On the Darwinian View of Progress Author(s): Amartya Sen Reviewed work(s): Source: Population and Development Review, Vol. 19, No. 1 (Mar., 1993), pp. 123-137 Published by: Population Council Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2938387 . Accessed: 04/04/2012 14:44 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Population Council is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Population and Development Review.
On the Darwinian View of Progress AMARTYA
IT IS NOW A CENTURYAND A THIRD since the publication in 1859 of Darwin's
On theOriginof Species.In this periodthe view of evolutionaryprogress introduced byDarwinhas radicallyalteredthewaywe thinkaboutourselves and theworldin whichwe live.Veryfeweventsin thehistoryofideas can be comparedin termsof power,reach,and impactwiththe emergenceof theDarwiniananalysisofprogressthroughevolution.Thereare,however, severaldistinct componentsin theDarwinianunderstanding ofevolutionary and it is possiblethattheprofundity progress, ofsome oftheelementsmay makeus lessconsciousofthedubiousnatureofothers.In particular, Darwin's generalidea of progress-on whichhis notionof evolutionary progressis of misdirecting in ways that dependent-can have the effect our attention, are crucialin the contemporary world. It can be arguedthatthereare threedistinctcomponentsin the Darwiniananalysisofevolutionary progress:(1) an explanationofhow evolution works;(2) an idea ofwhatconstitutes of progress;and (3) a substantiation thewayevolutionbringsaboutprogress. is thoroughly Ofthesethree,thefirst profoundbothin interpreting whatis goingon in theworldand in opening up a powerfulgenerallineofreasoning,viewingchangeand transformation in termsofevolutionand naturalselection.Exactingquestionscan ofcourse be raisedabout the aptnessof the particularprocesseson which Darwin himselfconcentrated, and thereare otherdivisivequestionsas well. For issue concernswhetherthe analysisshouldbe conexample,an important ductedin termsof selectionofspecies(and the corresponding phenomenal or ofgenotypes characteristics) (and the relatedgeneticfeatures).It is often more convenientto talk in termsof species (as Darwin did), but natural selectionis transmitted and thatrelatesto throughinheritedcharacteristics
19, NO. 1 (MARCH
VIEW OF PROGRESS
genotypes.Thoughspeciesand genotypesare closelyrelated,theyare not withina sharedapproach, congruent.But theseare secondarydifferences relevanceofevolutionary analysisin general and thepowerand far-reaching are hardto dispute. overtheextent itispossibletohavereasonabledisagreements Similarly, ideas can be used in other-particularly "soto whichtheseevolutionary and behavior cial"-areas, such as the selectionand survivalofinstitutions norms-fieldsof applicationthatDarwin himselfhad not identified.But lines thereis littledoubtaboutthegeneralusefulnessofaddingevolutionary ofreasoningto othermethodsofsocialinvestigation (even thoughthemore undeservedcriticism). somenotentirely extremeapplicationshave attracted These issueshave been much discussedalready,and I shall not take them classification ofelementsin Darwiniananalysesof up here.In thethreefold I shall not grumbleat all about the explanationof evolutionary progress, results).My focus how evolutionworks(and producessuch extraordinary Darwinianlinesof analysis,and thus is on the idea ofprogressunderlying is on points(2) and (3) in thatthreefold grouping.
Our characteristicsand our lives Darwinhad a clearconceptionof what he saw as progress,and he judged of evolutionin thatlight."And as naturalselection,"he the achievements wrotein theconcludingsectionof On theOriginofSpecies,"workssolelyby and forthe good ofeach being,all corporealand mentalendowmentswill tend to progresstowardsperfection."Progresswas seen in termsof the productionof "endlessformsmostbeautifuland mostwonderful."Darwin took "the mostexaltedobjectwhichwe are capable of conceiving"to be "the productionofthehigheranimals." It is easy to agreewithDarwinthat"thereis grandeurin thisview of life,"as he put it in the concludingsentenceof TheOrigin.The questionis of prowhetherthisway of seeinglifegivesus an adequate understanding characteristic ofthisapproachis itsconcentration gress.One distinguishing and features,what we are, ratherthan on what we on our characteristics can do or be. An alternative would be to judge progressby the qualityof liveswe can lead. That-somewhatAristotelian-shift of focuswould not onlybe morein linewithwhatwe have reasonto value,it could also draw on the"highness"ofthespecies our attention to issuesthata concentration (or on geneticexcellence)would tendto hide. Our capabilityto lead one kind of liferatherthan anotherdoes not in whichwe depend onlyon what we are, but also on the circumstances findourselves.We can exertall sortsofinfluenceon thenatureoftheworld makea realdifference inwhichwe live.How we viewprogress can,therefore, to our decisionsand resolve.
