus displays at least three remarkable features, in identifying liberalism with civilization, morality, and evolution.  Rather than being a recent development in human history, liberalism is seen by Hayek as the condition for all civilization, understood as the extension of order through market exchange beyond primitive families and small groups.  Liberalism is also seen as rooted in a distinctive morality--the commercial morality of trade based on the bourgeois virtues of honesty, reciprocity, prudence, and tolerance.  And liberalism is seen as the product of a largely spontaneous evolutionary history.

I agree with most of this.  But I do have seven criticisms.

1.  Although I agree with Hayek about the tension between the primitive morality of small groups and the civilized morality of the extended order, I think he exaggerates this when he assumes a Freudian conception, in which the moral instincts must be repressed by moral culture.  This is the "mismatch" theory of Leda Cosmides and John Tooby that was stated by Hayek in The Constitution of Liberty (40):  our genetically evolved brains are adapted for the Stone Age and not for modern civilized life as shaped by cultural evolution over the last few thousand years.  The primary weakness in this position is the assumption that Karl Marx was right about hunter-gatherers being communists, because they had no experience with private property or trade. 

While Hayek generally assumes that trade did not exist at all until the last few thousand years of human history, he sometimes admits that there is some evidence of trade going back hundreds of thousands of years (Fatal Conceit, 11, 16-17, 29, 38-45, 60, 133).  "Some specialization and exchange may already have developed in early small communities guided entirely by the consent of their members.  Some nominal trade may have taken place as primitive men, following the migration of animals, encountered other men and groups of men" (38). 

I agree with Matt Ridley that Adam Smith was right in arguing that the "propensity to truck, barter, and exchange" is a human propensity going deep into human evolutionary history and thus is probably  instinctive, even though that instinctive propensity has been elaborated by the cultural evolution of the extended order.  Some of my posts on this can be found here, here, and here.

2. In order to sharply separate cultural evolution from biological evolution, Hayek makes the strange assertion that biology is nothing more than genetics.  In The Evolution of Culture in Animals, John Tyler Bonner argued that culture is "as biological as any other function of an organism, for instance respiration or locomotion" (10).  Hayek rejects this and declares: "What is not transmitted by genes is not a biological phenomenon" (25).  Although genetics is certainly fundamental for modern biology, it's hard to understand Hayek's claim that all of biology beyond genetics is not really biology. 

Most importantly for evolutionary liberalism, this would ignore the important advances in recent decades in the biological study of culture in explaining animal behavior.  Human beings are not the only animals who show cultural learning and cultural traditions.  Moreover, much of Darwin's work--particularly in The Descent of Man--embraced cultural evolution. 

In contrast to Hayek, it would be reasonable to say that the biological science of evolution moves through four levels of evolutionary inheritance--genetic, epigenetic, behavioral, and symbolic.  The only uniquely human level of evolution is symbolic, which includes the evolutionary transmission of ideas in moral and political philosophy, to which Hayek wanted to contribute through his arguments for liberal ideas.  Ideas, Hayek declared, "govern evolution" (see The Constitution of Liberty, 6, 34-35, 103, 112-13, 411). 

Some of my points here are elaborated in posts here, here, and here.

3. At the Freiburg workshop, I complained that in our discussions of cultural evolution nothing was being said about a crucial factor for human evolution--war.  After all, many of the critical turning points in human cultural evolution were decided on battlefields.  For example, if the Ottoman Empire had not been defeated in its attempt to conquer Western Europe, we might now be living under Sharia, and the Western evolution of liberalism might have been stopped.  Or if the Nazis had won World War Two, or the Soviets had won the Cold War, this might have brought the end of liberalism. 

Some of the people at the workshop responded by saying that war was no longer important, because now we settle most of our conflicts peacefully without war.  But, of course, that begs the question.  How can we be sure that the course of evolution towards liberalism cannot be reversed through the military success of illiberal orders? 

In The Fatal Conceit, Hayek briefly acknowledges the importance of war, but then he doesn't explain how this fits into his evolutionary theory.  He recognizes that evolution by group selection has often been bloody and that evolution has often been decided by military conquest.  He also suggests that "the greater military strength of commercially organized people will often have accelerated the process" of the evolution of extended order by group selection (121, 130).  Didn't the global emergence of the liberal order in the 19th century depend crucially on the power of the British Empire enforced by the British Navy?  Hasn't the global expansion of trade since World War Two depended on the Pax Americana enforced by the military power of the United States? 

Hayek also admits that in time of war, a large civilization can and must be organized by a central plan directed to a common end shared by all (19-20, 63).  But he doesn't reflect on the implications of this--that in a total war socialist planning is possible and desirable. 

Should we assume that the economic power of a liberal order can be translated into military power?  Or should we assume that liberal culture promotes declining violence and peaceful cooperation (as Steven Pinker suggests)? 

Some of my posts on these points can be found here, hereherehere, and here.

4. Although Hayek presents The Fatal Conceit as a work of evolutionary ethics, he never clearly explains the grounding of his ethics.  Sometimes, he seems to accept the fact/value dichotomy in claiming that he is making a purely factual argument without value judgments (27-28).  But at other times, he seems to be endorsing the "morals of markets" (67, 81, 130). 

I think the most reasonable position for Hayek would have been to state his evolutionary ethics as based on hypothetical imperatives rather than categorical imperatives:  if human beings want to fulfill the full range of their desires, they need to combine--even if in some tense balance--the altruistic morality of small groups and the commercial morality of extended orders.  Although we cannot prove that the commercial morality of civilization is justified, we can observe that because of the natural propensity to better one's condition, "people will usually choose civilization if they have the choice" (134). 

I have written a post on the hypothetical imperatives of natural goodness.

