The Manifold Challenges to Understanding Human Success

In Hugh Desmond & Grant Ramsey (eds.), Human Success: Evolutionary Origins and Ethical Implications. Oxford University Press (2023)
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Claims that our species is an “evolutionary success” typically do not feature prominently in academic articles. However, they do seem to be a recurring trope in science popularization. Why do we seem to be attracted to viewing human evolution through the lense of “success”? In this chapter we discuss how evolutionary success has both causal-descriptive and ethical-normative components, and how its ethical status is ambiguous, with possible hints of anthropocentrism. We also place the concept of “success” in a wider context of biological thought, contrasting it with two other value-laden concepts: evolutionary progress and human uniqueness. Claiming the human species to be an evolutionary success is ostensibly grounded in metrics such as the dominance or the size of the human population, but often goes beyond this, suggesting that humans are a unique species or the pinnacle of evolutionary progress.

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Hugh Desmond
Leibniz Universität Hannover


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