Anthropocentrismand human values I shallexaminethe contrastbetweenthesetwo approaches,which-at the shallcall respectively "the qualityofspecostofsome oversimplification-I life" The view and "the of view. former-Darwinian-perquality cies" spectivein its modernformmightwell have been betterdescribedas "the thatarenaturally selected qualityofgenotypes"view,sincethecharacteristics and inheritedwould be the geneticones. WhileI shall continueto use the Darwinianterm"species,""genotypes"would oftenbe a betterdescription, butthe distinction is not centralto themain thesesofthisessay. It is noteasy forthequality-of-life view to escape some anthropocentrism.Thisis not onlybecause the qualityof livesof otheranimalscannot be judgedin thewaythatthequalityofhumanlivescan be, butalso because humanexercise.Thesearegenuineproblems, theactofjudgingis a specifically and initiallyit mightappear thattheywork stronglyin the directionof view.The approachoverthequality-of-life endorsingthequality-of-species is, in picture,however,is more complex.A human evaluativeframework in the Even assessing fact,difficult to avoid in both of these approaches. qualityofspeciesorgenotypes(forexample,injudgingwhatformsare "most involved. beautiful and mostwonderful"),ourownjudgmentsareinevitably Itis,ofcourse,possibletoreplacesuchjudgments bytheapparently "neutral" criterion success-theabilitytooutnumber and outlive ofpurelyreproductive perspectivehas oftenbeen combined competinggroups.The evolutionary I shall presently withimplicituse ofthisapparently no-nonsensecriterion. critically, and in that have to examinethe natureand use of thatcriterion in makingthis"test"congruousand contextdiscussthe seriousdifficulties coherent.These are problemsof internallogic-different fromthe more successshould fundamental motivationalquestionas to why reproductive be the centralconcernin assessingprogress.
Species, conservation,and animal lives Itcouldbe arguedthatsincetheDarwinianviewtakesexplicitnoteofwidely it has the advantageofbroadnessoverthe different speciesand genotypes, quality-of-life view, whichwould tendto be more closelyfocusedon the typeof lifethathuman beingslead. For example,it mightbe temptingto thinkthatthespecies-oriented Darwinianperspective wouldbe morehelpful thanthequality-of-life theenvironmentalist's viewinunderstanding concern withpreserving withextinction different (a subject speciesthatarethreatened resthathas receiveda good deal ofglobalattention, yieldinginternational olutions-includingin the "EarthSummit"of 1992). This,however,isnotatall so. Naturalselectionis,infact,choicethrough threatened interestin preserving and the environmental selective extinction,
VIEW OF PROGRESS
speciesmust,in thissense,be entirely"non-Darwinian"in spirit.One of and forceful themostinteresting thesesofTheOriginis that"it accordsbetter withwhat we know of the laws impressedon matterby the Creator,that the productionand extinctionof the past and presentinhabitantsof the worldshouldhave beendue to secondarycauses." Surviving beings,Darwin proceededto claim,are "ennobled"whenviewedin thelightofthisprocess. Extinctionis partand parcelof the processof evolutionaryselection,and any anti-extinction view mustseek itssupportelsewhere. In contrast, theenvironmentalist is likelyto getsomehelp in thisfield fromthe rivalquality-of-life approach.The presenceof a varietyof species in theworldwe inhabitcan be seen as enhancingthequalityoflifethatwe ifhumanbeingscan and do reasonably ourselvescan lead. More important, value the survivalof all the speciesthathappen currently to be here (even theones thatare rather"unfit"and "unselected"),thenthatenvironmental concernis betterunderstoodin termsofhuman reasoning(and the values we live by) thanby invokingtheDarwinianview ofprogressthrough"the survivalofthefittest." a generalinterest Furthermore, in thequalityoflifeis morelikelythan the Darwinianperspective to directattentionto such mattersas crueltyto animals(forexample,throughkeepingthemconfinedto darklittleboxes, or makingthemconsciouslybear painfuldiseases). Some sensitivity to the to the qualityoflivesthatlivingbeingscan lead can make a real difference in our otherwisecallous world. way we evaluatealternatives
Criterionand comparison How does the Darwinianapproachto progresswork? What characterizes the generalprocedureofjudgingprogressby the excellenceofthe species? What is the evaluativebasis of Darwin'sclaim about the achievementsof evolutionary progressin our world?It is not hard to see some plausibility in the claimthattherehas been progressovertimein the historyof living beings,ortofindsomemeritinthewaywe have evolvedfrommoreprimitive or culturalsophistication and creativity forms.Forone thing,theintellectual ofmodernhumanbeingscontrast animals sharplywiththeworldofprimitive and vegetables,not to mentionthe earlierworldof single-cellprotozoa.It is notwildlyeccentric to see somegloryin our worldcomparedwitha mute thesunwitha specializedcargooftrillions earthcircling ofamoeba, oftrillions or Cambrianmolluscaand trilobites. However,the immediacyof thatrecognitionhas to be temperedby askingtwo questionsabout the natureof the allegedprogressthroughevand (2) comparedwithwhat?I shalldiscuss olution:(1) bywhatcriterion?, themin turn. in two stepsThe Darwinianchoiceof criterion proceedseffectively one moreexplicitthanthe other.The firststepis to judge progressby the