5. Hayek is famous for arguing that a "free society" cannot be a "just society," because the coercive allocation of resources according to some judgment of moral merit or just deserts would destroy freedom.  In The Fatal Conceit, he repeats that argument in his criticism of the idea of "social justice" and in his claim that the evolution of the extended order must be morally indifferent, because "evolution is not just."  But this contradicts his claim that the rules of the extended order are moral rules and that those rules enforce justice. 

Hayek writes: "the justice that political authority must enforce, if it wants to secure the peaceful cooperation among individuals on which prosperity rests, cannot exist without the recognition of private property: 'Where there is no property, there is no justice,' is a proposition as certain as any demonstration in Euclid: for the idea of property being a right to anything, and the idea to which the name of injustice is given being the invasion or violation of that right; it is evident that these ideas being thus established, and these names annexed to them, I can as certainly know this proposition to be true as that a triangle has three angles equal to two right ones" (34). 

What Hayek implies, but does not clearly say, is that while distributive justice is appropriate for small groups, commutative justice is appropriate for the extended order.  Here, again, we must learn to live in two worlds.  And while distributive justice is not appropriate for the extended market order, some of the wealth created by that order will be voluntarily redistributed by its individual owners through their personal charity, and thus, Hayek observes, we can "gratify our instinctive longing to do visible good" (81). 

Moreover, the "morals of the market" are altruistic in their effects as promoting the common welfare, even though their intentionality is not altruistic (81, 117-19).

6.  Only in passing does Hayek indicate that the benefits of the extended market order include not just "material comfort" but also "advanced culture" or "spiritual civilization" (122, 126).  Although the bourgeois life of market exchange is often scorned for its vulgar materialism, this ignores the fact that the highest expressions of human excellence are found not in primitive groups but in civilized communities based on extended market exchange. 

So, for example, the openness of ancient Athens to Mediterranean trading networks made it possible for Athens to become a center of intellectual exchange and cultivation that supported the life of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, although they denigrated commerce and thus denied the economic conditions for their life.  Hayek points this out, but without giving it the emphasis it deserves (11, 45-47, 109-110).  He also might have noted that while Plato criticized Athenian democracy, he also recognized that the openness of Athenian democracy made it possible to live the philosophic life.

This kind of thinking can support an aristocratic liberalism, by which the liberal market order is understood as securing the conditions for moral and intellectual excellence. 

Some of the posts elaborating these points can be found here and here.

7.  As I indicated in my previous post on Naomi Beck's presentation at the Freiburg workshop, I agree with her in criticizing Hayek for not reading Darwin and considering his theory of cultural evolution.  Remarkably, Hayek in The Fatal Conceit dismisses Darwin as having nothing important to say about cultural evolution, although Hayek never cites Darwin, and thus leaves the reader with the suspicion that Hayek never read Darwin (23-24, 26, 70, 107-108, 146-47). 

Darwin's Descent of Man offers an elaborate account of the evolution of morality that should have been important for Hayek.  Darwin presents the evolution of morality as moving through three interacting levels--natural instincts, cultural traditions, and individual reason.  To me, this seems more reasonable than Hayek's attempt to deny instinct and reason in elevating culture as the only ground of morality.  That was one of my arguments in my paper for the Freiburg workshop.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Freiburg Workshop (3): Does Evolved Human Nature Provide a Standard for Social Thought?

At the Freiburg workshop on "Liberalism and the Evolutionary Agenda," one of the best papers was Thomas Reydon's "The Evolution of Human Nature and Its Implications for Politics: A Critique."  Reydon is a professor at the Institute of Philosophy, the Center for Philosophy and Ethics of Science, and the Centre for Ethics and Law in the Life Sciences at the Leibnitz Universitat Hannover, in Hannover, Germany.

Reydon argues that the concept of human nature does not provide a good standard for social thought.  In my opening statement at the workshop, I explained my general disagreement with Reydon's arguments.  But then, later, when I reread his paper, just before his presentation at the workshop, I decided that we were mostly in agreement.  Here I will offer a brief summary of his reasoning.  Then I will give my opening statement of disagreement, followed by my subsequent statement of agreement.

Reydon asks whether the concept of human nature can function as a strong bridge from the domain of biology to the domains of social, economic, and political thought.  He gives two reasons for answering no.

First, at best, the bridge provided by the concept of human nature is very weak.  It can serve an "evaluative role" in providing a "compatibility check."  But if one considers those social orders that are compatible with human nature, then one must see that human nature cannot support one as better than the others.

Second, at worst, the bridge doesn't exist at all because we have no reliable knowledge of human nature.

What we see here, he suggests, are the two steps required for applying biological human nature to social thought.  First, we need an argument to human nature, in which we move from our biological knowledge to generalized claims about the typical behavioral and cognitive properties of human beings.  Then, we need an argument from human nature, in which we employ our claims about human nature to make claims about what constitutes the most desirable social order and against undesirable social orders.  He thinks both kinds of arguments are dubious.

Reydon observes that it is hard to define human nature based on humanly unique features that are innate and universal, or at least widespread.  He notes that philosophers of biology like David Hull have challenged the "essentialist" conception of human nature as a set of traits that are necessary and sufficient for defining membership in the human species.  He also argues that while we can have a good knowledge of many biological traits of human beings, we do not have a good grasp of "human behavioral and cognitive traits," because they are so highly variable across individuals and across societies.

