• Banno
    9.8k
    An article in Philosophy Now drew my attention to Gene-juggling by Mary Midgley. Here's the core of her rebuttal of The Selfish Gene:

    Genes cannot be selfish or unselfish, any more than atoms can be jealous,
    elephants abstract or biscuits teleological.

    Glorious!

    It's not just Dawkins she eviscerates; Nietzsche, Hobbes, and Mackie are countered with Socrates, Christ, Darwin and Jane Goodall, retrieving justice from mere self-interested egoism. But we might adopt her strategy to displaying the triviality of Peter Singer or Ayn Rand.

    Have a read - It will give you a laugh, and you will be better for it.
  • Banno
    9.8k
    There is now no safer occupation than talking bad science to philosophers, except talking bad philosophy to scientists.

    Laughed? I shat.
  • Harry Hindu
    3.6k
    Genes cannot be selfish or unselfish, any more than atoms can be jealous,
    elephants abstract or biscuits teleological.

    "Nat Dyer looks at the humanity of a philosopher who tried to make philosophy more human"

    Nor is philosophy more or less human.
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2.7k


    She looks terribly interesting, so thanks.
  • Pop
    425
    From Wikipedia:

    Midgley–Dawkins debate
    In volume 53 (1978) of Philosophy, the journal of the Royal Institute of Philosophy, J. L. Mackie published an article entitled The Law of the Jungle: Moral Alternatives and Principles of Evolution, praising Dawkins's The Selfish Gene, and discussing how its ideas might be applied to moral philosophy.[34] Midgley responded in volume 54 (1979) with "Gene-Juggling," arguing that The Selfish Gene was about psychological egoism, rather than evolution.[35] The paper criticised Dawkins' concepts, but was judged by its targets to be intemperate and personal in tone, and as having misunderstood Dawkins' ideas.
  • Banno
    9.8k
    Ooo, it's in wikipedia! it must be true...

    Hang on I go change it to suit myself...


    edit: There, fixed.
  • StreetlightX
    6.4k


    Dawkins, however, simply has a weakness for the old game of Brocken-spectre moralizing—the one where the player strikes attitudes on a peak at sunrise, gazes awe-struck at his gigantic shadow on the clouds, and reports his observations as cosmic truths. He is an uncritical philosophic egoist in the first place, and merely feeds the egoist assumption into his a priori biological speculations, only rarely glancing at the relevant facts of animal behaviour and genetics, and ignoring their failure to support him. There is nothing empirical about Dawkins.

    Wow I didn't know I love Mary Midgley.
  • darthbarracuda
    3.1k
    Thanks for sharing, Midgley seems very interesting.
  • Pop
    425
    I am not a great fan of Dawkins either, however:
    DNA is information. It is not information that we can read, although we are making some strides along that path, it is information that our cellular consciousness can read. Epigenetics reads this information to construct a person. The information in these genes creates the person, and so the person is an expression of the information that created them.

    A person is always in a process of self organization. To self organize you need to consider the self in relation to all other factors surrounding you. This way self interest is present in all instances of consciousness. It is not a moral consideration, but one of pure logic, that Mary seems to miss.
  • Banno
    9.8k
    cellular consciousnessPop

    Nuh. I'm not going there with you.

    But,
    A person is always in a process of self organization.Pop

    From the PN article:

    For Midgley, to call a person ‘rational’ does not mean they are clever; it means that they have organised themselves – their natural yet conflicting needs and wants – into a coherent whole, in this messy world.

    She may not be as distant as it might seem.
  • Pop
    425
    I don't think anybody can seriously dispute the selfish gene idea. I think, what Mary was really objecting to, was the inference that if the gene is selfish then this justifies selfish behavior, hence the extremely biased and emotional opinion piece - she was saving the world from the villain Dawkins. Her heart is in the right place, but I think it would have been better to engage with the idea and explain how it manifests itself in everyday life.

    In the process of self organization we have to make decisions, and ultimately the decisions we make have either painful or pleasurable consequences, and wherever possible we tend to choose the decisions that have pleasurable consequences rather then the most responsible / altruistic ones.
  • Echarmion
    1.6k
    wherever possible we tend to choose the decisions that have pleasurable consequences rather then the most responsible / altruistic ones.Pop

    No, we don't. This description of human behaviour is so overly simplistic as to be useless.
  • Olivier5
    1.2k
    In the process of self organization we have to make decisions, and ultimately the decisions we make have either painful or pleasurable consequences, and wherever possible we tend to choose the decisions that have pleasurable consequences rather then the most responsible / altruistic ones.Pop

    And yet sometimes the most successful behavior from a Darwinian stand point is cooperative and altruistic.
  • SophistiCat
    1.5k
    All I can see from your quotes is that Mary Midgley is dissing someone you don't like. If that is what turns you agush... meh. May as well listen to a rap battle or something.