excellenceof the species produced.This is the basic Darwinianview of progress. Itrelates,as I saidearlier,toDarwin'sdiagnosisof"themostexalted objectwhichwe are capableofconceiving"-towit,"the productionofthe higheranimals." The secondstep,whichis muchmorespecific,is implicitratherthan explicitin Darwin's own writings, thoughfirmly statedand defendedby manyDarwinians.The excellenceof the species (or of genotypes)is to be judgedbyreproductive success-thepowerto surviveand multiply and thus, to outnumberand outlivethecompetinggroups(otherspecies, collectively, othergenotypes).Thatcomplexset of achievementsgoes underthe name of"fitness," takingfitness tobe reflected bysurvivaland reproductive success. The thesisof "the survivalof the fittest"is indeed centralto Darwinism, thoughthe phraseitselfwas originallyproposedby HerbertSpencer(and adopted-with some enthusiasm-byCharlesDarwin). And the claim of progress, on thatground,has beendevelopedand muchextendedbymodern exponentsofevolutionary optimality. The recognition thatfitness, thusdefined,musthave muchto do with successin naturalselectionis obvious enough.The questionis whetherit makes sense to assess progressin termsof increasesin the fitnessof the selectedspecies.It lookslikea neatcriterion, butis itcogentand persuasive? Also, is it reallyso neat? Fitness: Coherence and cogency The criterion offitnessis widelyused in theevolutionary in quite literature ambitiousforms.Notionsof "optimality"are frequently derivedfromjudgmentsof comparativefitness.In termsof fitness,a speciesor genotypeis "optimum"ifand onlyifitcan outmatchall itsrivals.One difficulty in using thiscriterion arisesfromthefactthatthecomparative fitnessofa givenpair of alternativespecies would depend on the environmentin which they competeforsurvival.Thereis no particular reasonto thinkthatifgenotype x werefitter thangenotypey in environment A, thenit would be fitter also in someotherenvironment B. It could,thus,frequently be thecase thatthere would be no dominanceof one alternative overanother(independently of the actual environment).Of course,one alternativemightwell be worse thananotherin all the different relevantenvironments, and such an alternative could be eliminatedfromthe set of "efficient"possibilitiesto be considered.But it is notunreasonableto expectthattherewould be many non-comparabilities betterin some ciramongthe "efficient" alternatives: cumstancesand worsein othersand therefore not generallyrankablevis-avis one another. Thereis scope here forusingsome broadermathematicalnotionsof thatpermitsuchincompleteness maximality done (as has beensystematically in applicationsofmathematical reasoningin other"unruly"fields,such as
VIEW OF PROGRESS
socialchoicetheory)ratherthanthemorefull-blooded version-simpleoptimality-thatseemsto be currently favoredin the evolutionary literature. Notemayalso have to be takenofpossibleintransitivities: x may alternative outmatchy, and y may outmatchz, butx may not be able to outmatchz. This typeof possibilitycan arise fromthe pluralityand heterogeneity of favorableconditionsthatthedifferent alternatives mayhave. The processis not altogether different fromtheway tennisplayerx may be able to defeat playery, andy maybe able to defeatz, withoutitbeingaltogether clearthat x can infactvanquishz. Intransitivity and incompleteness maybe particularly likelyto occurwhen thereare interdependences in thecompetition forsurvival,relatedparticularly tothesimultaneous presenceofdifferent competing groupsofgenotypesor species. The criterion offitnesscan be made coherentand congruousby droppingsomeofthedeceptiveneatness.Theviewofprogressthatwouldemerge fromsuch a criterion would have "holes" and "gaps," but it would not, then,be based on such arbitrary assumptionsas the environment-independenceoffitnessrankings, or thepresumedadequacyofsimplepairwise comparisons.Giventheenornous difficulty ofthe taskoffindingadequate criteriaforprogress,thatpricemightbe well worthpaying.But whatever virtuestheremightbe in the claimthatincreasingfitnessis a good way of neatnessand simplicity judgingprogress, are unlikelyto be amongthem. The deeperdifficulties withtheuse offitnessas a criterion ofprogress lie elsewhere,however.The mostbasic questionis of course: why?Why shouldsuccessin reproduction and survivalbe theyardstick ofachievement? But beforeI pursuethisquestionfurther, I should say somethingon the secondquestionrelatedto theclaimofevolutionary progress, namely"comparedwithwhat?"