Adopting arguments from Stephen Jay Gould, John Dupre, and Jesse Prinz, Reydon claims that while biological science can give us some knowledge of traits that many human beings have, it cannot give us "a generalized knowledge about behavioral and cognitive traits that are shared by most if not all humans and can be thought of as specifying human nature."  There are three reasons for this.  First, human beings are such "cognitively and behaviorally flexible creatures" that we cannot specify a set of innate behaviors that constitute human nature.  Second, human evolution is a continuing process, and so we can assume that contemporary human beings have evolved different behavioral and cognitive traits from those of their Paleolithic ancestors.  Third, we cannot clearly distinguish what is naturally innate from what is socially learned, because "all cognitive and behavioral traits to some extent have an innate aspect and a learned aspect."

Reydon also worries that the search for the human universals of human nature that constitute the "normal" state for humanity will create a dangerous bias against "deviant" individuals who vary from that universal nature.

To  identify the weaknesses in arguments from human nature to politics, Reydon considers the arguments made by four authors--Peter Kropotkin, Peter Singer, Richard Alexander, and me.

Kropotkin's argued (in Mutual Aid) that since human beings and other animals have evolved to be cooperative with members of their own species, this provides evolutionary support for the sort of socialist anarchy advocated by Kropotkin.  Reydon questions whether Kropotkin provided enough empirical evidence and rigorous reasoning to sustain his generalizations.  He also questions whether Kropotkin falls into the is/ought fallacy by inferring moral conclusions from natural facts.

Reydon thinks that Singer avoids the is/ought fallacy (in The Darwinian Left) in arguing that leftist thinking can be compatible with evolved human nature--because human beings have evolved to be cooperative--but without arguing that a leftist view can be derived from evolutionary science.  Reydon agrees with Singer that a science of evolved human nature can provide a "compatibility check" on social thought, but without providing any specifications as to exactly how society is to be organized.

While Kropotkin and Singer emphasize the cooperative nature of human beings, Richard Alexander (in Darwinism and Human Affairs) emphasizes their selfish nature as evolved for survival and the reproduction of their genes.  Reydon observes: "This by itself should clearly show the difficulty of achieving reliable knowledge about what human nature really is like:  are we primarily cooperators, or competitive individualists, or both to more or less equal degrees, or what?"

Alexander believes that an evolutionary view of human nature "can tell us much about our history and the existing systems of laws and norms, and also about how to achieve any goals deemed desirable," but "it has essentially nothing to say about what goals are desirable" (220).  Thus, like Singer, Alexander avoids the is/ought fallacy.  But while he says that evolutionary science can help us to achieve our goals, he does not say much about how exactly this would work.  So it is not clear whether biological knowledge of human nature can facilitate our pursuit of desirable goals.

Finally, Reydon turns to my Darwinian Natural Right and Darwinian Conservatism, and to my claim that our evolved human nature includes at least twenty natural desires, which constitute "a universal standard for judging social practices as either fulfilling or frustrating human nature" (DNR, 13).  He is skeptical about this:
"On Arnhart's argument, it seems that views of society can be judged with respect to the extent to which they allow human nature to flourish.  The problem, though, is that it is not clear what this means and how we can assess to what extent a particular way of organizing society allows human nature to flourish.  Presumably, human nature has a number of different aspects to it, such that a society allowing one aspect to flourish may well frustrate another aspect.  Moreover, it remains far from clear which are the constituent aspects of human nature.  Arnhart lists a number of species-specific desires and capacities, but plenty of different characterizations of human nature can be found in the literature.  So, how are we to judge which kind of society is the best when it comes to human flourishing?"
Reydon concludes that while biological knowledge of human nature can provide "compatibility checks" that tell us whether a particular view of social order is totally contrary to human nature, such knowledge cannot provide any support for one view of social order as better than others if they are all broadly compatible with human nature.

In my response to Reydon, I would stress that while we commonly separate nature and nurture or nature and art, animal nature—including human moral and political nature—must be nurtured if it is to reach its natural completion, and this nurturing of our nature includes both cultural learning and individual judgment.  That’s why I say that Darwinian anthropology moves through three interacting levels.  Human nature constrains but does not determine human culture.  And human nature and human culture jointly constrain but do not determine human judgment.

Reydon misses this complex interaction of three levels when he embraces Stephen Jay Gould’s false dichotomy—biological potentiality versus biological determinism—which ignores the reality of biological propensity.  It is certainly true, as Reydon and Gould say, that we human beings are “cognitively and behaviorally flexible creatures,” and that this flexibility frees us from any biological determinism.  But I don’t know of any Darwinian theorist who believes in biological determinism, or who denies the cognitive and behavioral flexibility of human beings.

Gould and Reydon ignore the idea of biological predisposition or propensity as something more than a mere potentiality and yet something less than a rigid determinism. 

For example, in our natural desire for sexual mating, we human beings have a biological potentiality for a wide range of behaviors—including celibacy, promiscuity, monogamy, polygyny, and polyandry.  But while we have a potential for choosing complete celibacy, most human beings find this too difficult because it denies our strong propensity for sexual mating.  Promiscuity is easier for us because it caters to our sexual propensities.  Polyandrous marriage (one wife with several husbands) seems to be a very weak potentiality for human beings, because the intense sexual jealousy of males inclines them against sharing a wife.  In contrast to polyandry, monogamous mating has been universal to all human societies and polygynous mating (one husband with several wives) has been common, because they satisfy biological desires.  This pattern of social behavior reflects the biological nature of human mating.  An understanding of evolved biological propensities or desires can explain why celibacy is difficult, promiscuity is easy, polyandry is rare, monogamy is universal, and polygyny is common, although none of these behaviors is rigidly determined by specific genes.  Our nature predisposes us to favor some kinds of behavior over others, although the specific expression of our behavior will reflect the variable conditions of physical environment, social circumstances, and individual temperament. 

