Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Berry - Richardson's 'Nietzsche's New Darwinism'

"If the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species in 1859 was a watershed in the history of Western thought, it was not due merely to his suggestion that modern species were revised descendents of earlier ones. Rather, it was that Darwin had identified the precise mechanism by which one species could be revised into another, biologically distinct species. Darwin's proposal of evolution by natural selection gave immediate direction to research in the biological sciences, and it allowed the theory to begin doing important work in that arena (and beyond) by eventually closing the only significant explanatory gap that might otherwise have hindered its widespread acceptance. In his most recent book, John Richardson proposes to make Nietzsche's views on morality more coherent, more credible, and ultimately more useful by demonstrating that they are underwritten by a modified Darwinism that identifies the thoroughly naturalistic mechanisms by which human beings come to have the moral values and practices they do and through which they might realize the possibility of creating new, healthier values.

As even casual readers of Nietzsche will observe, the bulk of what Nietzsche has to say about Darwin and Darwinism is hostile. Richardson rightly points out that Nietzsche has a perhaps regrettable but nonetheless reliable tendency to bite off the hand that feeds him; the thinkers of whom he is most critical are often those from whom he takes the most inspiration. But his intellectual relationship to Darwin is more complicated still. As Richardson's examination of Nietzsche's position shows, Nietzsche's attacks appear to get wrong both Darwin's position and the biological facts of the matter. The central motif in Nietzsche's criticism of Darwin seems to be that Darwin lays too much stress on survival, and too little on power [18]. But in offering this criticism, Nietzsche "misidentifies the selective criterion in Darwinism," which is not survival, but reproduction. Moreover, "Nietzsche seems to misread Darwinian survival as an 'end' in too literal a sense: as the aim of a will or drive or instinct" in the individual [22]. It looks as if Nietzsche has missed something important about Darwinism -- namely, that it is not hopelessly teleological, but manages to handle the idea of 'ends' or 'aims' in an entirely naturalistic way. If this is the case, however, it appears that Nietzsche's hostile reaction to Darwin and his subsequent 'correction' of Darwinism are grounded in error. Richardson argues, however, that these errors might be peripheral after all, and that Nietzsche might really appreciate the main thrust of the Darwinian position. "What if," he asks, "[Nietzsche] gets right, after all, the sense of Darwinian selection -- how it is and isn't teleology -- and builds his own will to power and drives in parallel?" [24] Richardson's aim is to demonstrate that the weight of textual evidence favors our reading Nietzsche in this way, and makes it more than just "wishful thinking" [25]." - NDPR.

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