Fitterthan what? Thereare two ratherdifferent rivalspeciesor genotypes waysofidentifying forcomparisonofreproductive One is overtime,theotheris across triumph. alternative The first involvesassessingthe speciesor genotypes possibilities. ofeach periodcomparedwithwhatobtainedearlier.Butsincetherespective in the different environments periodswere also dissimilar,the historical successofvictoriousspeciesneed nottellus verymuchabout theirgeneral in fitness.Presumably a speciesflourishing in one periodwould superiority have had somespecificadvantagesin theexistingenvironment, butthisline of reasoningdoes not lead to any conclusionabout generalprogressover time,going beyond advantagein the local and proximateenvironment. Darwin'sthesisabout "all corporealand mentalendowments"tending"to progresstowardsperfection" through"naturalselection"is hardto sustain evenwhenprogress is seenentirely in termsofhischaracterization offitness.
More can, however,be said in Darwin'sdirectionifwe acceptas our criterionnot fitnessin general,but certainstraightforward physicalcharsuch as efficiency acteristics of mechanicaldesign.Indeed, JulianHuxley used just such a criterion ofmechanicalefficiency to identify progressover time.'Forexample,he notedthesecularimprovement in therunningspeed ofhorsesand in thegrinding abilityoftheirteeth.More recently, extending thistypeof argumentfurther and muchmoreambitiously, GeeratVermeij has proposedthattherehave been sweepingimrprovements over timein somegenerally favorablefeatures forsurvival,so thatmodernorganismsare betterable to deal witha varietyof environments goingwell beyondthe particularone in whichtheyhappen to live.2Vermeijhas soughta causal explanationforthisin his findingthat"the biologicalsurroundings havQ themselves becomemorerigorouswithina givenhabitat"overlongspreads oftime. Theseempiricalfindings are illuminating and the relatedanalysesare also significant, but the conclusionsabout evolutionary progressovertime cannotbut be tentativeand relatively modest.A speciesthatsurvivesand betterthan anotherspeciesin a more"rigorous"enreproducesrelatively vironment need not invariably betterin less rigoroussurroundings perform In establishingevolutionary (or in an even more rigorousenvironment). of fitnesswithsurroundings progressover time,the problemof variability cannotbe adequatelyeliminated environmental bythepostulateofincreasing rigorousness overtime. Thereis anotherbasic problemin drawingconclusionsabout evolufromtheseover-time tionaryprogress comparisons:theproblemofwhatcan orcannotbe ascribedtoevolutionas such.Itis obviouslyarbitrary toattribute all the developmentsthatoccur over timeto the processof evolution.In somechangesmaybe broughtaboutbytransitory naturalevents. particular, Evolution,on its own, need not have resultedin the extinctionof the dinosaursopeningup a different lineofdevelopment thateventually produced humanbeings.We clearlyowe a voteofthanksto theimpactingasteroidifthatis whatit was-which, some 65 millionyearsago, exterminated the if but at Even we dinosaurs, helpedus, longlast,to evolve. arguefromour pointofview (eschewingthatofthedinosaurs)thattherehas been progress overtime,we cannotconcludethatevolutionitselfhas broughtabout this progressive change. All of this gives us reason to look not over timebut across sets of in particular, alternative possibilities: tojudge thespeciesthathave emerged in comparisonwithothersthatdid not emergeor were eliminated.How reasonableis the claimthattheones whichmade it were "optimal"in that environment? Thingsare not so easy here either.The "fittest"to whichDarwin or could be the top of a local class only-of the alternatives Spencerreferred
VIEW OF PROGRESS
thathappento come up to competewiththeparticularspeciesin question. as well as accidental-could have preventedthe Many factors-systemic Theinfluenceof"developmentconstraints," emergenceofothercompetitors. biology,both scales down and complicatesthe opstudiedin evolutionary claimsthatcan be made.3 timality The problembecomeseven morecomplexwhen we considernotjust different organismsthatcould butaltogether organisms, variationsofexisting have emergedin some alternativescenarioof worldhistorywithdifferent and different drawson the lotteryof nature.The developmentconstraints epic heroeswithsuperhumanpowerslike Gilgameshor Arjunaor Achilles, who made the fictitious world more exciting(if not altogetherpeaceful), may well have been unfeasiblecreatures,but it is hard to rule out of coneven possibility thatcouldhavemadeus fitter everycounterfactual sideration in the environment in whichwe findourselvestoday.Dependingon circould have come up. The cumstancesand chance,manyotheralternatives analogue oftheproclamationin Voltaire'sCandidethat"all is evolutionary forthebestin thebestofpossibleworlds"badlyneedsa cleareridentification ofwhat can be takenas "possible." proversionofthethesisofevolutionary Thus the across-alternatives can at mostclaimsomekindoflocal optimalitygression, whenscrutinized, And even thissmall successwithrespectto a limitedclass of alternatives. fitnessas the primary of evolutionary successdependson the acceptability criterion forjudgingprogress.
