August 30, 2008

Nietzsche thought that the better types would lose out in natural selection

3 comments: John Wilkins said... Thanks for the link, but your confidence is unwarranted. The last time I read Nietzsche, I was an undergraduate. 16 June, 2008 15:13

Michael Pleyer said... Although you may not know much about Nietzsche anymore (and neither do I, at least that's the impression I get when I'm listening toi the other bright people in my Nietzsche-Course.I'm sorry if I didn't get that across, but I was trying to express the fact that I don't have any real idea about the state of evolutionary theory in Darwin's time, and that you're surely a greater authority on the topic than me, for example regarding the question whether 19th Century Darwinism didn't take into account internal selection sufficiently, or whether Darwinians really claimed that the life of an organism was basically about a very conservative kind of self-preservation and nothing else 17 June, 2008 00:32

John Wilkins said... In that case, let me say that philosophers in general are a very bad guide to the state of biological evolution theory at the time Nietzsche was writing. Josiah Royce, for example, relies on Schopenhauer more than Darwin and mostly philosophy engaged Spencer or Huxley rather than Darwin or the Darwinians. It's a bit like Midgley engaging Ayer or Dawkins rather than, say, Lewontin or Maynard Smith.

From this page, and also this paper it is clear to me that Nietzsche simply didn't understand natural selection, because he thought that the better types were those that would lose out in selection. He was not alone at that time; many people had confused ideas about selection, and many philosophers still do (e.g., David Stove). This is largely because, I believe, the eugenic notion of selection is based on the common experience of selective breeding (which Darwin called "artificial selection") leading to fragile and sensitive types, such as thoroughbred horses. Nietzsche appears to think that the intellectual will lose out. On Darwin's view, if that were true, then too bad - the less intellectual types would simply be fitter.

Huxley's Evolution and Ethics also makes this point forcefully - we should not rely on evolution to give us the moral or ethical types, but by an act of will seek to manufacture the civilisation we most value. Maybe that is what Nietzsche was trying to say, in his own inimitable style.

I would also suggest you investigate the views of James Mark Baldwin and the Baldwin Effect which has had a long history as either anti-Darwinian or more recently something that, although "internal" is Darwinian after all. 17 June, 2008 05:05 Post a Comment Links to this post This ambiguity and uncertainty can also be found when it comes to ...

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