Pitfalls of Social Evolutionism, Genuine and Spurious

carter pate (CPATE@UTCVM.BITNET)
Wed, 18 May 1994 16:22:44 EDT

----------------------------Original message----------------------------
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
____________________________________(end of original)________________

Sorry, Bob, are we miscommunicating? I don't recall mentioning "free
will." In fact, was I not decrying any blind tranfer of assumptions
abiout bilogical evolution, although it may make a very persuasive metaphor
describing some kinds of social and cultural change. Determinism is indeed
easier to reconcile with organic and inorganic science than many less rigid
principles. But are you using "determinism" in a very absolutist sense?
I get the impression that even the "randomness" in genetic drift suggests that
determinism in every detail cannot explain everything.

I prefer a concept of social and cultural forces which exert varying pres-
sures toward events. My ideas stem in part from Kurt Lewin's "force fields."
I do recognize an idea of "overdeterminism" which I borrow from an ancient news
paper column about the origins of WW II, where the author suggested that by
mid-1938 (Munich) war in Europe was inevitable. But he certainly didn't mean
it had to begin on Sept. 1, 1939.

To me "free will" is an absolutist extreme in a religious or philosophical arg
ument, which I'd rather lay aside from anthropological discourse. "Choice"
allows a little more variation, and just like randomness, it might exercise a t
iny bit of influence on events, especially if they are not overdetermined.
But in social and cultural events, it seems to me that an insistence on
"determinism" sounds like a blind insistence that everything can be reduced to
a mathematical predictive formula. Don't we all know that's not very helpful
in much of the cocio-cultural realm?

Regards, cpate