Archives For Steve Fuller

Author Information: Steve Fuller, University of Warwick, S.W.Fuller@warwick.ac.uk

Steve Fuller holds the Auguste Comte Chair in Social Epistemology at the University of Warwick. He is the author of more than twenty books, the next of which is Post-Truth: Knowledge as a Power Game (Anthem).

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-3yI

Note: This article originally appeared in the EASST Review 36(1) April 2017 and is republished below with the permission of the editors.

Image credit: Hans Luthart, via flickr

STS talks the talk without ever quite walking the walk. Case in point: post-truth, the offspring that the field has been always trying to disown, not least in the latest editorial of Social Studies of Science (Sismondo 2017). Yet STS can be fairly credited with having both routinized in its own research practice and set loose on the general public—if not outright invented—at least four common post-truth tropes:

1. Science is what results once a scientific paper is published, not what made it possible for the paper to be published, since the actual conduct of research is always open to multiple countervailing interpretations.

2. What passes for the ‘truth’ in science is an institutionalised contingency, which if scientists are doing their job will be eventually overturned and replaced, not least because that may be the only way they can get ahead in their fields.

3. Consensus is not a natural state in science but one that requires manufacture and maintenance, the work of which is easily underestimated because most of it occurs offstage in the peer review process.

4. Key normative categories of science such as ‘competence’ and ‘expertise’ are moveable feasts, the terms of which are determined by the power dynamics that obtain between specific alignments of interested parties.

What is perhaps most puzzling from a strictly epistemological standpoint is that STS recoils from these tropes whenever such politically undesirable elements as climate change deniers or creationists appropriate them effectively for their own purposes. Normally, that would be considered ‘independent corroboration’ of the tropes’ validity, as these undesirables demonstrate that one need not be a politically correct STS practitioner to wield the tropes effectively. It is almost as if STS practitioners have forgotten the difference between the contexts of discovery and justification in the philosophy of science. The undesirables are actually helping STS by showing the robustness of its core insights as people who otherwise overlap little with the normative orientation of most STS practitioners turn them to what they regard as good effect (Fuller 2016).

Of course, STSers are free to contest any individual or group that they find politically undesirable—but on political, not methodological grounds. We should not be quick to fault undesirables for ‘misusing’ our insights, let alone apologize for, self-censor or otherwise restrict our own application of these insights, which lay at the heart of Latour’s (2004) notorious mea culpa. On the contrary, we should defer to Oscar Wilde and admit that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. STS has enabled the undesirables to raise their game, and if STSers are too timid to function as partisans in their own right, they could try to help the desirables raise their game in response.

Take the ongoing debates surrounding the teaching of evolution in the US. The fact that intelligent design theorists are not as easily defeated on scientific grounds as young earth creationists means that when their Darwinist opponents leverage their epistemic authority on the former as if they were the latter, the politics of the situation becomes naked. Unlike previous creationist cases, the judgement in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School Board (in which I served as an expert witness for the defence) dispensed with the niceties of the philosophy of science and resorted to the brute sociological fact that most evolutionists do not consider intelligent design theory science. That was enough for the Darwinists to win the battle, but will it win them the war? Those who have followed the ‘evolution’ of creationism into intelligent design might conclude that Darwinists act in bad faith by not taking seriously that intelligent design theorists are trying to play by the Darwinists’ rules. Indeed, more than ten years after Kitzmiller, there is little evidence that Americans are any friendlier to Darwin than they were before the trial. And with Trump in the White House…?

Thus, I find it strange that in his editorial on post-truth, Sismondo extols the virtues of someone who seems completely at odds with the STS sensibility, namely, Naomi Oreskes, the Harvard science historian turned scientific establishment publicist. A signature trope of her work is the pronounced asymmetry between the natural emergence of a scientific consensus and the artificial attempts to create scientific controversy (e.g. Oreskes and Conway 2011). It is precisely this ‘no science before its time’ sensibility that STS has been spending the last half-century trying to oppose. Even if Oreskes’ political preferences tick all the right boxes from the standpoint of most STSers, she has methodologically cheated by presuming that the ‘truth’ of some matter of public concern most likely lies with what most scientific experts think at a given time. Indeed, Sismondo’s passive aggressive agonizing comes from his having to reconcile his intuitive agreement with Oreskes and the contrary thrust of most STS research.

This example speaks to the larger issue addressed by post-truth, namely, distrust in expertise, to which STS has undoubtedly contributed by circumscribing the prerogatives of expertise. Sismondo fails to see that even politically mild-mannered STSers like Harry Collins and Sheila Jasanoff do this in their work. Collins is mainly interested in expertise as a form of knowledge that other experts recognize as that form of knowledge, while Jasanoff is clear that the price that experts pay for providing trusted input to policy is that they do not engage in imperial overreach. Neither position approximates the much more authoritative role that Oreskes would like to see scientific expertise play in policy making. From an STS standpoint, those who share Oreskes’ normative orientation to expertise should consider how to improve science’s public relations, including proposals for how scientists might be socially and materially bound to the outcomes of policy decisions taken on the basis of their advice.

When I say that STS has forced both established and less than established scientists to ‘raise their game’, I am alluding to what may turn out to be STS’s most lasting contribution to the general intellectual landscape, namely, to think about science as literally a game—perhaps the biggest game in town. Consider football, where matches typically take place between teams with divergent resources and track records. Of course, the team with the better resources and track record is favoured to win, but sometimes it loses and that lone event can destabilise the team’s confidence, resulting in further losses and even defections. Each match is considered a free space where for ninety minutes the two teams are presumed to be equal, notwithstanding their vastly different histories. Francis Bacon’s ideal of the ‘crucial experiment’, so eagerly adopted by Karl Popper, relates to this sensibility as definitive of the scientific attitude. And STS’s ‘social constructivism’ simply generalizes this attitude from the lab to the world. Were STS to embrace its own sensibility much more wholeheartedly, it would finally walk the walk.

References

Fuller, Steve. ‘Embrace the Inner Fox: Post-Truth as the STS Symmetry Principle Universalized.’ Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective December, 2016: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-3nx.

Latour, Bruno. ‘Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern.’ Critical Inquiry 30, no. 2 (2004) : 225–248.

Oreskes, Naomi and Erik M. Conway Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming. New York: Bloomsbury, 2011.

Sismondo, Sergio. ‘Post-Truth?’ Social Studies of Science 47, no. 1 (2017): 3-6.

The following are a set of questions concerning the place of transhumanism in the Western philosophical tradition that Robert Frodeman’s Philosophy 5250 class at the University of North Texas posed to Steve Fuller, who met with the class via Skype on 11 April 2017.

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-3yl

Image credit: Joan Sorolla, via flickr

1. First a point of clarification: we should understand you not as a health span increaser, but rather as interested in infinity, or in some sense in man becoming a god? That is, H+ is a theological rather than practical question for you?

Yes, that’s right. I differ from most transhumanists in stressing that short term sacrifice—namely, in the form of risky experimentation and self-experimentation—is a price that will probably need to be paid if the long-term aims of transhumanism are to be realized. Moreover, once we finally make the breakthrough to extend human life indefinitely, there may be a moral obligation to make room for future generations, which may take the form of sending the old into space or simply encouraging suicide.

2. How do you understand the relationship between AI and transhumanism?

When Julian Huxley coined ‘transhumanism’ in the 1950s, it was mainly about eugenics, the sort of thing that his brother Aldous satirized in Brave New World. The idea was that the transhuman would be a ‘new and improved’ human, not so different from new model car. (Recall that Henry Ford is the founding figure of Brave New World.) However, with the advent of cybernetics, also happening around the same time, the idea that distinctly ‘human’ traits might be instantiated in both carbon and silicon began to be taken seriously, with AI being the major long-term beneficiary of this line of thought. Some transhumanists, notably Ray Kurzweil, find the AI version especially attractive, perhaps because it caters to their ‘gnostic’ impulse to have the human escape all material constraints. In the transhumanist jargon, this is called ‘morphological freedom’, a sort of secular equivalent of pure spirituality. However, this is to take AI in a somewhat different direction from its founders in the era of cybernetics, which was about creating intelligent machines from silicon, not about transferring carbon-based intelligence into silicon form.