Our social norms for sexual mating—including marriage and family law—must respect these evolved natural propensities.  And so, for example, utopian socialist communities (like the kibbutzim in Israel) that tried to abolish familial bonding for the sake of communitarian unity failed, because they frustrated natural human desires.

Reydon criticizes me for making this kind of argument, because, he says, it is impossible “to assess whether a particular organization of society promotes the flourishing of human nature more than another way of organizing society." 

Well, then, let’s look at the history of utopian socialist communities that have tried to abolish family life.  I do this in my book Darwinian Natural Right, and I conclude that these communities exact such a high emotional price on their members that they eventually fail as people assert their natural desires.  I also survey the history of slavery as another form of social organization that is so contrary to human nature that it inevitably provokes resistance from slaves who are not naturally adapted to their enslavement. 

More generally, as I have indicated, I argue that a largely open society better promotes the flourishing of human nature than a largely closed society.  Whether this is true is ultimately, I think, an empirical question to be settled by the historical evidence.

Reydon might respond by pointing out that that he concedes that a biological science of human nature can provide "compatibility checks," so that he can concede that utopian socialism or chattel slavery can be condemned as incompatible with human nature.  But, still, he might say, there are many kinds of social order that are broadly compatible with human nature, and our scientific knowledge of human nature cannot support one as better than the others.  Even if I am right about the twenty natural desires of evolved human nature, he might argue, different social orders can rank those desires in different ways, and our knowledge of those twenty natural desires cannot determine that one social ranking is better than another, as long as they are broadly compatible with human nature.

Pondering this possible response from Reydon suggests to me that we are actually more in agreement with one another than I realized from my first reading of his paper.  Consider our answers to three questions.

Is there a human nature?  David Hull and David Buller say no, because the essentialist conception of human nature is a superstition.  Reydon says yes, because one can recognize general tendencies in human nature without being essentialist.  I agree.

Does this human nature provide some broad constraints on social order?  Reydon says yes, because he thinks that some extreme forms of social order are incompatible with human nature.  I agree.

Does the biological science of human nature prescribe precisely how society should be organized?  Reydon says no, because there is plenty of natural flexibility or variation in how our natural desires can be ranked, and thus there can be many different ways of organizing society that are all compatible with human nature.  I agree.

Reydon does not see, however, as I do, that this reasoning supports Darwinian liberalism.  Liberal pluralism prescribes a largely open society that allows for experiments in living, so that people are free to choose how to organize their social lives within the broad constraints of negative justice or the harm principle--that is, not using force or fraud against others.  By contrast, illiberal regimes refuse to allow the diverse variability in human nature to express itself in social experimentation.

In a liberal regime, one is even free to join socialist communities as long as they are voluntary and do not violate the standards of negative justice.  In Darwinian Natural Right, I provide a history of some of the many socialist communes that have been established in the United States and Israel.  Such utopian projects test the limits of evolved human nature, but in a largely open society, individuals are free to experiment in this way.  Such experiments show that some small groups of people in some circumstances can successfully live in such communities for some period of time.  But such communities tend to be short-lived, because their weighting of natural desires puts a painful strain on the central tendencies of human nature.  So, for example, the Israeli kibbutzim that have survived into the present have given up the original attempts to totally abolish parent-child bonding and private property.

Since classical liberalism rests on the fundamental idea that social order arises best as a largely spontaneous order emerging from individuals pursuing their individual ends, and thus social order is not coercively enforced by central planning, liberalism does not dictate any detailed specific organization of society, which allows for the fullest expression of evolved human nature in all of its variety and flexibility.  Consequently, we can judge that a liberal regime is the best social order as conforming best to human nature.

I have argued that we have at least twenty natural desires rooted in our evolved human nature, and that a free and open society as promoted by classical liberalism gives individuals the fullest freedom to pursue the satisfaction of those natural desires.  If the good is the desirable, then we can judge the classically liberal society to be better than those societies that do not allow individuals the same freedom to satisfy their natural desires.

At the Freiburg workshop, Jan Schnellenbach (Walter Eucken Institute, Freiburg) said in his paper that I am wrong about this, because we must make trade-offs between these natural desires, and the trade-offs made by liberal policies are no more closer to human nature than the trade-offs made by illiberal policies.  “In general,” he said, “our many natural dispositions need not be mutually consistent, and the weights between them are likely to differ between individuals.”  He claims that “evolution likely endows individuals with a variety of heterogeneous traits and dispositions, which in turn implies a variety in policy preferences.” 

But here he misses my point that it’s precisely this heterogeneity in how individuals rank their natural desires that makes liberal policies superior to illiberal policies, because while illiberal policies impose coercively a single ranking of desires, liberal policies do not impose a single ranking of desires on all, because in a liberal, open society, individuals are free to choose how to rank their natural desires.  Thus, liberal policies respect the natural heterogeneity of individuals, while illiberal policies do not.

As indicated by Viktor Vanberg in his paper for the workshop, Hayek makes this same point when he distinguishes between two kinds of “social planning.”  Illiberal planning organizes society by “a system of specific orders and prohibitions,” while liberal planning establishes “a rational system of law, under the rule of which people are free to follow their preferences.”

Some of these points are developed in posts that can be found here, here, here, here, and here.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Does Handel's "Messiah" Refute Deism?

In 1972, Al Booth, a Chicago real estate businessman, attended a community sing-along performance of George Frideric Handel's Messiah in a parish church in Kent, England.  He was so deeply moved by the experience that he decided he should organize something similar for Chicago.  In 1976, the first "Do-It-Yourself Messiah" occurred in Chicago.  It has been repeated every Christmas season since then.  I just participated in the 38th annual performance in the Harris Theater in Chicago.  Over the years, many other communities across Illinois, the United States, and the world have established this as a Christmas tradition.

