Human Nature After Darwin by Janet Radcliffe Richards
Glenn Branch ponders Janet Radcliffe Richards’ book about the current state of Darwin’s revolution.
In 1838, a young naturalist copied a passage from a biography of the philosopher Sir James Mackintosh into his notebook: “in fact, in all reasonings, of which human nature is the object, there is really no natural starting place…” But the intellectual revolution that Charles Darwin was to inaugurate suggested the opposite, as he himself hinted toward the end of The Origin of Species: “Light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history.” There is no serious doubt that Darwin was right in his understated prediction. Nevertheless, controversies about the power of evolutionary biology to answer the perennial questions about human nature – in Gauguin’s version, where do we come from? what are we? where are we going? – continue to rage. There is, of course, no shortage of popular treatments of these controversies. What distinguishes Janet Radcliffe Richards’ Human Nature after Darwin from the rest of the pack is its author’s conviction that what is needed is a healthy dose of philosophical analysis.