3. How seriously do you take talk (by Bill Gates and others) that AI is an existential risk?

Not very seriously— at least on its own terms. By the time some superintelligent machine might pose a genuine threat to what we now regard as the human condition, the difference between human and non-human will have been blurred, mainly via cyborg identities of the sort that Stephen Hawking might end up being seen as having been a trailblazer. Whatever political questions would arise concerning AI at that point would likely divide humanity itself profoundly and not be a simple ‘them versus us’ scenario. It would be closer to the Cold War choice of Communism vs Capitalism. But honestly, I think all this ‘existential risk’ stuff gets its legs from genuine concerns about cyberwarfare. But taken on its face, cyberwarfare is nothing more than human-on-human warfare conducted by high tech means. The problem is still mainly with the people fighting the war rather than the algorithms that they program to create these latest weapons of mass destruction. I wonder sometimes whether this fixation on superintelligent machines is simply an indirect way to get humans to become responsible for their own actions—the sort of thing that psychoanalysts used to call ‘displacement behavior’ but the rest of us call ‘ventriloquism’.

4. If, as Socrates claims, to philosophize is to learn how to die, does H+ represent the end of philosophy?

Of course not!  The question of death is just posed differently because even from a transhumanist standpoint, it may be in the best interest of humanity as a whole for individuals to choose death, so as to give future generations a chance to make their mark. Alternatively, and especially if transhumanists are correct that our extended longevity will be accompanied by rude health, then the older and wiser among us —and there is no denying that ‘wisdom’ is an age-related virtue—might spend their later years taking greater risks, precisely because they would be better able to handle the various contingencies. I am thinking that such healthy elderly folk might be best suited to interstellar exploration because of the ultra-high risks involved. Indeed, I could see a future social justice agenda that would require people to demonstrate their entitlement to longevity by documenting the increasing amount of risk that they are willing to absorb.

5. What of Heidegger’s claim that to be an authentic human being we must project our lives onto the horizon of our death?

I couldn’t agree more! Transhumanism just puts more options on the table for what death looks like. For example, one might choose to die with or without the prospect of future resurrection. One might also just upload one’s mind into a computer, which would be its own special kind of resurrection. I think Heidegger and other philosophers have invested such great import on death simply because of its apparent irreversibility. However, if you want to recreate Heidegger’s sense of ‘ultimate concern’ in a post-death world, all you would need to do is to find some irreversible processes and unrecoverable opportunities that even transhumanists acknowledge. A hint is that when transhumanism was itself resurrected in its current form, it was known as ‘extropianism’, suggesting an active resistance to entropy. For transhumanists—very much in the spirit of the original cybernetician, Norbert Wiener—entropy is the ultimate irreversible process and hence ultimate challenge for the movement to overcome.

6. What is your response to Heidegger’s claim that it is in the confrontation with nothingness, in the uncanny, that we are brought back to ourselves?

Well, that certainly explains the phenomenon that roboticists call the ‘uncanny valley’, whereby people are happy to deal with androids until they resemble humans ‘a bit too much’, at which point people are put off. There are two sides to this response—not only that the machines seem too human but also that they are still recognized as machines. So the machines haven’t quite yet fooled us into thinking that they’re one of us. One hypothesis to explain the revulsion is that such androids appear to be like artificially animated dead humans, a bit like Frankenstein. Heideggerians can of course use all this to their advantage to demonstrate that death is the ultimate ‘Other’ to the human condition.

7. Generally, who do you think are the most important thinkers within the philosophic tradition for thinking about the implications of transhumanism?

Most generally, I would say the Platonic tradition, which has been most profound in considering how the same form might be communicated through different media. So when we take seriously the prospect that the ‘human’ may exist in carbon and/or silicon and yet remain human, we are following in Plato’s footsteps. Christianity holds a special place in this line of thought because of the person of Jesus Christ, who is somehow at once human and divine in equal and all respects. The branch of theology called ‘Christology’ is actually dedicated to puzzling over these matters, various solutions to which have become the stuff of science fiction characters and plots. St Augustine originally made the problem of Christ’s identity a problem for all of humanity when he leveraged the Genesis claim that we are created ‘image and the likeness of God’ to invent the concept of ‘will’ to name the faculty of free choice that is common to God and humans. We just exercise our wills much worse than God exercises his, as demonstrated by Adam’s misjudgment which started Original Sin (an Augustinian coinage). When subsequent Christian thinkers have said that ‘the flesh is weak’, they are talking about how humanity’s default biological conditions holds us back from fully realizing our divine potential. Kant acknowledged as much in secular terms when he explicitly defined the autonomy necessary for truly moral action in terms of resisting the various paths of least resistance put before us. These are what Christians originally called ‘temptations’, Kant himself called ‘heteronomy’ and Herbert Marcuse in a truly secular vein would later call ‘desublimation’.

8. One worry that arises from the Transhumanism project (especially about gene editing, growing human organs in animals, etc.) regards the treatment of human enhancement as “commercial products”. In other words, the worry is concerns the (further) commodification of life. Does this concern you? More generally, doesn’t H+ imply a perverse instrumentalization of our being?

My worries about commodification are less to do with the process itself than the fairness of the exchange relations in which the commodities are traded. Influenced by Locke and Nozick, I would draw a strong distinction between alienation and exploitation, which tends to be blurred in the Marxist literature. Transhumanism arguably calls for an alienation of the body from human identity, in the sense that your biological body might be something that you trade for a silicon upgrade, yet you humanity remains intact on both sides of the transaction, at least in terms of formal legal recognition. Historic liberal objections to slavery rested on a perceived inability to do this coherently. Marxism upped the ante by arguing that the same objections applied to wage labor under the sort of capitalism promoted by the classical political economists of his day, who saw themselves as scientific underwriters of the new liberal order emerging in post-feudal Europe. However, the force of Marxist objections rest on alienation being linked to exploitation. In other words, not only am I free to sell my body or labor, but you are also offer whatever price serves to close the sale. However, the sorts of power imbalances which lay behind exploitation can be—and have been—addressed in various ways. Admittedly more work needs to be done, but a time will come when alienation is simply regarded as a radical exercise of freedom—specifically, the freedom to, say, project myself as an avatar in cyberspace or, conversely, convert part of my being to property that can be traded from something that may in turn enhance my being.

9. Robert Nozick paints a possible scenario in Anarchy, State, and Utopia where he describes a “genetic supermarket” where we can choose our genes just as one selects a frozen pizza. Nozick’s scenario implies a world where human characteristics are treated in the way we treat other commercial products. In the Transhuman worldview, is the principle or ultimate value of life commercial?

There is something to that, in the sense that anything that permits discretionary choice will lend itself to commercialization unless the state intervenes—but I believe that the state should intervene and regulate the process. Unfortunately, from a PR standpoint, a hundred years ago that was called ‘eugenics’. Nevertheless, people in the future may need to acquire a license to procreate, and constraints may even be put on the sort of offspring are and are not permissible, and people may even be legally required to undergo periodic forms of medical surveillance—at least as a condition of employment or welfare benefits. (Think Gattaca as a first pass at this world.) It is difficult to see how an advanced democracy that acknowledges already existing persistent inequalities in life-chances could agree to ‘designer babies’ without also imposing the sort of regime that I am suggesting. Would this unduly restrict people’s liberty? Perhaps not, if people will have acquired the more relaxed attitude to alienation, as per my answer to the previous question. However, the elephant in the room—and which I argued in The Proactionary Imperative is more important—is liability. In other words, who is responsible when things go wrong in a regime which encourages people to experiment with risky treatments? This is something that should focus the minds of lawyers and insurers, especially in a world are presumed to be freer per se because they have freer access to information.

10. Is human enhancement consistent with other ways in which people modify their lifestyles, that is, are they analogous in principle to buying a new cell phone, learning a language or working out? Is it a process of acquiring ideas, goods, assets, and experiences that distinguish one person from another, either as an individual or as a member of a community? If not, how is human enhancement different?

‘Human enhancement’, at least as transhumanists understand the phrase, is about ‘morphological freedom’, which I interpret as a form of ultra-alienation. In other words, it’s not simply about people acquiring things, including prosthetic extensions, but also converting themselves to a different form, say, by uploading the contents of one’s brain into a computer. You might say that transhumanism’s sense of ‘human enhancement’ raises the question of whether one can be at once trader and traded in a way that enables the two roles to be maintained indefinitely. Classical political economy seemed to imply this, but Marx denied its ontological possibility.

11. The thrust of 20th Century Western philosophy could be articulated in terms of the strife for possible futures, whether that future be Marxist, Fascist, or other ideologically utopian schemes, and the philosophical fallout of coming to terms with their successes and failures. In our contemporary moment, it appears as if widespread enthusiasm for such futures has disappeared, as the future itself seems as fragmented as our society. H+ is a new, similar effort; but it seems to be a specific evolution of the futurism focused, not on a society, but on the human person (even, specific human persons). Comments?

