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Moral Darwinism: How We Became Hedonists

Benjamin Wiker

, 2002

Item# B059
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Ever since Darwin published his book, On the Origin of Species, his theory has been both praised and blamed for changing Western morals. In his new book, Benjamin Wiker, a lecturer in the history and philosophy of science at the Franciscan University of Steubenville (Ohio), argues that Darwin has gotten too much credit for that accomplishment. He advances the claim that Darwin�s theory, far from being a revolutionary discovery, was actually the culmination of a longstanding moral and metaphysical movement that originated with the ancient Greek materialist and hedonist, Epicurus.

Epicurus was an early advocate of studying nature. But his purpose was not the pursuit of truth. Rather, it was to free oneself from the inner turmoil that comes from believing in the wrath of gods and an afterlife. Toward that end, nature had to studied in a special way. In particular, Wiker observes, Epicurus urged his followers to �meditate continually upon nature � as a closed system, closed to any possibility of the existence of an immortal soul that could live after death.�

This was science for a therapeutic goal. As Epicurus himself stated, �If our suspicions about heavenly phenomena and about death did not trouble us at all and were never anything to us � then we would have no need of natural science.�

Wiker traces the trajectory of Epicurus� ideas as they spread through the ancient world, were refuted by early Christian thinkers, and then revived during the Renaissance. His historical account convincingly demonstrates that the moral and metaphysical �implications� of Darwinism were actually its guiding spirit.

If you�re looking for a readable book that unriddles our puzzling moral culture, this book is a solid choice. A word of caution, though. As Wiker explores the impact of moral Darwinism (i.e. moral Epicureanism) on American culture, he takes the reader down the seamy avenue of Alfred Kinsey�s �research� on sex. This is necessary, but in a couple of spots the descriptions of Kinsey�s life and work are a bit graphic.

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