Whyfitness? of It is clearenoughthatfitnessis good forthe survivaland multiplication a species-indeed,thatis exactlyhow fitnessis defined.But whyshouldit ofprogress?Survivaladvantagesmay come from be, in itself,the criterion and thereis no particularguarantee typesof characteristic, verydifferent thattheymake livespleasanteror richeror nicer. Consider,forexample,PatrickBateson'spointerto thefactthat"male withothermalesforfemaleshavemuchlarger thatfight primates polygynous caninesthanmaleprimatesthatare characteristically monogamous."4While teeth and survivaladvantagesforthosewithbetterfighting thereproductive maybe clearenough (I do not wish to venturean opinionon thisdelicate subject),one would not take it forgrantedthat enormouscanines were wonderful-thatmonogamousprimateswhich lacked them intrinsically shouldbe reallyenviousof theirgiant-toothed cousins. It is not hard to thinkthatCharlesDarwin had a ratherinadequate basis fortakingnaturalselectionto be the unambiguouspromoterofwhat he called "the good of each being,"and forseeingit as the way to "perfection."We recognizemany virtuesand achievementsthat do not help
survivalbut thatwe have reasonto value; and on the otherside,thereare ofsuccessfulsurvivalthatwe finddeeplyobjectionable.For manycorrelates example,ifa speciesofvassals-some variantof homo sapiens-is keptin inhumanconditionsby some tribeof tyrantsand thatspeciesadapts and evolvesintobeingnotonlyveryusefulslavesbutalso doggedsurvivors and mustwe acceptthatdevelopmentas a signofprosuper-rapid reproducers, gress?An exactanalogueofthisis, ofcourse,imposedon thoseanimalson whichwe feed.But suchan arrangement would hardlyseemacceptablefor humanbeings,and itis notat all clear(as was arguedearlier)thatit should be acceptablein the case ofanimalseither.
Valuing and reasoning Thereis need forreasonedevaluationin choosingour criterion ofprogress, and thejob can hardlybe handedoverto naturalselection.But how sound and reliableis ourabilitytojudge?Itcan be pointedoutthatwhatevervalues we mayespouseand whateverabilityto reasonwe mayhave developedare themselvesresultsof evolution.Some argue fromthisthatour reasoning selectedto give us survivaland reproductive abilityhas been specifically Othersargue advantage,and itsuse foranyotherpurposecannotbe justified. thatthe selectionof our reasoningabilitiesstacksthe odds in favorof our of evolutionary endorsingthe criterion success,sincewe ourselvesare the underminetherelevanceofour productofthatprocess.Do thesearguments evaluativereasoning?I believetheydo not. It is a non sequiturto arguethatsinceour abilityto reasonmayhave evolvedthroughsurvivaladvantage,it can be used onlyforthatpurpose. Our facultiesare not,in general,specifically tied to a singlepurpose.Our sense of colormay have helped us to survivebetter(in locatinga preyor avoidinga predator),but thatis no reasonwhy we should failto see the beautyofCezanne'sor Picasso'scolors.No matterhow and whyour ability to reasonmay have developed,we can use it as we like,and scrutinizing thecriterion ofreproductive successor survivaladvantageas a yardstick of progressis amongitspossibleuses. The otherobjectionis notparticularly tellingeither.Theremightwell be good reasonto thinkthatwe are morelikelyto approveoftheworldas it is thanothercreatures, resulting fromotherscenariosand livingin other possibleworlds,would be. But thatfactin itselfneed not underminethe relevanceof our values. The more interesting issue is whetherthisinterwe findand to endorsethe dependenceleads us to approveof everything productsofnaturalselectionin an uncritical way.Nothingindicatesthatthis is the case. For example,pain can have greatsurvivaladvantagein acting as a signalto whichwe mightrespond,but thatdoes not make us think pain is a good thingto have. Indeed,we mayabhorpain,even in a context
VIEW OF PROGRESS
inwhichwe readilyacceptitsincentive role.Anyincentive systemcan operate on thebasis ofthecarrotor the stick.Whilethetwo maybe comparablein termsof signalingand inducement,we oftenhave verygood reasonsfor favoringa systemof carrotsoverone thatrelieson sticks. When,some2,500 yearsago, GautamaBuddhalefthis princelyhome to seek enlightenment, he was drivenby dismayat the miseryof human existence,at thesufferings ofdisease,old age, and death,and therecertainly was no inabilitythereto disapproveof the way we have emerged.Nor is thereanyincongruity in Buddha'sjudgmentthatkillinganimalsand eating theirfleshis a terrible way to live,even thoughnaturehas tendedto favor thedevouringof one speciesby another.
