By Chet Yarbrough
Robert Wright emboldens Darwin’s theory of evolution in “The Moral Animal”. Wright argues that Darwin infers evolution is biological, an all-inclusive generative theory. Not only is humankind evolving physically through natural selection, it is evolving psychologically.
The import of that conclusion is that all life is pre-determined at birth by evolution. Humans, like all others in the animal kingdom have no free will. Life is physically and morally pre-determined by evolution. Unlike Richard Dawkins, Wright wastes no time creating the idea of memes (inherited social customs) as a determinant of behavior. Wright suggests every human action in life is determined by evolution. The devil did not make you do it, and God is only a false construct of human evolution.
Wright argues that all life is based on arbitrary evolutionary changes in reproduction. Physical (genetic) and psychological (motive) changes that reinforce survival are pre-determined controllers of human appearance and behavior. Wright’s experimental evidence for physical evolution is research on human remains. His evidence for psychological evolution is advance in biological science.
Biological research shows that chemical interactions in the human body affect psychological behavior, just as genetics affect physical being. The discovery of endorphin, serotonin, enzyme, and other chemical interactions that effect human behavior are markers for evolutionary change in human psychological influence and control.
Physical and psychological correlation with evolution changes one’s view of civilization and its discontents. It not only suggests the death of God’s omniscience and control, but the death of free will. Humans are born programmed; programmed to be good and evil. Humans kill, cheat, lie, and steal. At the same time, humans build cities, create art, love others, and sacrifice their lives for something greater than themselves.
Without God; without free will, where is morality, where is good will, where is value in living? Wright suggests morality evolves into normative ethics based on an ethics of pleasure; as long as pleasure’s pursuit does not harm others. Wright’s idea is that humans level their moral behavior using a “tit for tat” penalty/reward system designed by evolution. A precursor of this philosophy is Epicurus, a Greek philosopher in 4th century BC; but search for pleasure as a reason-for-living evolves into utilitarianism in the 19th century.
Wright argues that humankind historically demonstrated sympathy, empathy, compassion, conscience, guilt remorse, and justice. Whether evolutionary (psychologically inherited), or God-given these moral beliefs are historically exhibited by civilization.
Civilization benefits from these feelings. Wright argues that penalties for violating rules of doing no harm to others are a part of a “tit for tat” evolutionary psychology that sustains civilization.
Whether this idea reflects God, evolution, or free-will, “tit for tat” offers a morally grounded philosophy that has pragmatic and utilitarian value. It helps humans feel better or worse, depending on their side of the “tit for tat”.
Wright suggests Freud was on to something in the idea of id, ego, and superego. Wright endorses Freud’s suggestion of homo sapient need for social interaction and human’ libidinous thought and action. However, Wright believes Freud took the idea too far when suggesting humans have a death instinct or Oedipus complex. Neither a death instinct nor Oedipus complex makes sense in an evolutionary world where replication of life is the essence of being.
In summary, like Richard Dawkins, Robert Wright is saying human beings are only replicating machines; without God; without free will, and dependent upon the arbitrariness of natural selection.