In terms of how you’ve phrased your question, transhumanism is a recognizably utopian scheme in nearly all respects—including the assumption that everyone would find its proposed future intrinsically attractive, even if people disagree on how or whether it might be achieved. I don’t see transhumanism as so different from capitalism or socialism as pure ideologies in this sense. They all presume their own desirability. This helps to explain why people who don’t agree with the ideology are quickly diagnosed as somehow mentally or morally deficient.

12. A common critique of Heidegger’s thought comes from an ethical turn in Continental philosophy. While Heidegger understands death to the harbinger of meaning, he means specifically and explicitly one’s own death. Levinas, however, maintains that the primary experience of death that does this work is the death of the Other. One’s experience with death comes to one through the death of a loved one, a friend, a known person, or even through the distant reality of a war or famine across the world. In terms of this critique, the question of transhumanism then leads to a socio-ethical concern: if one, using H+ methods, technologies, and enhancements, can significantly inoculate oneself against the threat of death, how ethically (in the Levinasian sense) can one then legitimately live in relation to others in a society, if the threat of the death of the Other no longer provides one the primal experience of the threat of death?

Here I’m closer to Heidegger than Levinas in terms of grounding intuition, but my basic point would be that an understanding of the existence and significance of death is something that can be acquired without undergoing a special sort of experience. Phenomenologically inclined philosophers sometimes seem to assume that a significant experience must happen significantly. But this is not true at all. My main understanding of death as a child came not from people I know dying, but simply from watching the morning news on television and learning about the daily body count from the Vietnam War. That was enough for me to appreciate the gravity of death—even before I started reading the Existentialists.

Editor’s Note:

    The following are elements of syllabi for a graduate, and an undergraduate, course taught by Robert Frodeman in spring 2017 at the University of North Texas. These courses offers an interesting juxtaposition of texts aimed at reimagining how to perform academic philosophy as “field philosophy”. Field philosophy seeks to address meaningfully, and demonstrably, contemporary public debates, regarding transhumanism for example, given attention to shifting ideas and frameworks of both the Humboldtian university and the “new American” university.

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-3xB

Philosophy 5250: Topics in Philosophy

Overall Theme

This course continues my project of reframing academic philosophy within the approach and problematics of field philosophy.

In terms of philosophic categories, we will be reading classics in 19th and 20th century continental philosophy: Hegel, Nietzsche, and Heidegger. But we will be approaching these texts with an agenda: to look for insights into a contemporary philosophical controversy, the transhumanist debate. This gives us two sets of readings – our three authors, and material from the contemporary debate surrounding transhumanism.

Now, this does not mean that we will restrict our interest in our three authors to what is applicable to the transhumanist debate; our thinking will go wherever our interests take us. But the topic of transhumanism will be primus inter pares.

Readings

  • Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, Preface
  • Hegel, The Science of Logic, selections
  • Heidegger, Being and Time, Division 1, Macquarrie translation
  • Heidegger, ‘The Question Concerning Technology’
  • Nietzsche, selections from Thus Spoke Zarathustra and Beyond Good and Evil

Related Readings

Grading

You will have two assignments, both due at the end of the semester. I strongly encourage you to turn in drafts of your papers.

  • A 2500 word paper on a major theme from one of our three authors.
  • A 2500 word paper using our three authors to illuminate your view of the transhumanist challenge.

Philosophy 4750: Philosophy and Public Policy

Overview

This is a course in meta-philosophy. It seeks to develop a philosophy adequate for the 21st century.

Academic philosophy has been captured by a set of categories (ancient, modern, contemporary; ethics, logic, metaphysics, epistemology) that are increasingly dysfunctional for contemporary life. Therefore, this is not merely a course on a specific subject matter (i.e., ‘public policy’) to be added to the rest. Rather, it seeks to question, and philosophize about, the entire knowledge enterprise as it exists today – and to philosophize about the role of philosophy in understanding and perhaps (re)directing the knowledge enterprise.

The course will cover the following themes:

  • The past, present, and future of the university in the Age of Google
  • The end of disciplinarity and the rise of accountability culture
  • The New Republic of Letters and the role of the humanist today
  • The failure of applied philosophy and the development of alternative models

Course Structure

This course is ‘live’: it reflects 20 years of my research on place of philosophy in contemporary society. As such, the course embodies a Humboldtian connection between teaching and research: I am not simply a teacher and a researcher; I’m a teacher-researcher who shares the insights I’m developing with students, testing my thinking in the classroom, and sharing my freshest thoughts. This breaks with the corporate model of education where the professor is an interchangeable cog, teaching the same materials that could be gotten at any university worldwide – while also opening me up to charges of self-indulgence.

Readings

  • Michael M. Crow and William B. Dabars, Designing the New American University
  • Crow chapter in HOI
  • Clark, Academic Charisma
  • Fuller, The Academic Caesar
  • Rudy, The Universities of Europe, 1100-1914
  • Fuller, Sociology of Intellectual Life
  • Smith, Philosophers 6 Types
  • Socrates Tenured: The Institutions of 21st Century Philosophy
  • Plato, The Republic, Book 1

Author Information: Lyudmila A. Markova, Russian Academy of Science, markova.lyudmila2013@yandex.ru

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-3vE

Please refer to:

It is difficult to find a place for the concept of truth in social epistemology. Current philosophers disagree on the status “truth” and “objectivity” as the basis of thinking about science. Meanwhile, the very name ‘social epistemology’ speaks to a serious inevitable turn in our attitude toward scientific knowledge.  Once epistemology becomes social, scientific knowledge is oriented not to nature, but to human beings. Epistemology, then, addresses not the laws of nature, but the process of their production by a scientist. In classical epistemology we have, as a result of scientific research, laws regarding the material reality of the world created by us. Experimental results, obtained in classical science, must be objective and true, or they become useless.

In social epistemology, scientific results represent social communication among scientists (and not just among scientists), their ability to produce new knowledge, and their professionalism. In this case, knowledge helps us to create not a material artificial world, but a virtual world which is able to think. For such knowledge, notions like “truth” and “objectivity” do not play a serious role. Other concepts such as “dialog”, “communication”, “interaction”, “difference” and “diversity” come to the fore. In these concepts, we can see a turn in the development of epistemological thinking.

However, social epistemology does not destroy its predecessor. Let us remember this definition of social epistemology which Steve Fuller gives in 1988:

How should the pursuit of knowledge be organized, given that under normal circumstances knowledge is pursued by many human beings, each working on a more or less well-defined body of knowledge and each equipped with roughly the same imperfect cognitive capacities, albeit with varying degree of access to one another’s activities?

It is not difficult to see that Fuller does not consider the aim of social epistemology as obtaining objective knowledge about the external world. He remains concerned about the diversity of social conditions in which scientists work. Changes in these conditions and features of an individual scientist such as professional competence, among others, should be taken into consideration.  Exactly these characteristics of thinking that come to the fore allow us to speak about a turn in the development of thinking. Now, the problems that exist in science and society require, for their solution, a new type of thinking. Still, we can find empirical reality the foundation both for classical (modern) and non-classical (based on social epistemology) logic.

Let us take an example. You bathe every day in the river Volga. You bathe today and you come to bathe tomorrow in the same river Volga. You cannot object that the river is still the Volga. Yet, at the same time, you see numerous changes from one day to the next—ripples appearing in, and new leaves appearing on, the water’s surface, the water temperature turning slightly colder and so on. It is possible to conclude that the river, after all, is not as it was yesterday. As Heraclitus famously observed: “You cannot enter the same river twice.”

Both conclusions are right. However, notions such as truth and objectivity did not lose their logical and historical significance; rather, they became marginal. Proponents of social epistemology should establish communication with classical logic and not try to destroy it.

Author Information: Steve Fuller, University of Warwick, S.W.Fuller@warwick.ac.uk

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-3uu

Editor’s Note: Steve Fuller’s “A Man for All Seasons, Including Ours: Thomas More as the Patron Saint of Social Media” originally appeared in ABC Religion and Ethics on 23 February 2017.

Please refer to:

Image credit: Carolien Coenen, via flickr

November 2016 marked the five hundredth anniversary of the publication of Utopia by Thomas More in Leuven through the efforts of his friend and fellow Humanist, Desiderius Erasmus.

More is primarily remembered today for this work, which sought to show how a better society might be built by learning from the experience of other societies.

