Levi does it again… he offers us an irreductionist account of Naturalism. One based on three basic axioms: 1) first, one must hold that there is no supernatural causation, only natural causation; 2) second, naturalism entails that one reject metaphysical teleology; and, 3) third, naturalism treats culture as part of nature. He affirms efficient causation while rejecting final causation. Interestingly he treats the relationship between culture/nature as a part/whole theory.
He also cites the work of Andy Clark whose anti-representationalist theory offers a cognitive resolution to idealism by externalizing our intelligence and memories within systems outside our brain (as Levi says: “the important point is that he’s able to arrive at this thesis by taking our biology seriously, by taking seriously limitations of our brains, memory, etc., and by taking seriously the fact that like all other critters we need to get around in the world, respond to events in the world in real time, etc”); and, next, the work of Kim Sterelny (Thought in a Hostile World), whose ideas on our development within nature and culture are treated as unitary, as part of a theory of co-evolvement, and that we need to take both biological and cultural development seriously “and investigate how they mutually influence one another, modify one another, and generate unique individuations.”
As Sternly says in a new book, The Evolved Apprentice, arguing against a certain type of empirical reductionism to individualist and internalist methodologies: “…empiricists have typically been individualists and internalists. I am neither: one message of this book is that human cognitive competence is a collective achievement and a collective legacy; at any one moment of time, we depend on each other, and over time, we stand on the shoulders not of a few giants but of myriads of ordinary agents who have made and passed on intact the informational resources on which human lives depend.” 1 This idea of collective achievement and legacy is something that I believe Levi tends to support in previous blog posts. It’s this ‘depends’ that is the key, that we are embedded within nature and culture as envrionment and communication, as something that we have to negotiate with our material being in an ongoing movement of development and growth that has no final end, no teleological frame of reference, but that just is is telling. I agree with Levi’s non-reductionist or irreductionst view of Naturalism. We need more of this kind of theory.
1. Sterelny, Kim (2012-01-24). The Evolved Apprentice (Jean Nicod Lectures). MIT Press. Kindle Edition.
I’m pleased that my last post on naturalism has generated some interesting discussion– pro and con –about naturalism. As I reflect on that discussion, it occurs to me that “naturalism” is one of those nebulous terms that means a variety of different things. For some naturalism seems to mean eliminativism, of the variety advocated by the Churchlands. For others naturalism means reductionism of the type advocated by evolutionary psychologists such as E.O.Wilson. There, all social phenomena are explained in biological terms pertaining to reproduction and survival. For others, naturalism means positivism. I do not advocate any of these positions, though I do think that theorists like E.O. Wilson shed important light on human behavior. I just don’t think they tell the entire story and that there are other causal factors involved that can’t be reduced to reproductive and survival aims. I take it that this is part of…
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