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Darwinian Natural Right: The Biological Ethics of Human Nature (Suny Series, Philosophy & Biology) Paperback – April 2, 1998

ISBN-13: 978-0791436943 ISBN-10: 0791436942 Edition: First Edition

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Product Details

  • Series: Suny Series, Philosophy & Biology
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: State University of New York Press; First Edition edition (April 2, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0791436942
  • ISBN-13: 978-0791436943
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #571,502 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Larry Arnhart is Professor of Political Science at Northern Illinois University. He is the author of Aristotle on Political Reasoning: A Commentary on the "Rhetoric" and Political Questions: Political Philosophy from Plato to Rawls.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 27, 1999
Format: Paperback
Arnhart argues that certain desires are universal in human societies because they are based in human biology. He sees this as grounding an Aristotelian view in which virtues are to be pursued because they promote eudaimonia--human flourishing. Humans can only flourish when biologically-based needs are satisfied. These needs include not only the appetitive ones like food and sex, but "higher" needs of meaningful social interaction and the pursuit of understanding. These universal needs provide the needed telos for judging the rightness or wrongness of actions: How well does the proposed action promote these biologically-based teloi? This view also provides a neutral standard whereby the ethical practices of diverse cultures may be judged, so complete ethichal relativism can be avoided. However, Arnhart recognizes that there may be multifarious, culturally-relative means of achieving the universal ends.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Herbert Gintis on July 3, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Arnhart holds that the good is desirable, and since we are a natural species, the good can be discerned from our individual environments and our universal constitution as a species. Arnhart's contribution is Aristotelian, in that this philosopher started from the natural position of humanity (e.g., we are a zoon politican--a social animal) rather than from Plato's Ideal World. Arnhart is a Darwinian, in that our constitution as a specied derives from our evolutionary history.
This book can be read with profit by professional philosophers as well as beginners interested in understanding evolutionary ethics. It is clear and systematic, avoids jargon, and amply discusses alternative views.
I take issue with one part of Arnhart's analysis. I learned that "the good is the desirable" in my graduate student days in economics. I have always thought this quite incorrect (I wrote my Ph.D. dissertation on the topic!). For instance, I may desire potato chips (or heroin) but not consider it good, and may indeed wish that I did not desire these things. In place of Arnhart's principle, I would suggest "The good is what allows us to flourish and to use our natural capacities to the fullest." The idea of flourishing as a criterion is associated with Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen and others, and the idea of developing one's capacities to the fullest is associated with the young Karl Marx, in his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844.
At any rate, virtually all of Arnhart's arguments go through with this minor change.
People like me, behavioral scientists, tend to ignore ethical philosophy and have contempt for its practitioners because it tries to find ethical truths independent from the natural position of human beings in the world. Arnhart is a wonderful antidote to this tendency, maintaining a high level of both philosophical and scientific reasoning.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Matt Nuenke on April 17, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book looks at morality or ethics and tries to tie together an Aristotelian with what we now know is a moral system that was part of our primate past. Part evolutionary psychology and part philosophy, it is well written, cogent and easy to read. Its message is simply that humans are social and political animals that have innate desires, but need not act on them. Humans can choose to act contrary to their evolutionary past in ethical terms. But also, political systems must not IGNORE our human nature either, or they will fail.
From page 259 of the book: To justify his laws, Moses repeatedly insisted that if the Jews obeyed, his laws, they and their children would survive and prosper in their new land. He made no claims about immortality of the soul or about rewards and punishments in an afterlife. Instead, like Darwin, he argued that the purpose of morality was to secure the earthly survival and prosperity of oneself and one's progeny. The first commandment of God in the Bible is "Be fruitful and multiply" (Gen. 1:28). For Moses, promoting the survival and reproduction of the Jews required social norms that led individuals to cooperate within their group to compete with other groups (Deut. 4:40, 6:1-3, 11:8-9, 20, 23:9-14,25:11-16, 30:15-20). Moses taught that "whoever obeys the law will find life in it" (Lev. 18:5). Saint Paul cited this as the fundamental aim of the Mosaic Law (Rom. 10:5). It should not be surprising, therefore, that Darwinian theorists can explain the Mosaic law as promoting the reproductive interests of the Jews (Hartung 1995; MacDonald 1994, 35-55).
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By D. Carlson on December 23, 2005
Format: Paperback
Darwinian Natural Right, by Larry Arnhart, argues for a moral system in which we should seek to fulfill our natural desires, which exist due to Darwinian natural selection and evolution.

I think it's important to note that in this book Arnhart holds no distinction between statements of nature-what is-and statements of ethic-what ought to be. As such, his arguments tend to ignore this dualism. However, being a person who generally holds this dualism to be true, I found it easier to understand his argument by understanding his claims within such a distinction; the best way for me to describe his arguments is in such a way. His argument acts as a statement of nature in that it says that human beings, as part of their existence, seek to fulfill natural desires. Furthermore, these desires are, at their most basic level, determined by Darwinist evolution. What we typically see as morality, society, and moral sense is in fact the act of human beings seeking to fulfill these natural desires. Arnhart's claim also takes on tones of a statement of ethic, in that he further claims that not all desires are truly desirable; only those that lead to our flourishing are actually desires. He says that we ought to use reason to assess the best ways to fulfill our desires within environmental constraints, and then seek to fulfill them. Finally, he claims that an Aristotelian prudence is required in dealing with conflicting desires and finding the proper balance of desires that produces the greatest good.

Arnhart goes on to elaborate on these claims in ten different chapters. The first chapter deals with the origins of his ideas, a series of claims that he feels best describes his argument, and a series of seven main objections that he discusses at various points later in the book.
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