Subjects Of The World: Darwin's Rhetoric And The Study Of Agency In Nature

Paperback | June 22, 2014

byPaul Sheldon Davies

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Being human while trying to scientifically study human nature confronts us with our most vexing problem. Efforts to explicate the human mind are thwarted by our cultural biases and entrenched infirmities; our first-person experiences as practical agents convince us that we have capacities beyond the reach of scientific explanation. What we need to move forward in our understanding of human agency, Paul Sheldon Davies argues, is a reform in the way we study ourselves and a long overdue break with traditional humanist thinking.

            Davies locates a model for change in the rhetorical strategies employed by Charles Darwin in On the Origin of Species. Darwin worked hard to anticipate and diminish the anxieties and biases that his radically historical view of life was bound to provoke. Likewise, Davies draws from the history of science and contemporary psychology and neuroscience to build a framework for the study of human agency that identifies and diminishes outdated and limiting biases. The result is a heady, philosophically wide-ranging argument in favor of recognizing that humans are, like everything else, subjects of the natural world—an acknowledgement that may free us to see the world the way it actually is.

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Being human while trying to scientifically study human nature confronts us with our most vexing problem. Efforts to explicate the human mind are thwarted by our cultural biases and entrenched infirmities; our first-person experiences as practical agents convince us that we have capacities beyond the reach of scientific explanation. Wha...

Paul Sheldon Davies is professor of philosophy at the College of William and Mary. He is the author of Norms of Nature. 
Format:PaperbackDimensions:272 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.7 inPublished:June 22, 2014Publisher:University Of Chicago PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0226137635

ISBN - 13:9780226137636

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Table of Contents

Part One
A Progressive Orientation: Naturalism as Exploration
 
1          The Vividness of Truth: Darwin’s Romantic Rhetoric and the Evolutionary Framework
 
2          Our Most Vexing Problem: Conceptual Conservatism and Conceptual Imperialism
 
3          Naturalism as Exploration: The Elements of Reform
 
 
Part Two
The Allure of Agency: ‘Purpose’ in Biology
 
4          The Real Heart of Darwinian Evolutionary Biology
 
5          A Formative Power of a Self-Propagating Kind: Natural Purposes and the Concept Location Project
 
6          A Persistent Mode of Understanding: The Psychological Power of ‘Purpose’
 
 
Part Three
The Illusions of Agency: ‘Free Will’ and ‘Moral Responsibility’
 
7          The Death of an Aphorism: The Psychology of Free Will
 
8          The Bare Possibility of Our Opinion: Libertarian Imperialism
 
9          Words Give Us a Special Ability: Compatibilist Conservatism
 
Appendix
Appreciation and Acknowledgments
References
Index

Editorial Reviews

“In Davies’s bracing book, we get a resounding manifesto for naturalism, in particular as it pertains to our perceived free will (Davies argues that this concept is otiose). His is not the first naturalistic manifesto, but it is arguably one of the most trenchant. . . . The gauntlet has been cast and it deserves being picked up. The author reminds us that being a coherent naturalist is a serious and difficult philosophical project; as such, this stimulating book should be read by all philosophers interested in the implications of naturalism.”