It was published shortly before he entered into the service of King Henry VIII, who liked Utopia. And as the monarch notoriously struggled to assert England’s sovereignty over the Pope, More proved to be a critical supporter, eventually rising to the rank of “Lord Chancellor,” his legal advisor.

Nevertheless, within a few years More was condemned to death for refusing to acknowledge the King’s absolute authority over the Pope. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, More introduced “integrity”—in the sense of “moral integrity” or “personal integrity”—into English while awaiting execution. Specifically, he explained his refusal to sign the “Oath of Supremacy” of the King over the Pope by his desire to preserve the integrity of his reputation.

To today’s ears this justification sounds somewhat self-serving, as if More were mainly concerned with what others would think of him. However, More lived at least two centuries before the strong modern distinction between the public and the private person was in general use.

He was getting at something else, which is likely to be of increasing relevance in our “postmodern” world, which has thrown into doubt the very idea that we should think of personal identity as a matter of self-possession in the exclusionary sense which has animated the private-public distinction. It turns out that the pre-modern More is on the side of the postmodernists.

We tend to think of “modernization” as an irreversible process, and in some important respects it seems to be. Certainly our lives have come be organized around technology and its attendant virtues: power, efficiency, speed. However, some features of modernity—partly as an unintended consequence of its technological trajectory—appear to be reversible. One such feature is any strong sense of what is private and public—something to which any avid user of social media can intuitively testify.

More proves to be an interesting witness here because while he had much to say about conscience, he did not presume the privacy of conscience. On the contrary, he judged someone to be a person of “good conscience” if he or she listened to the advice of trusted friends, as he had taken Henry VIII to have been prior to his issuing the Oath of Supremacy. This is quite different from the existentially isolated conception of conscience that comes into play during the Protestant Reformation, on which subsequent secular appeals to conscience in the modern era have been based.

For More, conscience is a publicly accessible decision-making site, the goodness of which is to be judged in terms of whether the right principles have been applied in the right way in a particular case. The platform for this activity is an individual human being who—perhaps by dint of fate—happens to be hosting the decision. However, it is presumed that the same decision would have been reached, regardless of the hosting individual. Thus, it makes sense for the host to consult trusted friends, who could easily imagine themselves as the host.

What is lacking from More’s analysis of conscience is a sense of its creative and self-authorizing character, a vulgarized version of which features in the old Frank Sinatra standard, “My Way.” This is the sense of self-legislation which Kant defined as central to the autonomous person in the modern era. It is a legacy of Protestantism, which took much more seriously than Catholicism the idea that humans are created “in the image and likeness of God.” In effect, we are created to be creators, which is just another way of saying that we are unique among the creatures in possessing “free will.”

To be sure, whether our deeds make us worthy of this freedom is for God alone to decide. Our fellows may well approve of our actions but we—and they—may be judged otherwise in light of God’s moral bookkeeping. The modern secular mind has inherited from this Protestant sensibility an anxiety—a “fear and trembling,” to recall Kierkegaard’s echo of St. Paul—about our fate once we are dead. This sense of anxiety is entirely lacking in More, who accepts his death serenely even though he has no greater insight into what lies in store for him than the Protestant Reformers or secular moderns.

Understanding the nature of More’s serenity provides a guide for coming to terms with the emerging postmodern sense of integrity in our data-intensive, computer-mediated world. More’s personal identity was strongly if not exclusively tied to his public persona—the totality of decisions and actions that he took in the presence of others, often in consultation with them. In effect, he engaged throughout his life in what we might call a “critical crowdsourcing” of his identity. The track record of this activity amounts to his reputation, which remains in open view even after his death.

The ancient Greeks and Romans would have grasped part of More’s modus operandi, which they would understand in terms of “fame” and “honour.” However, the ancients were concerned with how others would speak about them in the future, ideally to magnify their fame and honour to mythic proportions. They were not scrupulous about documenting their acts in the sense that More and we are. On the contrary, the ancients hoped that a sufficient number of word-of-mouth iterations over time might serve to launder their acts of whatever unsavoury character that they may have originally had.

In contrast, More was interested in people knowing exactly what he decided on various occasions. On that basis they could pass judgement on his life, thereby—so he believed—vindicating his reputation. His “integrity” thus lay in his life being an open book that could be read by anyone as displaying some common narrative threads that add up to a conscientious person. This orientation accounts for the frequency with which More and his friends, especially Erasmus, testified to More’s standing as a man of good conscience in whatever he happened to say or do. They contributed to his desire to live “on the record.”

More’s sense of integrity survives on Facebook pages or Twitter feeds, whenever the account holders are sufficiently dedicated to constructing a coherent image of themselves, notwithstanding the intensity of their interaction with others. In this context, “privacy” is something quite different from how it has been understood in modernity. Moderns cherish privacy as an absolute right to refrain from declaration in order to protect their sphere of personal freedom, access to which no one— other than God, should he exist—is entitled. For their part, postmoderns interpret privacy more modestly as friendly counsel aimed at discouraging potentially self-harming declarations. This was also More’s world.

More believed that however God settled his fate, it would be based on his public track record. Unlike the Protestant Reformers, he also believed that this track record could be judged equally by humans and by God. Indeed, this is what made More a Humanist, notwithstanding his loyalty to the Pope unto death.

Yet More’s stance proved to be theologically controversial for four centuries, until the Catholic Church finally made him the patron saint of politicians in 1935. Perhaps More’s spiritual patronage should be extended to cover social media users.

Justin Cruickshank at the University of Birmingham was kind enough to alert me to Steve Fuller’s talk “Transhumanism and the Future of Capitalism”—held by The Philosophy of Technology Research Group—on 11 January 2017.

Author Information: Steve Fuller, University of Warwick, S.W.Fuller@warwick.ac.uk

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-3nx

Editor’s Note: As we near the end of an eventful 2016, the SERRC will publish reflections considering broadly the immediate future of social epistemology as an intellectual and political endeavor.

Please refer to:

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Image credit: Der Robert, via flickr

The Oxford Dictionary made ‘post-truth’ word of the year for 2016. Here is the definition, including examples of usage:

Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief:

‘in this era of post-truth politics, it’s easy to cherry-pick data and come to whatever conclusion you desire’

‘some commentators have observed that we are living in a post-truth age’

In STS terms, this definition is clearly ‘asymmetrical’ because it is pejorative, not neutral. It is a post-truth definition of ‘post-truth’. It is how those dominant in the epistemic power game want their opponents to be seen. In my recent symmetrical exposition of ‘post-truth’ for the Guardian, I suggested that the Oxford Dictionary’s definition speaks the lion’s truth, which tries to create as much moral and epistemic distance as possible from whatever facsimile of the truth the fox might be peddling. Thus, the fox—but not the lion—is portrayed as distorting the facts and appealing to emotion. Yet, the lion’s truth appears to the fox as simplistically straightforward and heavy-handed, often delivered in a fit of righteous indignation. Indeed, this classic portrayal of the lion/fox divide may better apply to the history of science than the history of politics.

For better or worse, STS recoiled from the post-truth worldview in 2004, when Bruno Latour famously waved the white flag in the Science Wars, which had been raging for nearly fifteen years—starting with the post-Cold War reassessment of public funding for science. Latour’s terms of surrender were telling. After all, he was the one who extended the symmetry principle from the Edinburgh School’s treatment of all human factors—regardless of whether we now deem them to have been ‘good’ and ‘bad’—to include all non-human factors as well. However, Latour hadn’t anticipated that symmetry applied not only to the range of objects studied but also the range of agents studying them.

Somewhat naively, Latour seemed to think that a universalization of the symmetry principle would make STS the central node in a universal network of those studying ‘technoscience’. Instead, everyone started to apply the symmetry principle for themselves, which led to rather cross-cutting networks and unexpected effects, especially once the principle started to be wielded by creationists, climate sceptics and other candidates for an epistemic ‘basket of deplorables’. And by turning symmetry to their advantages, the deplorables got results, at least insofar as the balance of power has gradually tilted more in their favour—again, for better or worse.

My own view has always been that a post-truth world is the inevitable outcome of greater epistemic democracy. In other words, once the instruments of knowledge production are made generally available—and they have been shown to work—they will end up working for anyone with access to them. This in turn will remove the relatively esoteric and hierarchical basis on which knowledge has traditionally acted as a force for stability and often domination. The locus classicus is the Republic, in which Plato promotes what in the Middle Ages was called a ‘double truth’ doctrine – one for the elites (which allows them to rule) and one for the masses (which allows them to be ruled).