Until recently, tickets for this were free.  Now the charge is a nominal $10 to help cover some of the expenses.  Except for the four solo singers, the other professional and amateur performers volunteer their time.  The tickets sell out quickly, and every performance is jammed with thousands of people.  It's all organized by the International Music Foundation, originally established by Al Booth, which supports hundreds of free classical music concerts around the Chicago area.

Handel's Messiah is an oratorio written for an orchestra, four solo singers, and a chorus.  At a Do-It-Yourself Messiah the choral singing is done by the entire audience.  Audience members are seated according to their vocal range--soprano, alto, tenor, and bass-baritone--corresponding to the four parts in the choral singing.  At this performance, conductor Stanley Sperber began by leading the audience through thirty minutes of rehearsal.  The success of all this depends on having lots of people in the audience who know the music well enough and have enough singing skill that they can take the lead for others in the audience with less knowledge and skill.  People come to the performance with well-worn copies of the vocal score, indicating their seriousness in their study and performance of Handel's music.

This is instructive in at least two ways.  First, it shows how the natural desire for the musical arts stimulates communities in a free society to organize musical events as largely spontaneous orders with only minimal governmental planning.  If they have the freedom to do so, human beings will seek out the high cultural activity of the fine arts to satisfy their longing for aesthetic beauty.  Critics of liberal democracy like to speak disdainfully about the cultural mediocrity of bourgeois life in liberal societies and lament (with the later Nietzsche) the flat soul of the "last man."  Events like this remind us that a liberal social order allows people in civil society--in their families, their churches, their schools, their arts organizations, and other social institutions--to express and cultivate moral, intellectual, and artistic excellence.

This also shows how the natural desire for religious understanding drives the enduring appeal of religious art as shaping the religious culture of human life, even in a liberal pluralist society without the coercive legal enforcement of religious belief. 

As the title indicates, Handel's Messiah tells the story of Jesus as the Messiah--as the Son of God who fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies of one who would be sent by God to redeem human beings of their sins, who would be born of a virgin, suffer and die, be resurrected, and return to defeat Satan and to bring the resurrection of the believers to eternal life.  The libretto for the oratorio was written by Charles Jennens, who drew the words from the Bible, mostly Old Testament texts that were cited in the New Testament as prophecies of a Messiah that were fulfilled by Jesus.  Handel then composed his music for orchestra and voice to animate Jennens' Biblical story with the emotional charm of music.

The Messiah was first performed in 1742.  This was a time of intense debate between orthodox Christians and Deists over the Bible.  Beginning in the seventeenth century--with books like John Toland's Christianity Not Mysterious (1696)--the Deists had argued that once God had created the universe and human beings, He left human beings to live by their own natural reason, with no need for divine intervention or supernatural redemption.  They thought Jesus was not divine, and there was no need to see him as the Messiah.  Many orthodox Christians regarded Deism as a disguised form of atheism.  To answer the arguments of the Deists, many books were written by orthodox Christians claiming to prove that Jesus was the Messiah, because he fulfilled Old Testament prophecies.  Jennens knew these books, and in composing his libretto, he was probably consciously contributing to this debate.  Handel's setting of the libretto for music was designed to infuse the Biblical texts with the emotional power of music.  This history of the Messiah as an answer to the Deists is surveyed in Ruth Smith's Handel's Oratorios and Eighteenth-Century Thought (Cambridge University Press, 1995) and Calvin Stapert's Handel's "Messiah": Comfort for God's People (Eerdmans Publishing, 2010).

Like other oratorios, the Messiah serves both the theater and the church.  This created a controversy during its early years of performance.  Some people thought it was too sacred for performance in a theater, while others thought it was too theatrical for performance in a church.  Today, it's commonly performed both in churches and in theaters, and modern audiences see no conflict here.  Christians can see it as a powerful statement of their faith.  Those who are not Christians can appreciate the artistry of its emotional religiosity without embracing its doctrinal faith.  All can see it as a sublime expression of the religious longings of the human soul.  A liberal social order fosters a pluralist diversity in religious allegiances, while also allowing people from different faith traditions and those without any religious faith to come together in communal celebrations like a Do-It-Yourself Messiah.

So does the Messiah refute the deistic denial that Jesus was the Messiah? 

After an overture, the Messiah begins with three movements (2-4) that use the words of Isaiah 40:1-5 (from the King James translation):
"Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God; speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned.  The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low: the crooked straight and the rough places plain.  And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it."
The New Testament identifies "the voice of him that crieth in the wilderness" as John the Baptist (Matt. 3:1-3, Mark 1:1-3, Luke 1:17, and John 1:23), and thus Jesus is identified as the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament in whom "the glory of the Lord shall be revealed."

But if one looks at the context for this passage in Isaiah, it becomes clear that the Messiah identified by Isaiah is Cyrus, the King of the Persians, who invaded Babylon in 539 B.C. and liberated the people of Israel from their captivity, so that they could return to Jerusalem and restore the Temple (Isa. 41:1-7, 44:28-45:7).  As the Deists pointed out, this is generally true of the Old Testament passages interpreted by Christians as prophecies of Jesus as the Messiah: if one looks at the contexts of the Old Testament passages, one sees that prophecies of a Messiah were references to political leaders in the history of Israel.

I must have been one of the very few people in the audience in the Harris Theater who thought about this--Cyrus is the Messiah, not Jesus!--while singing "And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together."

I remembered that Koresh is the Hebrew word for "Cyrus."  When a young man, Vernon Howell, joined an apocalyptic sect called the Branch Davidians, he renamed himself "David Koresh," thus invoking both Cyrus and David as messianic figures of the Hebrew Bible.  He led his followers into martyrdom in a standoff with federal law-enforcement agents in Waco, Texas, in 1993, which Koresh saw as the battle of Armageddon and the fulfillment of the prophecies in the book of Revelation.

