Friday, July 30, 2004

Philosophers Who Don't Pull Punches

I love this quotation from Herbert Spencer, although I suspect it's because of statements like this one that he has (wrongly in my view) been tarred as an evil Social Darwinist.
We have no patience with the mawkish philanthropy which would ward-off the punishment of stupidity. The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly, is to fill the world with fools.
Well put. But why doesn't this indicate Social Darwinism on Spencer's part? Spencer focused primarily on the cultural evolution of practices, not the biological evolution of traits. The primary feedback mechanism is not the reduced representation of the fool's genes in the gene pool, but the cautionary tale from which others can learn how to be less foolish. Second, Spencer did not advocate programs for the deliberate weeding out of undesirables, because he recognized the spontaneous character of the evolutionary process. Fools weed themselves out; they don't need much help.

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