Of course, the cost of making the post-truth character of knowledge so visible is that it also exposes a power dynamics that may become more intense and ultimately destructive of the social order. This was certainly Plato’s take on democracy’s endgame. In the early modern period, this first became apparent with the Wars of Religion that almost immediately broke out in Europe once the Bible was made readily available. (Francis Bacon and others saw in the scientific method a means to contain any such future conflict by establishing a new epistemic mode of domination.) While it is possible to defer democracy by trying to deflect attention from the naked power dynamics, as Latour does, with fancy metaphysical diversions and occasional outbursts in high dudgeon, those are leonine tactics that only serve to repress STS’s foxy roots. In 2017, we should finally embrace our responsibility for the post-truth world and call forth our vulpine spirit to do something unexpectedly creative with it.

The hidden truth of Aude sapere (Kant’s ‘Dare to know’) is Audet adipiscitur (Thucydides’ ‘Whoever dares, wins’).

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Image credit: Mike Licht, via flickr

Editor’s Note: The following is a slightly abridged version of Steve Fuller’s article “Science has always been a bit ‘post-truth’” that appeared in The Guardian on 15 December 2016.

Even today, more than fifty years after its first edition, Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions remains the first port of call to learn about the history, philosophy or sociology of science. This is the book famous for talking about science as governed by ‘paradigms’ until overtaken by ‘revolutions’.

Kuhn argued that the way that both scientists and the general public need to understand the history of science is ‘Orwellian’. He is alluding to 1984, in which the protagonist’s job is to rewrite newspapers from the past to make it seem as though the government’s current policy is where it had been heading all along. In this perpetually airbrushed version of history, the public never sees the U-turns, switches of allegiance and errors of judgement that might cause them to question the state’s progressive narrative. Confidence in the status quo is maintained and new recruits are inspired to follow in its lead. Kuhn claimed that what applies to totalitarian 1984 also applies to science united under the spell of a paradigm.

What makes Kuhn’s account of science ‘post-truth’ is that truth is no longer the arbiter of legitimate power but rather the mask of legitimacy that is worn by everyone in pursuit of power. Truth is just one more – albeit perhaps the most important – resource in a power game without end. In this respect, science differs from politics only in that the masks of its players rarely drop.

The explanation for what happens behind the masks lies in the work of the Italian political economist Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923), devotee of Machiavelli, admired by Mussolini and one of sociology’s forgotten founders. Kuhn spent his formative years at Harvard in the late 1930s when the local kingmaker, biochemist Lawrence Henderson, not only taught the first history of science courses but also convened an interdisciplinary ‘Pareto Circle’ to get the university’s rising stars acquainted with the person he regarded as Marx’s only true rival.

For Pareto, what passes for social order is the result of the interplay of two sorts of elites, which he called, following Machiavelli, ‘lions’ and ‘foxes’. The lions acquire legitimacy from tradition, which in science is based on expertise rather than lineage or custom. Yet, like these earlier forms of legitimacy, expertise derives its authority from the cumulative weight of intergenerational experience. This is exactly what Kuhn meant by a ‘paradigm’ in science – a set of conventions by which knowledge builds in an orderly fashion to complete a certain world-view established by a founding figure – say, Newton or Darwin. Each new piece of knowledge is anointed by a process of ‘peer review’.

As in 1984, the lions normally dictate the historical narrative. But on the cutting room floor lies the activities of the other set of elites, the foxes. In today’s politics of science, they are known by a variety of names, ranging from ‘mavericks’ to ‘social constructivists’ to ‘pseudoscientists’. Foxes are characterised by dissent and unrest, thriving in a world of openness and opportunity. (Read more …)

Author Information: Eugene Loginov, Moscow State University, http://hisocrates.com/portfolio-view/eugene-loginov-2/

Loginov, Eugene. “Steve Fuller on Proofs for God’s Existence: An Interview.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 5, no. 12 (2016): 1-3.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-3lq

Editor’s Note: A philosophy student at Moscow State University, Eugene Loginov, recently interviewed Steve Fuller on his views about arguments concerning the existence of God. The interview will be published in Russian in the philosophy magazine, Date-Palm Compote. Below are Loginov’s questions and Fuller’s responses.

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Image credit: Tom Davidson, via flickr

Eugene Loginov (EL): What is your position regarding the general idea of making arguments for the existence of God? Do you think it to be valid at all? Why?

Steve Fuller (SF): I think that arguments for the existence of God are among the most psychologically revealing philosophical projects that one can engage in. This is especially true of ‘God’ in the Abrahamic religions, in whose ‘image and likeness’ humans are supposedly created. The sort of arguments that people find persuasive for the existence of God says something deep about the nature of their own connection with the world. For example, the more secure we feel about our place in the cosmos, the more persuasive the ontological argument will seem, since it is based on faith in the workings of our own minds. I identify this orientation with a broadly ‘Augustinian’ approach to Christianity, which stresses the overlap between human and divine being in terms of access to the logos: God creates by the Word and we can understand through the Word.

(EL): If you tried to prove God’s existence (or to make a claim against its existence), what definition of the notion of “God” would you use? Do you think that the classic definition of “God” as “the all-good, omniscient and omnipotent creator of the world” is still the suitable one?

(SF): I would go with the idea of God that I find in Duns Scotus, and Leibniz namely, that God is the transcendental optimizer of all the virtues. In other words, God is not merely all good, all powerful, etc. After all, any of one of those qualities taken to the extreme may be incompatible with the others—and may turn out to result in more bad than good. (Think of what might happen to humans if God were a ruthlessly efficient superintelligent computer.) It follows that God contains all the virtues in a way that enables them to cohere together in his person to maximum overall positive effect—a convergence to a ‘divine singularity’, if you will, or what Pierre Teilhard de Chardin called the ‘Omega Point’. However, it may not be obvious what such a transcendental optimizer would look like, since such a God would be constituted in a way which appears—at least from a human perspective—to involve trade-offs between the virtues.

(EL): Which of the various arguments for God’s existence (or claims against its, or His, existence) you regard as the most valid and/or the most interesting one?

(SF): My answer to [your second question] (see above) is a version of the ontological argument, which I believe is the most intellectually interesting and challenging argument for God’s existence—because it basically makes our own existence (at least as thinking beings) co-dependent with God’s existence. Philosophers tend to focus on whether the ontological argument is valid, when in fact they should pay attention to the consequences if it turns out to be invalid. More than simply the existence of God is at stake. The constitution of our own minds is also on trial here. Partly influenced by Kant, Darwin believed that humans were unique as a species—due to our overdeveloped cerebral cortex—in taking its own ideas seriously even if they lack any direct relation to empirical reality. He believed that this liability (at least from an evolutionary standpoint) resulted in brutal intra-species wars and might ultimately lead to the extinction of the human species altogether. For Darwin, ‘God’ was clearly one such idea, especially when defended by the ontological argument.

(EL): What are your thoughts regarding significance of demonstrations of God’s existence (or claims against its, or His, existence) in history of philosophy, science, religion and culture in general?

(SF): The best way to answer the question is to consider what happens when arguments for the existence of God are not taken seriously. The first thing that happens is that belief in God goes underground. In other words, God becomes something whose existence is implicitly affirmed or denied but does not make a material difference to other propositions that one might believe or defend. The second thing that happens is that the ‘hole’ in public discourse formerly filled by God talk becomes colonized by, on the one hand, humans-as-gods and, on the other hand, an outright denial of the order and goodness to reality that a rational belief in God was supposed to underwrite. So there are seriously value implications for denying the seriousness of arguments for God’s existence.

(EL): There is a widely held opinion that Kant’s critique of the arguments he was aware of was so devastating, that the very question of making arguments for the existence of God ceased to be philosophically relevant. Do you agree? Why?

(SF): As a matter of historical fact, Kant dealt a serious blow to formal arguments for the existence of God, since he basically diagnosed all of them as pathologies of reason of one sort or another. As I said in answer to [your third question] (see above), this opened the door to Darwin’s diminished view of human cognitive aspirations. However, it is worth pointing out that much of 19th century philosophy of science—I think here especially of William Whewell and Charles Sanders Peirce—stressed the ‘pragmatic’ side of Kant’s position, which accepted the motivational role that God’s existence played in driving science towards a unified worldview and conferring on humans a sense of purpose more generally.

I would also observe that Kant seems to have thought that any attempt to prove the existence of God must start by imagining ourselves to be radically different from God, and so the point of the ‘proof’ would be to gain epistemic access to this ‘other’ being called ‘God. However, the Cartesian tradition (including Malebranche and Leibniz) does not presume that sense of radical difference. In other words, these rationalists took rather literally the idea that we are already equipped to access the ‘Mind of God’. This effectively modernizes Augustine, which later philosophers further secularized as the ‘a priori’ and ‘innate ideas’. However, the challenge—already recognized by Augustine—is how to translate God’s infinite and transcendental status into our necessarily finite and temporal understanding of things.