I'm sure most of the audience was enjoying Handel's music.  For example, one feature of Handel's musical art is "madrigalism"--the technique prominent in the madrigals of the Renaissance of musically imitating a word or phrase in the music.  Explaining movement number 4, Stapert writes:
"All this leads to the climactic chorus: 'And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.'  The text features four components.  Handel gave each its own characteristic musical gesture and combined them in a variety of ways within the overall framework of a lively dance.  The phrase 'And the glory of the Lord' is always sung to a rising line that reaches its peak on 'Lord.'  'Shall be revealed' always descends, suggesting the incarnation. . . . 'And all flesh shall see it together' is suggestive of a down-to-earth rustic dance; its music is simple, repetitive, and rhythmically infectious.  The fourth phrase, 'for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it,' stands out from the rest.  To suggest the rock-solid certainty of God's word, Handel set the phrase to long, strong, repeated notes.  It is sung only by the outer voices, framing the music from top to bottom" (92).
So here is Handel's musical refutation of Deism.  Even if our careful reading of the Biblical text suggests that it is referring to Cyrus and not Jesus, we cannot resist Handel's musical rhetoric that teaches us that Jesus is the Messiah "for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it."  What we might know intellectually is swept away by the emotional persuasion of his musical art.

We might have the same experience in hearing movement number 8 based on Isaiah 7:14: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call His name Emmanuel, God with us."  If we're studying this verse, we might notice that the King James translators followed the Greek Septuagint text, which has the Greek word parthenos for "virgin," rather than the Hebrew Bible, which has the word almah, meaning "young woman."  Is God speaking differently in Greek and Hebrew?  Or do we see here that the Bible was written by different human beings with different ideas? 

Of Handel's music here, Stapert writes: "Unlike the recitatives in the previous scenes, this one is secco, accompanied only by the harpsichord and cello.  The simple, natural declamation of the voice matches its minimal accompaniment.  The great mystery of the virgin birth is appropriately announced with little fuss" (97).  Thus is our scholarly quibbling about the text swept away by the simple power of Handel's music.

Of course, the most familiar and most popular part of the Messiah is the Hallelujah Chorus, movement number 44, the last movement of Part Two: "Hallelujah!  For the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth!  Hallelujah!  The Kingdom of this world is become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever.  King of Kings and Lord of Lords" (Revelation 19:6, 11:15, 19:16).

Revelation is the bloodiest book of the New Testament, because it describes the last battle in history between the armies of Christ and the armies of Satan.  Although Jennens does not convey that militant violence here, he does indicate the violent vengefulness of God in the immediately preceding movements (42-43) with words from Psalms.  "He that dwelleth in heaven shall laugh them to scorn; the Lord shall have them in derision" (Ps. 2:4).  "Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron.  Thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel" (Ps. 2:9).  Handel's music is emphatic in conveying God's angry violence. 

Stapert writes: "A short recitative leads effectively into a vengeful aria in which Handel emphasized the verbs 'break' and 'dash.'  The violins' melody is broken by large leaps.  It starts high with a fast, quavering motive, which might depict shaking with rage or derisive laughter--or both.  Then follows a large downward leap to two accented eighth notes. . . . The instrumental bass part and the voice part are full of rests that literally break their melodic lines into little pieces.  In the voice part the words 'BREAK them,' 'DASH them,' and 'PIE-ces' invariably occur on downward leaps, illustrative of throwing down, dashing to the ground" (130).

Why should we sing "Hallelujah!" to this angry God who enjoys torturing people?  Stapert admits that this is disturbing.  But he observes: "'Thou shalt break them' is  . . . out of balance unless it is taken in the context of Messiah as a whole, for in it God's love far overshadows his anger" (132).

But if this is true, it is only because the Messiah says nothing about the teaching of orthodox Christianity that most human beings will be eternally punished after death in Hell.  The afterlife is the primary subject of Part Three of the Messiah.  Relying primarily on the 15th chapter of First Corinthians, Jennens' text proclaims the eternal resurrection of dead bodies to life--"Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" (movement number 46, I Cor. 15:21-22).  There is no explanation or description of what a resurrected  body would be like.  Will we have exactly the body that we had at death?  Or will we be given the body of a 30-year-old, as Augustine claimed?  This is left as a mystery: "Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be chang'd, in a moment, in the twinkling of any eye, at the last trumpet" (movement number 47, I Cor. 15:51-52).  And nothing is said about the resurrection of those who will be condemned to eternal punishment.  Do Jennens and Handel fail to mention this because it raises questions about God's loving mercy, or because they actually don't believe in Hell?  This silence about Hell is good for audiences today, since it seems that most Biblical believers today don't believe in Hell and eternal punishment.

Thus does studying the Messiah raise difficult theological and philosophical questions.  But such questions probably don't occur to most listeners to the Messiah--or to participants in a Do-It-Yourself Messiah--who are swept up in its musical ecstasy.

A complete performance of the Messiah can be found on YouTube., with Christopher Hogwood conducting the Academy of Ancient Music Choir in Westminster Abbey.

Some posts on related topics can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Freiburg Workshop (2): Naomi Beck's Critique of Hayek's Evolutionary Liberalism

One of the benefits for me of the Freiburg Workshop on "Liberalism and the Evolutionary Agenda" was that it helped me to think through my ambivalence about Friedrich Hayek's evolutionary liberalism.  I am persuaded by Hayek's claim that Darwinian science supports the fundamental idea of classical liberalism that social order--including morals, markets, and laws--can arise as a largely spontaneous  or unintended order from the interactions of individuals acting to satisfy their individual desires.  But I am not persuaded by Hayek's account of exactly how cultural evolution produces the modern liberal order. 

