Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Replacing the Declaration with Darwin

Carson Holloway has an article on Darwin in the Public Discourse. We’re all aware of Herbert Spencer’s Social Darwinism, which was a political philosophy of the right. What is more interesting is Darwin’s influence on the Left, in this case, John Dewey.

Holloway explains that Dewey welcomed Darwin’s views because it allowed him to reject the fixed standard of “the law of nature and nature’s God” which was enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. Like President Obama, Dewey could now stress “change” and “hope” in the future. But Holloway goes on to state the following problem:

Dewey’s politicization of Darwinism, however, seems to lead him into incoherence. For him, we must not concern ourselves with “the good” or “the just” in any ultimate sense, but should merely seek incremental progress in goodness and justice. But how can we speak of improvement, or betterment, without some sense of “the good”—without implying that we have some knowledge, however imperfect, of what is simply good? How can we speak of “increments” of justice without some intuition of “the just”?

I would say this is where Darwin’s influence on Dewey ends and Hegel’s German Idealism begins. The moral standard for Dewey is fixed, just as it was for the Founders. Unlike the Founders, however, Dewey does not find that standard in Nature, but History. The Absolute Moment, which will be realized in the future within human history, provides the measuring stick for our practices today.

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