Individuals and the type Asidefromthe generaldifficulty of therebeingmanythingsthatwe value otherthansurvival,somemorespecificproblemsalso exist.One ofthemost importantrelatesto the factthat evolutionis not much concernedwith individualsurvivalat all, whereaswe, as individuals,tend to take some in thatsubject.Tennysongotit right,when-about a decade before interest thepublicationof On theOriqinofSpecies-hecomplainedagainstnature: So careful ofthetypesheseems, So careless ofthesinglelife.
For one thing,naturalselectionshows littleinterestin our well-beingor survivalonce we are pastthereproductive age. For another,in the scale of selectionaladvantage,a loweringofthedeathrateeven amongtheyounger ages could easilyget less priority than reproductive vigor,if the latteron balancecontributes moreto theproliferation ofthespeciesorthegenotypes. Thereare,thus,two quitedifferent ways in whichnaturalselectionis "carelessofthe singlelife."It careslittleabout the lengthofthe individual life,and it cares even less about the qualityof thatlife.Indeed, natural selectiondoes not promoteanythingwe mayhave reasonto value, except to the extentthatthiscoincides-or correlates-withpropagationaladvantage.
Genetic improvementand eugenics It is notunfairto saythattheDarwinianperspective, seen as a generalview ofprogress,suggestsconcentration on adaptingthe speciesratherthanadin whichthe specieslead theirlives.It is therefore justingtheenvironment notsurprising thatthisviewofprogress had theeffect ofdirectly encouraging one typeofconsciousplanning,namelythatforgeneticimprovement. The
eugenicsmovement,whichflourished aroundthe turnof the century, was influenced byDarwinianarguments aboutthesurvivalofthefittest. It championed the idea of lendinga "helpinghand" to naturein breedingbetter genetictypes,mainlyby limitingthe propagationof the "less fit"variants. The policiesadvocatedrangedfromintellectualpersuasionto forcedsterilization. The movementhad many well-knownadvocates,fromSir Francis Galton(Darwin'scousin) to ElisabethNietzsche(the philosopher'ssister). The advocacyof thistypeof geneticmanipulationhad much respectability cameintodisrepute, withthechilling fora while,butitultimately particularly had weptat thefuneralofElisabeth patronageofHitler(who, incidentally, Nietzschein 1935). While Darwin neveradvocatedgeneticplanning,the withtheviewthatprogress should eugenicsapproachcan coexistcomfortably be judgedprimarily ofthe species.Those who see the by thecharacteristics an adequateunderstanding Darwinianview ofprogressas providing ofproand thelimits gressin generalmustaddressthequestionoftheacceptability of geneticmanipulationthroughselectivebreeding.As a worldview,this demandsof perspective on progressmustcome to termswiththe contrary values to which we have reason to attach greatimportance,including autonomyand freedom.