My conclusion is that we need to see how Darwinian science corrects the mistakes in Hayek's account while confirming Hayek's insight about how liberal thought can be rooted in an evolutionary science of spontaneous order.  Naomi Beck was one of the participants in the workshop, and I saw her critique of Hayek's evolutionary liberalism as reinforcing this conclusion.

At least half or more of the participants were proponents of Hayekian classical liberalism who were interested in the possibility of grounding liberalism in evolutionary science, although they were unsure as to whether Hayek was correct in the details of his evolutionary theory of liberalism.  A few of the participants--including Beck--were opponents of Hayek and of liberalism in general.  This was similar to the situation at the Mont Pelerin Society conference in the Galapagos Islands last summer, where much of the discussion turned on the assessment of Hayek's evolutionary liberalism.

Beck coauthored a paper with Ulrich Witt--"Liberalism and the Teleological Turn in the Theory of Cultural Evolution"--in which they criticized Hayek for his teleological view of cultural evolution as aiming towards the modern liberal order. 

Beck and Witt presented Hayek's theory of cultural group selection as a new form of Social Darwinism, similar to that of Herbert Spencer.  Like Spencer, Hayek saw cultural evolution as progressive in favoring the emergence of a liberal social order.  But Spencer saw this as a process of individual selection in which the struggle for existence would favor the survival of the fittest individual, but only as long as governmental intervention was minimized.  By contrast, Hayek saw this progressive cultural evolution as a process of group selection in which groups adopting a free market order would be more economically efficient than other groups, and this greater efficiency would produce increasing population and wealth, so that the explosive growth in population and wealth over the past 300 years in the Western liberal capitalist regimes appears to be the final stage of history. 

The fulfillment of this end has come from the cultural evolution of institutional traditions and norms that support the extended order of free markets.  This cultural evolution constitutes, as Hayek says, the "layer between instinct and reason," because it is neither rooted in natural instinct nor produced by rational design. 

On the one hand, the cultural evolution of the free market order requires the repression of those instincts for communal solidarity in small groups that evolved among our hunter-gatherer ancestors who had no experience in trading with strangers outside their small foraging tribe.  For this reason, socialist central planning to achieve a just and equal distribution of wealth has a popular appeal to most people, because it satisfies their naturally instinctive desires for the social solidarity of life in small groups. 

On the other hand, the cultural evolution of the free market order has emerged as a spontaneous order that was not rationally designed by any single mind or group of minds deliberately planning it all out.  For that reason, socialism is attractive because it appears to introduce rational planning to achieve social justice in contrast to the unplanned and unfair anarchy of the market.

To counter the appeal of socialist central planning, Hayek's defense of market liberalism required that he argue that while rational planning to achieve social justice is "instinctually gratifying," since it is "based on primordial emotions" of solidarity, any attempt to do this would destroy the extended order of free markets that makes it possible to sustain the great population and prosperity of modern civilization.  Destroying this extended market order would bring the death of billions of people and the impoverishment of those who survived.

Beck and Witt criticize this Hayekian theory of cultural evolution in two ways.  First, they suggest that in developing his theory of cultural evolution, Hayek unjustifiably ignored Darwin's theory of human evolution as including cultural evolution.  While Hayek sometimes praised Darwin and claimed that Darwinian science supported economic liberalism, he also dismissed "Darwinian selection" as "genetic," and thus too slow to explain the quick cultural evolution of the modern liberal order.  This ignores the fact that Darwin's Descent of Man includes an account of cultural evolution through group selection (or what Darwin called "community selection"). 

Instead of looking to Darwin, Hayek looked to the zoologists Alexander M. Carr-Saunders and Vero C. Wynne-Edwards as sources for his idea of group selection.  But while Carr-Saunders and Wynne-Edwards saw group selection as favoring those groups that showed reproductive restraint to limit population growth, Hayek saw group selection as favoring those groups that showed growth in their population.

Beck and Witt's second criticism of Hayek is that his teleological conception of evolution is implausible and contrary to Darwinian science.  Modern science generally has been critical of any teleological conception of the universe, and Darwinian science in particular has been skeptical of teleological views of the history of life as directed to some final end as guided by some cosmic design.

It is true, Beck and Witt say, that if one considers the common human motivation for a better life and how that motivation has been satisfied by the massive economic growth produced by the free market order over the last 300 years, then one might see social evolution as teleological.  But this economic growth is historically quite recent.  For thousands of years, prior to 1700, there was no such growth.  Moreover, this recent explosion in economic growth arose from historical contingencies--changes in technological and institutional factors--and thus there was no historical necessity to make this modern pattern of economic growth inevitable.

Viktor Vanberg was the commentator on Beck and Witt's paper.  He suggested that we need to distinguish between two kinds of teleology.  Teleology as movement toward a predetermined end-state is hard to justify in explaining human cultural evolution.  But teleology as a general tendency might be plausibly seen in human cultural evolution.  The human desire "to better one's condition" (in Adam Smith's phrase) could create a human tendency favoring economic growth as the technological and institutional factors required for growth appear in history, although this is not a predetermined necessity.

In my comments at the workshop, I agreed with Vanberg that some kind of teleology in cultural evolution is defensible.  Liberals like John Locke and Adam Smith speak about modern commercial society as if it were the ultimate fulfillment of human desires, which suggests a teleological conception of history.  This is scientifically defensible.  Because while Darwinian science has refuted any cosmic teleology of history, that science does support an immanent teleology of life.

