Wilson, Consilience, and Philosophy
In 1998 Wilson provoked controversy with the publication of Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge. In this book, he argued that although the various disciplines of learning at first appear fragmented, they can ultimately be integrated–if one knows how to look at them properly. In short, Wilson made a claim for a unified field theory of knowledge. He pointed out, for example, that ethics require no prior grounding in metaphysics, but rather can be described as an extension of the cooperative behavior that so often occurs between organisms. By this and other illustrations, Wilson's theory presumed biology to be the science that explains all other sciences and disciplines. It made biology emperor.
According to Wilson, philosophy has become obsolete in its understanding of mental activity and should yield its claim to wisdom about mind to the cognitive and neuroscientists. From Descartes to Kant, philosophers’ reflections proceed from introspection and draw us away from the actual operations of the brain, which is essentially "a machine assembled not to understand itself, but to survive."
Wilson's claims on consilience are puzzling in many ways, as an indicator, in the sociobiology debate, of the impoverishment of discussion.
How is it that a hi tech society with all the resources of science is stuck in such a dishwater positivism?
At least do science. There evidence is required, and the evidence Huxley found difficult to deal with in his Evolution and Ethics cannot be swept under the rug. That ethics is an extension of cooperative behavior is a speculative hypothesis improperly observed in the evolutionary field. That's that. This is in part the mesmerizing result of staring at pop gen math models, which are cute, of obvious use in simple cases, but not very high powered, incapable of explaining ethical evolution, but cast in the mystique of hard science, when in fact they are both limited, and unverified.
Because 'science needs to look complete' even as it all too obviously incomplete, some ingenious 'explain it away' method is needed on ethics, and this claim of the sociobiologists is the object of some mockery by the philosopher David Stove in his Darwinian Fairytales.
The idea that Darwin's theory of natural selection has explained the issues of ethics(in the various tricky group/kin selecitionist models) is a distortion of the evidence and improper science methodology in action, a characteristic of Darwinian theory from the beginning.
As for philosophers, and Wilson's Consilience, any reasonable study of world history will show that the 'evolution of philosophy' is a major evolutionary mystery itself, and so far from Descartes to Kant becoming obsolete, the riddle of modern philosophy has defeated modern socio-biological science, what lowball from this peak in the nineteenth century. Scientists are inside the stream of philosophy, and the results are indeed sometimes 'philosophy junk'. But the idea that the early moderns are obsolete is a nice joke. Is Kant obsolete? Answer carefully, and get it right the first time.
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The eonic emergence of modern philosophy in the phase transition model, shows that the timing of the appearance of Descartes to Kant/Hegel/Hume is non-random and therefore in part the result of macro-evolution (in the eonic sense). In general the history of philosophy and science are braided together and show exact correlation with the eonic sequence. The exact relation of philosophy to evolution and history is something no theory of the Darwinian type can explain, and one reason so many people instinctively sense something wrong with Darwinian selectionism, often leading them to wrongly reject evolution.
This amounts to saying the the philosopher cannot do 'meta-science' on science or philosophy because he is inside its emergence, making a mockery of Wilson' tortoise scientism. Sorry, but that's reality. It requires very close study of the eonic evolution of civilization to get a feeling for this.
This reality doesn't interfere with good physics to any noticeable degree. And that' s problem. We think simple transfer of concepts to biology and culture is 'consilience', but in reality it is muddle. In the current confusion of Darwinian evolutionary psychology misapplied to history this effect becomes overwhelming, as indeed Huxley knew.
World History and the Eonic Effect
World History and the Eonic Effect