Design and resolve Even thoughthe eugenicsmovementderivedits inspirationand some intellectualsupportfromDarwinism,it is fairto say thatDarwin'sown focus was on seeingprogressas spontaneousand undesigned.In the contextof religiousbelief,the mostradicalaspectof Darwinismwas its denial of the But the generalissue of designedcreationof all species simultaneously. of spontaneousprogressgoes well beyondthequestionoftheintentionality an outsidedivinebeing.Ifevolutionguaranteesprogress, thentheneed for on the partof insiders-humanbeings-may be to that intentionaleffort extentreduced.Furthermore, itcouldbe arguedthatbytrying to bringabout progress deliberately, throughchangingtheworldinwhichwe live,we could endangerthespontaneousworkingofevolutionary processes.Ifwe takethe view of progress,and ifwe acceptthatgeneticselection quality-of-species makes us wonderfully adapted,then-it could be asked-why encourage unfitgenes?Faithin spontaneousprogressdeniesmorethanthelaborofa creation-minded ChristianGod. Thereare, thus,two ratherdifferent directionsin whichwe may be pushedby the Darwinianview of progress.One suggestsgeneticmanipuThe common lation,the otherindicatesinactiverelianceon spontaneity. elementis, ofcourse,silenceon thecase foradjustingtheworldto suitour needs. That gap in attentionis the directresultofjudgingprogressby the
VIEW OF PROGRESS
natureofthespecies,ratherthanby thekindoflivestheycan lead-which would have immediately drawnattention to theneed to adjusttheexternal world.FromthatcommonDarwinianpoint,theactivist viewproceedstoward geneticmanipulation, whereasthe morepassiveview suggeststrusting nature.Neitherdirectsus towardreforming the externalworldin whichwe live. Darwin and Malthus This issue linkswitha biggerone: the vast attitudinal difference between naturein generaland deliberately trusting to counteritsunacceptable trying effects. Thatdichotomy can be illustrated betweenMalthus's bythecontrast invocationof natureto recommendsocial inaction,in contrastwith,say, WilliamGodwin'sactiveinterventionism.5 In fact,Malthuswas a trueguru ofevolutionary theory.Darwinexplainsin TheOrigin that,in part,histheory "is the doctrineof Malthusapplied with manifoldforceto the whole of animaland vegetablekingdoms." In his famousEssayon Population, publishedin 1798, Malthuslaid the fora theoryofnaturalselectionby linkingtheissue ofsurvival foundations withpopulationgrowthand competition fornaturalresources.While the work'slargerphilosophicalambitionwas todisputetheradicalprogressivism of Godwin and Condorcet (as was stated in the originaltitle of the monograph6),its immediateaim was to oppose legislationto change the PoorLaws in GreatBritainthatwould makewelfarepaymentsproportional to familysize.7Suchtampering witha processofnatureappearedto Malthus tobe a wayofcompounding theproblem;itwouldbe muchbettertoabandon thesedeliberateendeavorsto help thosewho could not be helped. Malthusdid advocate-but withoutmuch optimism-voluntary restraintas a methodof reducingpopulationgrowth,and here again (as in the case of eugenics)the emphasisis on adjustingourselvesratherthan adaptingthe world outsideus. Malthuswas consistently and thoroughly hostiletopublicactionthatwouldassistthepoor,andtosuchpublicamenities as lying-in mothersand foundling hospitalsforunmarried hospitalsforabandoned babies.8 The dichotomybetweenleavingthe deprivedand the miserableto nature,and usingpublicactionto tryto help them,remainsimportantin the contemporary world.Indeed,the significance of the contrastmay well have increasedin recentyears,withthegrowingtendencyto letimpersonal forces-themarketmechanism,forexample-have theirway. The bankruptcyof the Second Worldhas oftenbeen interpreted not simplyas the failureof a particularsystemof intervention, but as the impossibility of of all kinds. designedimprovement
Extinctionand theenvironment The questionof intervention relatesmostcloselyto social matters(of the butthereare environkindillustrated by theMalthus-Godwindifferences), mentalissuesas well. Considertheproblemofthepossibledepletionofthe ozone layer.It is quite likelythatleftto itself,the ozone layer'sdepletion would eventuallylead to some geneticresponsethroughevolution.For example,genotypeswithless vulnerablegenesmay survivethe radiational morenumerous.(I have changesbetterthanothersand become relatively heardthatwe coloredpeoplewouldgo moreslowlythanyou whiteswould, but I am not takingbetson it.) Naturalselectionmayreplaceus with"fitter" people,and thatis part ofevolution.But ifwe value our livesand condemn oftheprogressiveness disease and extinction, we would wish to considera courseof actionthat From would vigorouslyresistthe unfavorablechangein the environment. the pointof view of human beings,as we are constituted, geneticnatural one. selectionmaybe a chillingprospectratherthana heartwarming I do notwishtopressthecontrast buta significant difference toosharply, in attitudeliesbehindthesetwodissimilar waysofviewingnatureand,more in which we findourselves.One generally,of viewingthe surroundings aspectofthedilemmawas, of course,famouslyarticulated by thedithering PrinceofDenmark: Whether 'tisnoblerin themindtosuffer Theslingsand arrowsofoutrageous fortune, Or totakearmsagainsta sea oftroubles, Andbyopposing, endthem.