When Asa Gray wrote that Darwin had restored teleology to natural science, Darwin wrote to him to say that he agreed with this observation (June 5, 1874).  Although the evolutionary process does not serve goals, the organisms emerging from that process do serve goals.  Darwin's biology does not deny--rather, it reaffirms--the immanent teleology displayed in the striving of living beings to fulfill their species-specific ends.

If human beings have evolved to have at least twenty natural desires, as I have argued, and if the modern liberal society satisfies those natural desires more fully than any other social order, then we can say that the liberal social order is the fulfillment of human striving, even though the modern emergence of that social order depended on lots of historical contingencies.

Moreover, one can make a plausible argument for seeing a deep historical tendency towards an ever-expanding pattern of non-zero sum cooperation that has been extended in modern market orders.  Beck and Witt indicate that the informal institutions of a market society must channel human competitive behavior to avoid "negative-sum games" (p. 11).  In game theory, a zero-sum game is one in which one person's gain is another person's loss, so that the total losses subtracted from the total gains will sum to zero.  By contrast, a non-zero sum game is where the gains and losses do not sum to zero, and it can be a game in which both players benefit from cooperation.  Trading behavior is a positive-sum game in which each of the traders benefits from the trade.  In his book  Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny (2000), Robert Wright makes a good argument that the entire history of life on Earth is a evolutionary history of ever-expanding cooperation through non-zero-sum games, in which organisms discover ways to cooperate for mutual benefit.  From this point of view, the modern liberal market society is the most recent stage in a history in which both biological evolution and cultural evolution have been directed towards ever greater complexity in developing the potential for non-zero sum cooperation.  Hayek embraced this point when he indicated that the evolution of the extended order of human cooperation from antiquity to the present has been an evolutionary progression in ever wider and more complex positive-sum games producing net gains for the players (The Fatal Conceit, 154).

As Wright indicates, this teleological logic of the evolution of cooperation was recognized by Darwin in The Descent of Man when he wrote: "As man advances in civilization, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him.  This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races" (2004, 147).

But as Beck and Witt indicate, Hayek chose not to adopt Darwin's reasoning.  In fact, as Beck has suggested in some of her writings and in a lecture at the University of Chicago that is available online, there is little evidence that Hayek had even read Darwin.  Beck argues that Darwin's theory of the evolution of social order--including morality--through group selection and other mechanisms is far superior to Hayek's theory. 

Darwin's theory is internally consistent.  Rather than seeing a conflict between instincts, culture, and reason, Darwin saw three levels of evolution that were compatible with one another: we are inclined by our biologically evolved instincts for cultural learning of social norms, and we can use our uniquely human reason to make deliberate choices within the constraints of our natural instincts and our cultural traditions.  Moreover, this Darwinian theory of human evolution has been rigorously developed and confirmed by recent research in evolutionary theory, neuroscience, and evolutionary anthropology.  For example, Beck cites the work of Ernst Fehr on the emergence of social norms, Martin Nowak on the evolution of cooperation, and Robert Boyd and Peter Richerson on the coevolution of genes and culture.  On all of these points, Hayek's theory falls short because he refused to learn from Darwinian science.

I agree with Beck about all of this.  But it seems strange to me that she never considers the possibility that if one turns to the theory of human evolution developed in Darwinian science, as she suggests we should do, we might find that this theory supports classical liberalism, as I have argued.

At the Mont Pelerin Society meeting last summer, some of the most prominent scholars of Darwinian science--including Leda Cosmides, John Tooby, Robert Boyd, and Robin Dunbar--suggested ways in which classical liberalism might be seen as the fulfillment of the human evolution of cooperation.  More particularly, as I argued at this meeting, modern Darwinian science confirms that Adam Smith was right about almost everything, because he understood how morals, markets, and laws can all be explained as largely spontaneous orders.  I criticized Hayek on many points, including all of the points made by Beck in her criticism of Hayek.  But then I showed how a careful study of Darwin and Darwinian science could support classical liberalism.

Implicit in Beck's writing is an ideological bias against liberal thought, and so I assume that she would disagree with me.  But if so, she would have to explain exactly why the liberal idea of how social order evolves as a largely spontaneous order is wrong, and she would have to explain her alternative theory of social order.

I disagree with Beck's answer to a question from Robert Richards at her University of Chicago lecture.  Richards asked whether Hayek had taken account of the "demographic transition"--the tendency of wealthier groups of people in developed societies to have low birth rates.  Beck answered that Hayek was unaware of this, and that he just assumed that perpetual growth in population was always good and that growing wealth would always bring population growth.  Beck's answer is not accurate.  In The Fatal Conceit (125, 128), Hayek explicitly cites Esther Boserup's writing on the demographic transition, and he indicates that annual growth rates are declining in the most developed regions, which might lead to a general leveling off of population growth with economic growth.

Here are some of Beck's writings:

"Enrico Ferri's Socialism: A Marxist Interpretation of Herbert Spencer's Organic Analogy," Journal of the History of Biology 2005 (38): 301-25.

"The Origin and Political Thought: From Liberalism to Marxism," in Michael Ruse and Robert J. Richards, eds., The Cambridge Companion to the "Origin of Species" (Cambridge University Press, 2009), 295-313

"Herbert Spencer," in Michael Ruse and J. Trevis, eds., Evolution: The First Four Billion Years (Harvard University Press, 2009), 862-65

"Social Darwinism," in Michael Ruse, ed., The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Darwin and Evolutionary Thought (Cambridge University Press, 2013), 195-201.

"Be Fruitful and Multiply: Growth, Reason, and Cultural Group Selection in Hayek and Darwin," Biological Theory 2012, 6 (4): 413-23.

Some of my points here have been elaborated in previous posts here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here., here, here, and here.