Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Classical Liberalism and Evolution Publication

My friend and former fellow graduate student at ASU, Stephen Dilley, has published a new book (out today):  Darwinian Evolution And Classical Liberalism: Theories in Tension. This collection "canvasses an array of thinkers from the past to the present as it examines fundamental political, philosophical, ethical, economic, anthropological, and scientific aspects of the ferment between Darwinian biology and classical liberalism." The publisher, Lexington Books, has more detailed information.

My friend Timothy Sandefur and I contributed chapters to this volume as part of the "Alternative Perspectives" section. As one might guess from the title and description, the book, for the most part, takes at best a skeptical eye towards biology and evolution (Clarification note from Stephen: "their contributions focus on a compatibility claim -- is Darwinism compatible with classical liberalism? -- rather than a critique of Darwinian evolution"). I do not share that skepticism; evolution is a well-established scientific theory (read: fact). My contribution, along with Timothy's, dispute that there is any tension between the ideas of classical liberalism/libertarianism and the contemporary understanding of biology.

I think Stephen has pulled together an interesting and thought-provoking book. It is a sign of his deep commitment to intellectual honesty and philosophical inquiry that he made sure from the start of his project to include and encourage critical and dissenting voices from his own view.

Here is an abstract of my chapter.
Volitional Consciousness and Evolution: At the Foundations of Classical Liberalism
By Shawn E. Klein
Classical Liberalism is a view that the only justifiable restraints on the actions and choices of individuals in political orders are ones necessary to preserve individual liberty. Central to this view of liberty is the individual being left free from coercive interference from other individuals and society as a whole. This view presumes the idea that the individual is, firstly, able to choose his ends and actions, and secondly, that the individual is the best judge of these. Thus, the individualism of classical liberalism presupposes a view of human consciousness that is volitional: capable of engaging in choice and individual self-direction. If this view of human consciousness is in conflict with the physical casual and evolutionary accounts of the world, then classical liberalism would seem to have serious problem. Therefore, I argue that the correct conception of volitional consciousness is consistent with the physical causal and evolutionary accounts of the world. Presenting a conception of volitional consciousness that makes the best sense of our introspective experience and knowledge of the world, I then show how such a volitional consciousness is consistent with causality and biological evolution.

Congratulations to Stephen!