Perhaps the most concrete expression of this challenge occurs over the ‘problem of evil’, the subject matter of theodicy, which queries God’s apparent tolerance or indifference to the world’s massive harms and imperfections. It was in this context that arguments for God’s existence based on ‘intelligent design’ (i.e. a deeper design than would appear at first glance) were developed in the 18th century, culminating in the work of William Paley, whose natural theology famously drove Darwin away from a belief in God.

(EL): What text (or texts) is in your opinion the most important one (or ones) for understanding the problematic in question?

(SF): Interestingly, I don’t think there is a single book that really discusses classic arguments for the existence in God in all their historical, philosophical and sociological richness. However, I recommend the works of Peter Harrison, as one contemporary historian and philosopher of science who shows repeatedly how key doctrines relating to a belief in the existence of God—such as the need for a personal encounter with the Bible and the doctrine of Original Sin—operated as what Imre Lakatos would have called as ‘positive heuristic’ in facilitating the inquiring mind during the 17th century Scientific Revolution.

Author Information: Gregory Sandstrom, European Humanities University and Mykolas Romeris University, gregory.sandstrom@ehu.lt

Sandstrom, Gregory. “Trans-Evolutionary Change Even Darwin Would Accept.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 5, no. 11 (2016): 18-26.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-3ji

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Image credit: Lasso Tyrifjord, via flickr

“[T]he grandest narrative of western culture, the modern story of evolution.” — Betty Smocovitis (1996)

“[E]volutionary change occurs over timeframes that transcend virtually all the interesting contexts that call for sociological explanations. Specifically, genetic change occurs either over too large a temporal expanse to interest professional sociologists or at a level too far below the humanly perceptible to interest the social agents that sociologists usually study.”— Steve Fuller (2005)

The theory of evolution is “one of the most ideological of sciences.”— Eduard Kolchinsky (2015)

The controversy over Darwin’s evolutionary legacy in biology, philosophy and social science, re-examined at the recent Royal Society ‘new trends’ meeting reinforces the belief within SSH that Darwin’s contribution to knowledge, whatever it may have been politically (cf. Patrick Matthew and the Arago Effect) or natural scientifically, was incomplete and in many ways destructive when applied to human beings. The danger of Darwinian evolution being applied to society is something that even the arch-Darwinist Richard Dawkins admits. Some scholars, however, don’t seem willing to heed such a warning or even to acknowledge it has merit.

Scholarly disagreement surrounding the concept of ‘evolution’ (read: history, change-over-time, development, etc.) isn’t only about biology, but also about social sciences and humanities (SSH). Thankfully, practitioners in SSH have not often felt obliged to prostrate our fields to the promised hand-me-down evolutionistic ‘contribution’ of natural sciences, including biology. Yet there has also been a fruitful mixture of concepts between biology and SSH, that from time to time needs to be untangled or re-catalogued, to return a better proportion during a temporal disharmony.

One can see a modest level of internet buzz surrounding this Royal Society event from a variety of exotic quarters, including mainstream Nature, the British Academy, and philosopher Nancy Cartwright, to fringe journalism, outright philosophistry that is basically neo-creationism, in USAmerican-style, shouted loud and proud by the Intelligent Design Movement, and likewise aggressively resisted by the Darwinistas and members of the humanities Evolutionariat. And of course the ‘orthodox’ of scientistic right-wing conservative Kabala in pop USA culture while it seems to know surprisingly little about the philosophy of science. One almost needs a guide to navigate their way through all of this noise and pretence to defence of territories and ideologies, which oftentimes comes at too high an intellectual cost.

The gap between the ‘two cultures’ in this sense is as fresh as ever, which the Discovery Institute and their ‘new atheist’ opponents both exacerbate; together and taken separately. In our ‘multiversities’ today there are many more than just ‘two cultures’ or a ‘third culture.’ We try with many of these ‘cultures’ to make sense of them, that they may pollinate our understandings and identities both in the digital internet universe and in the actual physical university structures that institutionally support most of the people reading this message. The gap in understanding now evident in the N. American landscape is simply that natural science has come to be seen as the mantle of a ‘culture apart’ from all others. In this view, natural scientists have now run into a wall in trying to dictate their particular discipline’s ‘evolutionary principles’ to all other ‘knowledge cultures,’ including SSH. And now philosophy and social science have been given a platform to fight for their intellectual rights to not be imperialised by a frenzied hoard of Darwinists.

In addition to naturalistic evolution, the ‘humanistic’ SSH discourse surrounding the term ‘evolution’ is rich and varied, with many open disagreements (e.g. R. Lewontin and J. Fracchia vs. W. Runciman 2000s, Fuller 2005-2010s). If one is to respect the cultural diversity of practises that R. Dawkins would attribute to ‘extended phenotypes’ in his gene-centric view of the world, then one needs to include the voices of philosophers and social scientists. The typical biologistic generalisations and mere condescending (pretending) to understand cultural fields have become tired reminders of anti-intellectualism within the Evolutionariat. The Royal Society gathering generally addressed the task of raising awareness about SSH on Day 3 – November 9, though the overall agenda was dominated by a kind of ‘biologism’ of the modern and extended evolutionary syntheses (MEES).

Nevertheless, the event’s mission was no less than to reposition ‘Darwinism,’ as well as clarify how 21st century evolutionary theories can effectively be(come) post-Darwinian. Thus, we come to a historical moment when the option of discarding much of the ‘crude Darwinism’ of the degenerate late-modern period, infused with biologistic imperialism in SSH, may now be propositioned further. By now, with annual Darwin Day celebrations in the Anglo-American world, this debacle of Darwin-idolisation has turned into the “Lysenko Affair of the ‘West’.” Given the opportunity for evolutionary ideas in SSH to be tried by a jury of representative scholars with the prospect that they be found largely empty of many of their promises, the prospect of trans-evolutionary change would indeed be seen as a direct threat to both the coherence and any claim to significance of the MEES. Darwinian evolution either needs to be significantly repositioned and shrunk in SSH usage or it needs to be thrown out altogether.

To achieve a way forward beyond the constraints and false pathways left over from the old Darwinian corpus, we introduce the notion of ‘trans-evolutionary change’ as a feature particularly of SSH (humanistic) rather than naturalistic fields. This is a trans-evolutionary change even Darwin would accept as it acknowledges humanity ‘in tension,’ but not necessarily always ‘at war’. It was a major contribution that the Russian scientific tradition made even to the ‘western’ canon about ‘evolution’ in the names of Karl F. Kessler and Piotr A. Kropotkin to highlight ‘mutual aid’ (vzaimnopomosh), ‘cooperation’ and later ‘symbiosis’ and ‘symbiogenesis.’ By ‘trans-evolutionary change’ the author thus identifies human tension in contrast with the struggle motif in the growingly discredited Darwin-Malthus-Hobbes school.

This topic has been raised several times already at SERRC, though with less of the flair than what comes from Steve Fuller’s own writings. Student of Fuller, William Lynch’s long paper “Darwinian Social Epistemology” was responded to adequately by Peter Taylor with a short critique. Lynch’s longer reply to Taylor includes this gem: “I accept that simple, biological explanations of complex human behaviors are unlikely to be effective.” O.k., then maybe it’s time he intellectually mature and move beyond 19th century ‘Darwinism’ dressed in pragmatic USAmericano culturological garb and consider dropping the reductionistic evolutionistic ideology in SSH? Taylor replied to Lynch convincingly in April 2016. This message reconnects with that one and takes it a stage further.

Taylor defines ‘artificial selection’ as “deliberate selection based on some explicit criterion”, which he calls “a restrictive form of explanation of evolutionary change” (2016). In both of these notions I agree with Taylor and disagree with Lynch. The larger issue involves the kinds of non-evolutionary change that are legitimately available for considered scholarly discussion, instead of hand-waving and dismissal by a throng of backwards-looking, Darwin-outdated biologists and self-styled ‘public understanding of science’ or STS gurus. While I agree with Taylor that it appears Lynch’s “view of Darwinism is what drives his taking on of Fuller and so it would be difficult for him to satisfy a reader like me,” I disagree that banning any and all talk of design or Design in the Academy, particularly in SSH, e.g. social epistemology, serves a constructive purpose.

