Pitfalls of Social Evolutionism, Genuine and Spurious

Wed, 18 May 1994 09:04:43 CDT

I appreciate C. Pate's excellent point about the noting of long-term
trends (evolution) not necessarily being teleological. I do not agree,
however, when he goes on to decry the deterministic tenor of
evolutionism. Even if the human will was in some meaningful sense "free"
(which I have doubted deeply from the first time I ever thought
seriously about it), what useful place can the assumption of free will
have in scientific work? Someone raised the question whether I allow
any room at all for choice. The answer is no. In response to my
hypothesis that the idea of free will originated to rationalize
credit--and especially blame, someone astutely suggested that maybe
determinism orioginated to rationalize refusal to accept responsibility.
Well, that makes good sense psychologically; but note that something's
being a rationalization doesn't keep it from being true--or false, for
that matter. The point about determinism is that it makes scientific
sense, while free will does not. Thus, determinism has, in addition to
its rationalizing function, a strong intellectual rationale; free
willism, so far as I can tell, does not. Therefore I conclude that the
origin and perpetuationof free willism are to be referred solely to its
psycho-social rationalizing functions. Determinism is a strength rather
than a weakness of evolutionism. When people mistake evolutionism to
entail teleology, progress, moral improvement, or survival, the problem
lies with them rather than with the concept of evolution. --Bob Graber