Darwinism as philosophy can the universal acid be contained?


Book Section

© Cambridge University Press 2017. The history of science has a broad pattern. Each science, including mathematics, began its life as a subdiscipline of philosophy, or at least as among the concerns of philosophers. Mathematics - at first mainly the science of space - separated itself from philosophy in the time of Plato and Euclid, physics in the period from Galileo to Newton, chemistry in a process that mainly took place during the lifetimes of figures from Boyle to Lavoisier, and biology from 1859, when the “Newton of the blade of grass” was compelled to publish On the Origin of Species. As each of these disciplines separated itself from philosophy, it left questions to philosophy that it didn’t need to answer or was unable to answer, questions that looked like they should be addressed by the science that relegated them to “mere” philosophy. Two obvious examples: mathematicians never seemed to need to answer the question, “What is a number?" Physicists have for the most part steered clear of addressing the question, “What is time?" The agenda of philosophy is replete with questions the sciences (and mathematics) can’t answer yet, may never be able to answer, and don’t need to answer. In addition to this first set of questions the sciences cannot (yet or perhaps ever) answer or don’t need to answer, there are the second-order questions about why the sciences can’t (yet) or don’t need to answer the first set of questions. This pattern in the history of science was finally broken by Darwin. Instead of leaving questions to philosophy, his breakthrough enabled the sciences, in particular, biology, to begin to take on questions that from Aristotle’s time onward had been the exclusive preserve of philosophy. It took more than a century of repeated forays by biologists and philosophers inspired by Darwin to convince the disciplines - biology and philosophy - that the former could deal with the questions of the latter and then to shape the answers biology provides to a host of perennial questions in philosophy. The prominence of “naturalism” in metaphysics, epistemology, the philosophy of mind, the philosophy of language, and moral philosophy is evidence of this achievement. Nowadays, philosophical “naturalism” pretty much means philosophy driven by mainly insights from Darwin.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Rosenberg, A

Published Date

  • January 1, 2016

Book Title

  • How Biology Shapes Philosophy: New Foundations for Naturalism

Start / End Page

  • 23 - 50

International Standard Book Number 13 (ISBN-13)

  • 9781107055834

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1017/9781107295490.003

Citation Source

  • Scopus