It is too obvious for everyone involved that the Discovery Institute winks with little (secret) giggles to each other when speaking about human design, i.e. design by intelligent agents, the effects of intelligent agency, etc. Such talk is all standard fare and nothing spectacular, since it could be seen in any SSH field. Human beings are involved in ‘designing’ processes, just as we do many other processes in addition to ‘designing.’ It is now both sad and tired that the ID people still seem to think they’ve reinvented the wheel while making a major innovation on sliced bread (ReVoluTion!) in the concept duo of ‘intelligent’ + ‘design.’ Perhaps Taylor’s view is simply that Steve Fuller’s representation of ID isn’t one he can personally, confessionally or professionally endorse, as it overlaps necessarily with Fuller’s worldview, which has apparently undergone (if by no more than label alone) a shift in recent years.

To achieve a way forward by dropping the tired chains of the old and new Darwinian corpus, we introduce the notion of ‘trans-evolutionary change’ as a particular feature of SSH, rather than biological or natural scientific fields. Trans-evolutionary change acknowledges humanity in tension and on smaller space-time scales than Big History naturalistic evolutionary theories. As well, it highlights the peculiar interest in the Extended Mind Thesis (Clark and Chalmers 1998), which is pushing envelopes in philosophy of mind, group cognition and dynamic systems theory. This is done to show there are burgeoning fields of study in philosophy and social sciences, e.g. such studies involving the ‘extensions’ of humanity in a non-evolutionary way, that are ready to take off once the proverbial Darwinian monkey is removed from SSH’s back. Focus on these studies may help make more coherent the Royal Society’s “philosophical and social sciences” agenda moving forward.

Trans-Evolutionary Change Can be Observed in Five Things

1) A category of change by human beings (i.e. in the anthropocene period) that occurs across, above, under, <, >, beyond or through the temporal and spatial scales found in biological and other naturalistic evolutionary theories.

What’s the minimum allowable time that it would take for something to ‘evolve?’ If there is no minimum, then there is no quantifiable scientific theory based on time. If you allow a minimum time scale, even across a range of applications, then you open the possibility of studying ‘trans-evolutionary’ change because there must then be ‘actions/processes/origins’ that cross the relevant time scale. In such cases, it must be left open for alternative ways to discover an answer using a non-evolutionary toolkit.

Darwin’s defenders often avoid the importance of exploring and explaining this ‘scale and identity controversy’ in public. Darwin had studied geology with his mentor Charles Lyell, and noted: “if we make the same allowances as before for our ignorance, and remember that some forms of life change most slowly, enormous periods of time being thus granted for their migration, I do not think that the difficulties are insuperable.” The large time scales involved in Darwin’s evolutionary narrative are quite clearly not the same scales involved when decisions are made, artefacts made and actions taken on the level of institutions, communities, groups, etc. that SSH studies.

The question logically then arises: what happens when we are not dealing with ‘enormous periods of time’ but rather with much shorter, non-evolutionary time scales? One way to distinguish the particular focus of interest that SSH has taken as its rightful province from the beginning until now has found a new name, which suits our purpose of signifying trans-evolutionary change. More than simply a new geological period, the epoch of trans-evolutionary change is now called: the Anthropocene.

2) Not only (reducible to) the externalist ‘Darwinian’ version of ‘natural selection’ acting upon an object from ‘outside,’ but rather also invokes the internalist (e.g. extended mind) notion of ‘human selection’ (Wallace 1890) from ‘inside’ a person.

This requires a kind of social epistemology that Fuller acknowledges as “a distinctive counter-biological sense of ‘social selection’: religious, academic, and political.” (2005: 6) Once people see that deterministic Darwinian models of social change are ‘not even wrong,’ the desire for an alternative that focuses on ‘selection’ on the human level will become more tangible.

Perhaps the most heinous result of so-called Darwinian logic has been that it handicapped a whole realm of knowledge with expectations that it could not meet. How was it ever thought possible that a naturalistic externalist view of human society and culture could ever take priority over a humanistic view of society? One ideology explores not only Einstein’s physical notion of “the starry heavens above”, but also the personal notion of a “moral universe within,” which is the anthropic dimension.

3) Investigable on both the individual (person) and population (society) levels (i.e. multiple levels) simultaneously, interactively and proportionally.

There is no avoiding the fact that the single discipline that has put the most of its attention and resources into the study of “individuals and groups” is sociology. When biologists use language borrowed from SSH, weave it into their disciplinary language with variations, adaptations and neologisms (e.g. ‘memetics’) inserted alongside it, they often distort or mangle its key message(s). One example of this is the notion of ‘group selection’ vs. ‘individual selection.’ Sociologists have been studying both, but with a concentration on the ‘agency’ of ‘selection’ that is far more developed than evolutionistic musing. We already have what biologists later decided to call “multi-layer selection,” which is typical language already in SSH where there are often multiple competing (or cooperating) hypotheses.

4) Dedicated to intentional, mindful, wilful, planned and directed changes (i.e. teleological) that are temporally and spatially lived and enacted by human beings within their (read: our) social, cultural, natural and other environments.

Nothing much really needs to be added about this feature of trans-evolutionary change. Enough people know about it and have written about it already. It’s a simple question of conversational proportionality and ideological control over journal publications and ‘associations’ that restricts ideological anti-evolutionism (as if it simply must by definition come from USAmerican fundamentalists and biblical literalists) from gaining a ready audience. Trans-evolutionary change serves to crush the materialistic aspirations of old-guard Darwinists and evolutionists because it shows quite simply, plainly and clearly how varieties of non-evolutionary change can be studied in SSH.

5) Inclusive of theories about sources and formal/final causes of ethics and morality (in addition to efficient and material causes) that transcend adaptationist evolutionary accounts based on naturalist reductionism.

This is a macro-feature of the trans-evolutionary discourse, which by beginning in SSH we forego the dilemma of whether or not to focus solely on efficient and material causes. The alternative, which is required for investigation on the more holistic level of SSH than NPS, allows the proper study of formal and final causes (Aristotelian causality) in ethics and morality. Naturalist reductionism is then seen as an (only efficiency/materialist) ideology with limited purposeful applicability in fields where elevation to mind-also and heart rather than reduction to body-alone is required.

The above is just a brief point-form introduction to trans-evolutionary change, which is one of the main topics of my upcoming book on Human Tension. These 5 indicators provide a basic outline of the new concept of trans-evolutionary change. They are not meant to be exhaustive, but rather indicative that this topic is ripe and ready for exploration and application across a range of scientific and scholarly fields. Particularly for those with a philosophical interest in the communication and sharing of knowledge, the notion that knowledge ‘extends’ and that our minds also can be perceived as ‘extending’ into society, while society also applies ‘intensions’ on our lives, has many opportunities for both scholarly and everyday application beyond the boundaries of evolutionary thinking.

If a person does not wish to acknowledge the notion of ‘trans-evolutionary’ as legitimate, as having a proper semantic meaning or as worthy of conversational inclusion, nothing can stop a person from holding that attitude. One may then need to be very restricted in speaking with them when looking more carefully at their particular meaning of ‘evolutionary’ because it might be tricky or uncelar. With some people, evolutionary theories turn into an evolutionistic worldview, a Darwin-idolising anti-theism apologetics based on aggressive ‘new atheist’ rhetoric rather than simply an arrangement of more or less clear and important scholarly ideas about change, motion, chance, intention, purpose, etc.

Yet with the conundrum of convoluted definitions, evolution is also used by others with sometimes too narrow a range of explanations, e.g. ‘only biology.’ This cohort of unknown size has an over-inflated view of biology as “the science of Life” and therefore as Queen of the Academy following the former Science Queen – physics. The importance therefore of having enabled a flanking move to evolutionary theory with trans-evolutionary change, by accumulating arguments in sovereign, independent, autonomous (but integral), developing SSH fields of knowledge, has many potential consequences. Do biologists really wish to restrict ‘evolution’ to being ‘strictly a biological’ idea and if not, then which new ‘map of knowledge’ would they suggest so that ideological biologism (which they likely won’t openly name) does not continue to plague the academic landscape? I see nothing coherent coming from biologists, even the non-exaggerators, to visualise a more realistic ‘map of knowledge’ than the grossly disproportionate view that many of them currently hold, uneducated in the sociology of science as most of them are.

