Cactus Club November 1997

Cycle I: Part 1

11 November 1997.....a primer on evolutionary psychology

The first suggested reading for TCC members can be found here. After reading this material, I would like to have your opinion on the relationship, if any, which may exist between evolutionary psychology and the development of social and spiritual capital. In economics, capital is a produced means of further production. A hammer and saw are good examples. An example of social capital is a general atmosphere of trust, whereas an example of spiritual capital is an attitude of personal responsibility amongst individuals. Question: Are there any political reasons for objecting to the theory of evolutionary psychology? (PD)

17 November science, new basis

In the introduction to his book, The Moral Animal, Robert Wright states---"This book is, first, a sales pitch for a new science; only secondarily is it a sales pitch for a new basis of political and moral philosophy". Questions: Do you agree that evolutionary psychology could be a new basis of political and moral philosophy? If so, in what way? (PD)

18 November 1997.....a linguistical development

It seems to me that evolutionary psychology is basically a linguistical development. By this I mean that the authors have given us a new and concise language or set of terminology with which to discuss certain topics. I do not find much new in the theory per se.

For example, it is useful to speak of virtue as moral capital. Such usage may allow better dialogue between economists and moral thinkers. By moral capital we would be referring to the accumulated virtue of an individual. We could speak of its economic value, its productive potential, its transferability, and universal destination.(GG)

19 November 1997.....vestiges of organic history

Quoting from chapter 16 of The Moral Animal---"If plain old-fashioned Darwinism has indeed sapped the moral strength of western civilization, what will happen when the new version sinks in? Darwin's sometimes diffuse speculations about the "social instincts" have given way to theories firmly grounded in logic and fact, the theories of reciprocal altruism and kin selection. And they don't leave our moral sentiments feeling as celestial as they used to. Sympathy, empathy, compassion, conscience, guilt, remorse, even the very sense of justice, the sense that doers of good deserve reward and doers of bad deserve punishment--all these can now be viewed as vestiges of organic history on a particular planet." Question: Are moral sentiments best explained by philosophy, theology, or biology?(PD)

19 November instinct toward duty

Through evolution the human mind has developed an instinct favoring group organization and duty. It was well illustrated by the German attitude toward Bismarckian social control. On the other hand an inclination toward individualism and liberty has to be learned as was well illustrated by the English attitude favoring classical liberalism. Paul Johnson in Modern Times refers to the "Easterner" vs. the "Westerner", particularly in reference to Germany and the rise of Hitler. Minds that are inclined to process information in the abstract are more likely to do this learning than minds that lean toward a more pragmatic or emotional way of processing information. Also, commercial activity tends to "tune" the mind in the "Western" direction. This dichotomy accounts for, more than any other single factor, the divergence in political philosophy between a social engineer like Bill Clinton and a Libertarian like presidential candidate Harry Browne. It may also explain why the later is on the outside while the former is on the inside. At this stage of evolution, social engineers who appeal to the dominant "organizational" mentality have a decided edge.(PD)

21 November 1997.....friends and enemies

Quoting from chapter seven of The Moral Animal---"Brotherly love in the literal sense comes at the expense of brotherly love in the biblical sense; the more precisely we bestow unconditional kindness on relatives, the less of it is left over for others". Question: Does the intensity of our association with one group (family, race, country,etc) set us up to be enemies with other groups?(PD)

22 November 1997.....extending moral sentiments

Quoting from The Moral Sense by James Q. Wilson----".......what to me is the fundamental cultural and historical question: how did it happen that in the West people were induced to believe that our moral sentiments should extend to many, perhaps all, people, and not just to family, close relatives, and ethnic kin?" Questions: Is this extension of our moral sentiments actually a characteristic of people in the "West"? If so, what is the significance of this fact? And if human nature is universal as the evolutionary psychologists would have us believe, then why are there so many different cultures?(PD)

24 November 1997.....the source of social order

Quoting from the jacket of Matt Ridley's book The Origins of Virtue------"If evolution by natural selection relentlessly favors self-interest, why do human beings live in complex societies and show so much cooperative spirit?" " Most philosophers and moralists have been happy to accept that selfish and antisocial behavior is "natural" while good deeds require teaching and self-sacfifice. But our cooperative instincts, too, may have evolved as part of our natures--by exchanging favors we can benefit ourselves as well as others. Still, if we respond too readily to the demands of others, we risk being exploited by them. So it was uneasily and with difficulty that the human brain over the past million years developed the capacity for trust that makes human society possible". Question: What is the source of social order?(PD)

25 November engineering vs. civil society

Quoting from Trust by Francis Fukuyama---"Today, having abandoned the promise of social engineering, virtually all serious observers understand that liberal political and economic institutions depend on a healthy and dynamic civil society for their vitality. 'Civil society' --a complex welter of intermediate institutions, including businesses, voluntary associations, educational institutions, clubs, unions, media, charities, and churches---builds in turn, on the family, the primary instrument by which people are socialized into their culture and given the skills that allow them to live in broader society and through which the values and knowledge of that society are transmitted across the generations." Questions: What does the author mean by "intermediate institutions?" Between what? If improving society is our goal, why would we want to abandon social engineering?(PD)

26 November 1997.....spontaneous formation of the extended order

Quoting from The Fatal Conceit by F.A. Hayek---"To understand our civilization, one must appreciate that the extended order resulted not from human design or intention but spontaneously: it arose from unintentionally conforming to certain traditional and largely moral practices, many of which men tend to dislike, whose significance they usually fail to understand, whose validity they cannot prove, and which have nonetheless fairly rapidly spread by means of an evolutionary selection - the comparative increase of population and wealth - of those groups that happened to follow them." Questions: Is capitalism the same thing as the "extended order"? Do you think that capitalism is a superior adaptation that will therefore, through natural selection, be the dominant form of social organization?(PD)