Sunday, April 29, 2012

Schelling spoke of evolution; Spencer no heartless social Darwinist

Darwin is supposed to have discovered something nowadays called “evolution” and to have laid to rest something nowadays called “creationism.” But if this is so, what are we to make of the theories of Schelling and Goethe in Germany, and of Coleridge in England, articulated several decades earlier than he? Their Romantic conception of the transformation and morphogenesis of molecules, plants, and animals, is already fully evolutionary. Schelling spoke of evolution of plants and animals out of the earth by way of a chemical process (see, e.g., p. 168, The Romantic Conception of Life by Robert Richards). Goethe and Coleridge agreed.
The reason Darwin is supposed to have discovered the “real” evolution is that his version is a-teleological, based on a conception of nature driven exclusively by efficient causes, while the Romantic theory of evolution is not only teleological, but theological. It breaks the rules of scientific explanation by attributing animation/agency to that which it theorizes. Modern science takes it as a matter of course that nature is within intelligence or intrinsic value. Romantics experience nature as full of complex feeling and archetypal intention. Even if, for Goethe, Nature is God and God is Nature, divinity is ingredient in any Romantic philosophy of nature. Goethe, were he interested in the abstract distinctions of philosophical logic, may also have articulated a panentheistic (like Coleridge and Schelling), rather than a pantheistic ontology. But cosmologically, these three Romantic Naturphilosophen conceive of nature alike as a creative, archetypal process of generation. They understood the universe to be an ensouled being living in the midst of itself, like a snake eating its own tail (following Plato in Timaeus). Schelling and Coleridge, whose soul’s were more Christian than Goethe’s, also perceived something fallen in nature (following Paul in Romans 8), and so also something–or rather, someone–in the process of being resurrected.

The Spencer Myth from Cafe Hayek by Don Boudreaux
Here’s a letter to the Washington Post:
Jonah Goldberg rightly defends Herbert Spencer against the charge of being a heartless “social Darwinist” (“Top five cliches that liberals use to avoid real arguments,” April 28).  Spencer was, in fact, a profound and humane thinker who cherished individual liberty, celebrated the rich potential of voluntary action, championed women’s rights, vigorously opposed imperialism, and would never in a billion years have endorsed eugenics.  The myth that Spencer was a social Darwinist was created without basis by the historian Richard Hofstadter in the latter’s regrettably influential 1944 book, Social Darwinism in American Thought.
The persistence of Hofstadter’s myth was revealed in a telling way five years ago in the New York Times when reporter Patricia Cohen wrote “Victorian-era social Darwinists like Herbert Spencer adopted evolutionary theory to justify colonialism and imperialism, opposition to labor unions and the withdrawal of aid to the sick and needy” (“A Split Emerges as Conservatives Discuss Darwin,” May 5, 2007).  One week later the Times was obliged to offer this correction: “A front-page article last Saturday about a dispute among some conservatives over whether Darwinian theory undermines or supports conservative principles erroneously included one social Darwinist among Victorian-era social Darwinists who adopted evolutionary theory to justify colonialism and imperialism.  Herbert Spencer opposed both” (“Correction,” May 12, 2007).
The Times should have added also that Spencer, while opposed to guild-like monopoly privileges for producers (including for labor) as well as to the welfare state, objected neither to voluntary organizations of workers nor to charitable aid to the sick and needy. Sincerely, Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA  22030

Tweets 31 Mar Rod Hemsell @rodhemsell
From AV I have learned a profound distrust of ideologues who form power blocks to pervert the truth in the name of the truth. Only here?

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