My appeal then is to people first, not to abstract ‘post-evolutionary’ ideas. I’m not interested in those who feel they categorically must refuse to even consider the notion of trans-evolutionary change. It is those who may be curious to depart from the biological status quo into a post-Darwinian reality, to metaphorically ‘follow the white rabbit’ away from Darwin’s dehumanising determinist hole into a more fulfilling exploration of human society that appeal to me. A trans-evolutionary thinker may and often does know the ‘evolutionary canon’ rather well, but also moves beyond it to embrace a more dynamic, realistic model of choice, change and human development in 21st century SSH. They therefore need no longer embrace the mainstream ‘strictly neo-Darwinian’ or ‘Modern Synthesis’ version of evolutionary theories in natural sciences (or in economics, sociology, anthropology, psychology, etc.) any longer because we are right now in the midst of significant changes to the ‘paradigm,’ an (over-)extension, amendment, revision or even ‘replacement.’

The Intelligent Design Movement has turned into such a circus that even one of its ringleaders William Dembski recently had to publically ‘retire’ from it. He simply cannot be defended as a ‘revolutionary’ IDist anymore. One of the mainstays of the Discovery Institute for over a decade, Casey Luskin, also recently left the DI to pursue ‘further studies.’ Yet the so-called Darwinists display radical tendencies just as do their IDist ‘debate and publish’ partner foes. In one of the most absurd dead-ends in late-modern intellectual life, D.S. Wilson’s biologistic ideologising at the Evolution Institute, with Evolution for Everyone, most recently misguided Robin Hoodism at ‘Evonomics’, has led him now even into the promotion of ‘social Darwinism’. While the scientific ethos to reject hubris with humility generally holds, there do seem to be cases within the party-atmosphere of the Evolutionariat in some psychology of science sense where scholars belief they have achieved a kind of ‘god’s eye view’ and conceptual monopoly over change. However, in this case by returning to a 19th century naturalist icon in Darwin, Wilson isn’t exactly blazing new territory. He is rather waving a smudged, outdated flag of Evolutionary Naturalism towards SSH as he rides off towards a detoured naturalised/under-humanised destination for humanity. And already he has attracted a small mob to his journey of fuzzy evolutionistic logic.

Yet when leaders of the Evolutionariat, people like D.S. Wilson, are caught actually saying things like, “The biggest victim of the stigmatized view of Social Darwinism has been all of us,” most sane people, most normal people, basically just most people realise that something has gone very wrong. Can this type of ideologically evolutionistic mess be avoided or perhaps just somehow cleaned up and fixed following this recent Royal Society meeting? While the option of ‘replace,’ ‘amend’ or ‘extend’ was on the table, speakers of course could easily escape facing the ‘over-extension’ of the modern evolutionary synthesis by huddling into the safe status quo backwardness of Darwinian thinking. Or, perhaps the good ole’ English paddle is what Darwin’s theory of ‘evolution by natural selection in the struggle for life’ needs.

It is a unique moment in the landscape of history, philosophy and sociology of science that there is now forged such a strong post-Darwinian evolutionary biology position (L. Margulis and the Third Way), which is what led to this important and timely Royal Society meeting. Steve Fuller has raised this issue in multiple venues and on many occasions at least since 2005 and it seems to be a question of time when the public conversation finally catches up to his unique cybernetic design intelligence contribution. This may be yet another timely opportunity to re-explore his views on this topic as it seems several people at SERRC have recently found air to voice their concerns and criticisms of Fuller’s evolutionism, creationism and IDism, science and religion work. And well, if Peter Thiel can promote (lowercase) ‘intelligent design’ (not to be confused with the theistic ‘design argument,’ right?), then why can’t most other people in the 21st century at least acknowledge it exists and isn’t really that big a deal?

The most meaningful aspects of this conversation in my view are very little about the actual person or ideas of Charles Darwin. What an amazing convenient distraction the recluse from Downe, England has become! It’s time to close that chapter and read on further than Darwin in the Book of Nature. The key factors of interest here in SSH have been more about the ideological movement of the so-called ‘Darwinists’ and the illogical inversion of processes for origins (cf. Whitehead) from the start. And now with the Royal Society, the rest of society has also caught up with the ‘Darwinists’ who can be largely now rejected in society, just as R. Dawkins has now been publically unveiled as highly un-liked and disapproved by scientists (even when his name is not mentioned in the survey question!) for his aggressive agnosticism/atheism and distortions of scientific knowledge. This is something that social epistemology can help us uncover and better understand … in case any SERRC members are interested in proactivating studies of trans-evolutionary change across a range of SSH fields, to which when broadly and specifically applied leaves Dawkins’ ‘memetics’ far behind.

Sociobiology was tried and failed. Memetics failed. Evolutionary psychology is trying and failing miserably because its governing principles are self-contradictory and it has ideological self-blinders on. Why do they keep desperately looking back to Darwin for answers? It is time to change the music program from the dissonant Darwinist hymn sheets that some scientists have been using to experiment their humanistic fantasies upon the world. As the times change, we are now no longer willing to accept the characterisation of ‘species egalitarian’ when speaking above the mere biological, physiological or zoological levels. Uplift from homo to human is a vertical cultural process, in which we’re best either to forget completely or if necessary simply put ‘in its proper limited place’ the horizontal naturalism of the Beagle Enlightenment story in SSH.

Trans-evolutionary change helps to overcome Darwin’s cultural regret with a less scientistic, naturalistic and generally pessimistic approach to human existence on Earth. Trans-evolutionary change ushers in potentiality for global-social reconciliation for science, philosophy and theology/worldview discourse through magnetism by rotation. Let us see those post-Darwinian ideas that are being blocked en-masse by defensive biologists and naturalists. It does no good whatsoever to first call a people, community or society ‘under-evolved’ or even ‘un-evolved’ and then to claim that some ambiguous cultural evolutionary theory of human development ‘scientifically’ proves this on a scale of your choosing. That is simply civilisational racism.

In contrast, with trans-evolutionary change, multiple levels of selection mean multiple interpretations of development are possible and even encouraged, based on the resources available to the community rather than demanding internal compliance to some external evolutionary civilisational Standard. The User instead has to supply the content for the magnetism, which takes discussions of human-social change away from Darwin’s outdated evolutionary framework towards more contemporary advanced discussions about emergence, agency, design, planning, and indeed, human extension, though this latter language is still not widely familiar in SSH.

The way forward is to begin applying trans-evolutionary thinking in SSH as a way to cleanse many humanistic fields from the naturalistic plague that was part of the 20th century and early 21st century science wars. It will become obvious immediately regarding those who actually wish to ‘try’ and use TEC and those who clearly do not. Those who do not wish to try trans-evolutionary thinking will become the laggards in 21st century science, philosophy and theology/worldview discourse, stuck perhaps by a fear of the future as much as a love of the past.

It’s time to send Darwin down the scholarly river into history, away from SSH land where he is no longer welcome. And it’s not only about treating women as 2nd class citizens and marrying his cousin. Yes, it means there will be a cohort of angry evacuees from Darwin; those who wish to remain Darwinists to the end, astonishingly even in SSH, who ultimately must demand rescue from the absurdity of the intellectual territorial flooding that they now occupy; turned out into a land of SSH giants that pushed their heroic scientist idol away.

Darwin’s theory of the struggle for existence and the selectivity connected with it has by many people been cited as authorization of the encouragement of the spirit of competition. Some people also in such a way have tried to prove pseudo-scientifically the necessity of the destructive economic struggle of competition between individuals. But this is wrong, because man owes his strength in the struggle for existence to the fact that he is a socially living animal. – Albert Einstein (1931)

This is so much closer to an ‘eastern’ worldview than a ‘western’ one. A neutral onlooker might wonder if there is more going on with Darwin-Malthus-Hobbes western ‘struggle’ proponents and practitioners than meets the eye on global humanity scales.

To close, a peroration: It would do many, but not all of us (that’s a non-scientific principle of ‘democracy’ in action, to which I’m confident that a significant ‘WE’ in global societies are ready to say together: ‘cheerio Charles!’), the honour, if England would please take Darwin’s pigeons, barnacles and worms back to Downe, U.K. and provide Darwin with a proper civilisational retirement from public attention. Patrick Matthew and the Arágo Effect send a preferable diversion courtesy of the trans-evolutionary stream.

Smocovitis writes of “the grandest narrative of western culture, the modern story of evolution” (1996), perhaps only up to the limits of her natural(istic )science. A more inspiring humanistic ‘narrative’ of SSH than the one constructed in Victorian England is made possible once a person passes beyond naturalist ideology in the name of ‘evolution.’ Indeed, the grandest narrative of global human culture may eventually come to be seen as that of ‘human extension’ (services) and thus with it also our lives in human tension beyond biology alone.