Thisformulation mightnothave appealedto Darwin,ifonlybecause in his laterlifehe had come to findtheBardrathersickening."I have triedlately to read Shakespeare,"Darwin says in his Autobiography, "and foundit so intolerably dull thatit nauseatedme." So I will not insiston Shakespeare, butthereis a pointhereon which,I would suggest,a Darwinianevolutionist could fruitfully reflect.
Darwinismand our lives To conclude,Darwin'sanalysisof evolutionary progresswas relatedto his attemptat explainingtheprocessofevolutionthroughnaturalselectionand assessingitsrole in the genesisof species,including"the higheranimals." This explanatorypurposewas extremely well servedby Darwin's analysis of evolution,even though,as I have triedto show, the idea of fitnessunderlying"the survivalofthefittest" mayrequiremorescrutiny.
VIEW OF PROGRESS
Darwinalso presenteda view ofprogressin termsofthequalityofthe thefitness ofthesurviving species,andmorespecifically beings.Thisapproach on thecharacteristics oflivingbeingsratherthanon theactual concentrates livestheycan lead. ThisaspectofDarwin'sworkand influenceis muchmore open to question.It tendsto ignorethequalityoflifeofhumanbeingsand otheranimals; it underminesthe importanceof rationallyevaluatingour and tryingto live accordingto them;and it drawsour attention priorities awayfromtheneed to adjusttheworldin whichwe live.This,in turn,tends to encourageeitheractivismin geneticmanipulation(as in the eugenics movements),or a passive relianceon spontaneousprogress(more in line withDarwin'sown pronouncements). Butin neithercase is muchattention paid to the dependenceof the qualityof our lives on the natureof the adjustableexternalworld. ErnstMayr,the distinguished zoologistand Darwiniantheorist,has pointedoutthattheworldviewformed byanythinking personintheWestern worldafter1859,when OntheOriginofSpecieswas published,could notbut be thoroughly different fromany worldviewformedpriorto Darwin.9This is indeedso, and thatimportant factdeservesfullrecognition. But a worldview based on theDarwinianvisionofprogresscan also be deeplylimiting, because it concentrateson our characteristics ratherthan our lives, and focuseson adjustingourselvesratherthantheworldin whichwe live. are particularly These limitations tellingin the contemporary world, giventheprevalenceofremediable deprivations, such as poverty, unemployment,destitution, famine,and epidemics,as well as environmental decay, threatened extinction ofspecies,persistent towardanimals,and the brutality generallymiserablelivingconditionsof much of humanity.We do need Darwin,but onlyin moderation. Notes Thisessayis basedon theDarwinLecturedeliveredbytheauthoratDarwinCollege,Cambridge,England,on 29 November1991. A slightlyshortenedversion was previously publishedin the 5 November1992 issue of LondonReviewofBooks.For helpfuldiscussions
3 For a classicpresentation of the skepticalview,see StephenJ. Gouldand Richard C. Lewontin,"The spandrelsof San Marco and the Panglossianparadigm:A critiqueof theadaptationist in Proceedings programme," of the Royal Societyof London, B, 205 (1979).
to WalterGilbert, theauthoris grateful David See also John Dupre, The Lateston the Best: Haig, AlbertHirschman,RichardLewontin, Essayson Evolutionand Optimality (Cambridge, Geoffrey Lloyd,RobertNozick,and Emma Mass.: MIT Press,1987). Rothschild. 4 PatrickBateson,"The biologicalevo1 Julian Huxley, Evolutionin Action(New lution of cooperationand trust,"in Diego York:Harper,1953). Gambetta (ed.), Trust: Making and Break2 Geerat Vermeij,Evolutionand Escalation
(Princeton: Princeton University Press,1987).
ing CooperativeRelations(Oxford: Blackwell,
1988), p. 16.
5 The remarkable attitudinal contrast has been illuminatingly analyzedin WilliamSt.
7 See J. L. Brooks,Justbefore theOrigin (NewYork:ColumbiaUniversity Press,1984). Clair, TheGodwinsand theShelleys:A Biography 8 See Brooks,citedinnote7,and St.Clair, ofa Family(London:Norton,1989). citedin note 5. 6 The originaltitlewas An Essayon the 9 ErnstMayr,OneLongArgument (CamPrincipleof Population as it Affects the Future bridge, Mass.: Harvard UniversityPress, Improvement ofSociety,withRemarkson theSpec- 1991),p. 1. ulationsofMr. Godwin,M. Condorcet and Other
Published on Apr 4, 2012
Published on Apr 4, 2012
JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a...