The Generalized Darwinian Research Programme

In From Knowledge to Wisdom. Blackwell. pp. 269-275 (1984)
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The generalized Darwinian research programme accepts physicalism, but holds that all life is purposive in character. It seeks to understand how and why all purposiveness has evolved in the universe – especially purposiveness associated with what we value most in human life, such as sentience, consciousness, person-to-person understanding, science, art, free¬dom, love. As evolution proceeds, the mechanisms of evolution themselves evolve to take into account the increasingly important role that purposive action can play - especially when quasi-Lamarckian evolution by cultural means comes into existence. This programme of research brings together, into a coherent field of inquiry, aspects of such diverse fields of research as orthodox Darwinian theory (given its purposive interpretation), the study of animal behaviour, palaeontology, archaeology, history, anthropology, psycho-neurology, artificial intelligence, psychology, sociology, philosophy, linguistics, semantics, history and philosophy of science, and history and philosophy of inquiry more generally (the history and philosophy of ideas and culture). The great advantage of the generalized Darwinian research programme is that it provides a framework for understanding the deeds, achievements and experiences of people in a way that is compatible with the kind of knowledge and understanding achieved in the physical sciences, without being reducible to such knowledge and understanding. It promises to enable us to understand ourselves as a part of the biological domain without our humanity, our distinctive human value, being in any way denied: persons are not reduced to animals, and nor are animals misconceived to be persons. It holds out the hope that we can come to understand the human world as an integral part of the natural world without the meaning and value of the human world being thereby conceptually annihilated. The programme specifies in general terms what we must seek to do in order to develop a coherent understanding of nature and of ourselves which does justice to the character of both.

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Nicholas Maxwell
University College London


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