Evolutionary Pragmatism and Ethics
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Evolutionary Pragmatism and Ethics

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In the late nineteenth century, culture critics who were readers of Darwin's work on evolution pondered what the implications of natural selection might be for human culture, religion and ethics. American pragmatists, by and large, rejected a social Darwinian spin on ethics, economics, and theology in favor of a less determinate humanist version of the ethical implications that emphasized contingency and meliorism. The early arguments between T. H. Huxley and William Sumner over the issues mirrors the contemporary arguments between Stephen Jay Gould and others against "the New Atheists'" determinate interpretation of cultural implications which largely echo the social Darwinists' position but in the current language of sociobiology. The work of pragmatists such as William James, George Santayana, Jane Addams, and John Dewey detail an evolutionary perspective that rejects the moral implications of social Darwinism.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 156 pages
  • 159 x 239 x 16mm | 372g
  • Lexington Books
  • Lanham, MD, United States
  • English
  • 0739198645
  • 9780739198643

Review quote

What are the ethical implications of taking Darwin seriously? Evolutionary Pragmatism and Ethics is a richly informative history of responses to this question. As a scholar, Eddy brilliantly extends the previous generation's attempt to reconfigure the pragmatist canon. As a writer of elegant prose, she is in the company of Midgley and Menand. If you want to understand how American pragmatists such as Dewey, Addams, and Gould differ from social Darwinians and the so-called new atheists, this is where to start. -- Jeffrey Stout, author of Democracy and Tradition Beth Eddy's recovery of the early pragmatists offers a powerful meditation on the ethical implications of pragmatism. The focus is on Chicago, and thus John Dewey and Jane Addams, but the stage is much broader and includes Darwin, T. H. Huxley, Santayana, Spencer, and S. J. Gould. This is intellectual history at its best-full of philosophical rigor, sophisticated in its grasp of the science and religion milieu throughout the twentieth century, and steeped in the moral life and issues that continue well into the twenty-first century. In Chapters 4 and 5 Eddy gives us the most clear and up-to-date account of the remarkable story of Jane Addams that I know of. -- Nancy Frankenberry, John Phillips Professor of Religion Emerita, Dartmouth Collegeshow more

About Beth L. Eddy

Beth Eddy is associate professor of philosophy and religion at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.show more

Table of contents

Chapter One Setting the Stage: Darwin and 19th Century Evolutionary Ethics and Theologies Chapter Two T. H. Huxley's Evolution and Ethics Chapter Three John Dewey in Conversation with Huxley and Santayana on Evolution and Ethics Chapter Four Struggle or Mutual Aid: Jane Addams and the Progressive Encounter with Social Darwinism Chapter Five Jane Addams, John Dewey, and the Evolutionary Tension Points Chapter Six Contemporary Controversies over Chance and Teleologyshow more