Robert Wright and the Evolution of Compassion
|November 6, 2009||Posted by Clive Hayden under Biology, Culture, Evolution, Science|
Robert Wright is seen here in a video presentation giving a lecture about the evolution of compassion.
He begins by saying that compassion, love and sympathy had earned their way into the gene pool. Regardless of how any gene could “earn” it’s way into a gene pool before it is a gene (because all genes, by being genes, are in the gene pool), the question that seems taken for granted is Do we have genes for compassion, love and sympathy? These are metaphysical things, so, notice that what he’s doing is taking metaphysical reality and making it material. But in the same way logic and reason are metaphysical, that is, there are laws of logic and reason that are not reducible to laws of physics or chemistry. Do these owe their existence to genes earning their way into the gene pool also? If so, then we have ruled out logic and reason existing on their own, and are subject to an evolutionary process that constantly changes, otherwise it isn’t an evolutionary process. I cannot see how, on the premise of evolution of metaphysics, which includes all mental capacities, all of our metaphysical judgments, to talk of the evolution of compassion and at the same time understand that the ability to reason to this conclusion is just as subject to evolution.
But so would the evolution of being unreasonable and not being compassionate also be subject to the same evolutionary process. Reciprocal Altruism is a contradiction in terms. Reciprocity is interested in what can be done for it in return, and altruism is not. It really means selfish selflessness. All mental states, all contradictory ones, would have the same purchase and the same taproot in evolution. There would exist no greater value to place on any one above another, for that judgment of value would itself be just another evolutionary expression, and why should we listen to it if we think that other evolutionary outcomes, i.e. not being compassionate and being illogical, are also exactly as much a product of the same evolutionary process? In other words, if evolutionary outcomes are on trial, then it won’t do to use, as your judge, other evolutionary outcomes, for that is what is on trial, and the judge cannot be the one on trial, or else the verdict is invalid. If compassion evolved, then so did not being compassionate, and so did any judgment that would try to compare and place value on them, and so would the thinking that there is any such thing as compassion or not; all would be subject to the same trial that it is trying to impose. I would say this is lunacy, but this doesn’t even reach the ground of being. Lunacy is, at least, something. It is a confusion of a standard. This way of thinking doesn’t even reach the ability to have a standard.