- Marshall Abrams, Does Your Work Have Anything to Do with Normative Issues or Public Policy?Sometimes I’m asked whether the things that I’ve been writing about in philosophy of biology have anything to do with normative issues, public policy, etc. The answer is “Yes,” but I don’t think that the reasons why are obvious. Much of my most recent work has focused on metaphysical issues concerning the nature of evolutionary processes. The following is a sketch of some connections between metaphysics, evolution, and normative issues which are of particular interest to me.
Free University Amsterdam
The metaphysical context of normative issues, public policy, etc, from the time that Darwin had just published and Christianity was only constructively recollecting what it feared it would lose, was provided by The Two Sources of Morality and Religion (Bergson 1932). The extent to which cognitive characteristics can be aﬀected by policies, in his view, if I am correct, is determined by our "duality of origin", in which the knowing organism and the sensed environment reflect- and independently confirm each other.
The evolution of human cognition or creative evolution as Bergson calls it, is like the intertwining of electricity and magnetism in light, reflectively sensing what is sensed and knowing what is reflectively known, unfolding in realization (know what is sensed) and intuition (sense what is known), valuing (intuit what is realized) and trying (realize what is intuited) and acting (try what is valued) and reacting (value what is tried), in interaction. This is mainly my own interpretation I must admit.
Policies and politics historically intervene in these independent confirmations, on the one hand to protect us from the opposite, dependent rejection between people, or power-distancing (Mulder 1973, Hofstede 2010) and on the other hand to prevent independent confirmation by the independent individual, who would then no longer be susceptible to extrinsically motivating (Judeo-Christian) self-fulfilling prophecy (Girard 1977) and reinforced conditioning that fabricate social reality.
Group- and individual selection are part of social reality. Natural selection in human culture and history has become power-distancing by the lucky few who control altruistic positive discrimination, cultural pluralism or political correctness, or self-centered robust satisficing (Ben-Haim 2012). However, within people between groups, instead of within groups between people, there is room for intrinsic motivation by independent confirmation seeking and, when found, -following.
Genetic and environmental 'forces' may be intrinsic- and extrinsic motivators. Independent confirmation is a way to find Truth, which is associated with authentic, original, pure, innocence with which we are born. It is the material body that we have, reflecting the person who we are (Strawson 1959). Social reality has two sides. The material side includes the organism's genotype and phenotype, while the cultural side picks up the environment's good and bad influences.
Very bad is the elitist power-distancing and politics guard many against it to a certain measure, by exclusiveness. On the left by groupsism, defining the common enemy, by independent rejection and on the right by cronyism, defining the common friend, by dependent confirmation. These however are also the cul-de-sac's from which no individual can escape to reach independent confirmation, intrinsic motivation and the 'genetic force' in action.
There is one escape, where Truth is of the essence and therefore independent confirmation finds its way to interaction between both sides of social reality in its purest form, between man and woman, or where it formally is provided a secluded space, as in science, justice and journalism, where Truth is or at least was most respected and kept in highest esteem. Postmodernism, with its rejection of God, Truth, Self and Reality ended that, I believe. We are lucky it is almost gone.
Mechanistic probability, if I understand you correctly, is not that extrinsic motivation unless people welcome it. It is intrinsic motivation by genetics and epigenetics, manifesting itself in authentic behavior and cognition, or duality of origin. This is not the multiplicity postmodernists would have us believe Bergson meant to address (Lawlor 2010), but the creative evolution of human cognition or the knowing organism, interacting with his sensed environment.