    Genes cannot be selfish or unselfish, any more than atoms can be jealous,
    elephants abstract or biscuits teleological.

    I mean, this is just stupid. I trust there is more to what she says, but you are not selling it well.
  • Kenosha Kid
    1.4k
    Here's the core of her rebuttal of The Selfish Gene:

    Genes cannot be selfish or unselfish, any more than atoms can be jealous,
    elephants abstract or biscuits teleological.

    Glorious!
    Banno

    So she doesn't understand metaphor. Is that good?
  • Banno
    9.8k
    Actually, I admire Dawkins.
    All I can see from your quotes is that Mary Midgley is dissing someone you don't like.SophistiCat

    So that's wrong.
  • Banno
    9.8k
    So she doesn't understand metaphor.Kenosha Kid

    Finish the first paragraph, where she talks about his use of Metaphor, and get back to us.
  • StreetlightX
    6.4k
    Actually, I admire Dawkins.Banno

    Nah, Dawkins is trash, set scientific literacy back by an order of decades. Fuck that guy. An atheist made for an American audience whose contact with theology has only ever been through the insanity of American evangelism.
  • Banno
    9.8k
    I was unaware of this discussion between Dawkins and Midgley. I had noticed Dawkins softened his ethical position in his later books. I'm now thinking this was a response to Midgley...

    Sure, not a theologian, not a philosopher.
  • Kenosha Kid
    1.4k
    Finish the first paragraph, where she talks about his use of Metaphor, and get back to us.Banno

    This feels like Lost all over again: all evidence suggests it's crap, but I'm being assured that if I keep going it gets better.

    Anyway, read it. So she's doesn't understand metaphor even when it's explained to her.
  • unenlightened
    5.3k
    In fairness to Dorkinch, he does acknowledge in the introduction that the selfish gene thing is a metaphor. But in fairness to Mary, he forgets that completely in the body of the book and takes himself literally.
  • frank
    5.7k

    Evolutionary biologists agree Dawkins is junk science.


    What did she say about Nietzsche? Didnt see that.
  • Kenosha Kid
    1.4k
    But in fairness to Mary, he forgets that completely in the body of the book and takes himself literally.unenlightened

    Such as? I haven't read it in years, but don't recall it being presented as anything other than a shorthand.

    What's Lost?Banno

    I envy you. Lost was a TV series about 20 years ago that was incredibly dumb with intellectual pretensions.

    Evolutionary biologists agree Dawkins is junk science.frank

    Reference?
  • frank
    5.7k
    Reference?Kenosha Kid

    Find a lecture by PZ Myers. Dawkins is an adaptationist. That's basically Nazi science.
  • Saphsin
    250
    There seems to be a somewhat pervasive misunderstanding, Dawkins hasn't really contributed much to the primary literature (except the part about memes, which has collapsed), his Selfish Gene book was basically a popularized compiled synthesis of the work of influential evolutionary biologists: Williams, Hamilton, Trivers, etc. No one thinks those figures contributed junk science, but it's just an extremely narrow perspective if you end at them.
  • Banno
    9.8k
    So I'm left to defend Dawkins?

    The notion of Memes had some potential. For instance it'd be interesting to chart the evolution of language games; an analytic variation on the archaeology of knowledge...

    And I've some sympathy for the aesthetics of Unweaving the Rainbow.
  • Banno
    9.8k
    It's his - contribution - to ethics that is perhaps salient here.
  • Kenosha Kid
    1.4k
    Find a lecture by PZ Myers. Dawkins is an adaptationist. That's basically Nazi science.frank

    Haha! Straight to dubious Nazi accusations, like it!

    That's not an answer to the question as I'm sure you're aware. Can you support your original assertion or not? Just curious, it doesn't matter much.
  • Kenosha Kid
    1.4k
    There seems to be a somewhat pervasive misunderstanding, Dawkins hasn't really contributed much to the primary literature, his Selfish Gene book was basically a popularized synthesized compilation of the work of influential evolutionary biologists: Williams, Hamilton, Trivers, etc. No one thinks those figures contributed junk science, but it's just an extremely narrow perspective if you leave it at them.Saphsin

    Madgley makes basically the same point, which is odd. The Selfish Gene is a popular science book aimed at bringing scientific knowledge to the lay masses. It seems odd that Madgley's first criticism of the book is that it didn't publish and new findings, as if she's not aware of the difference between pop sci and a journal.
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