From Biosocial Anthropology to Social Biology: Some Thoughts on Intellectual Communities in the Post-war Sciences July 26, 2014Posted by Christopher Donohue in History of Economic Thought, History of the Human Sciences.
Tags: Alexander Carr-Saunders, Charles Darwin, Edward O. Wilson, Edward Westermark, Ernest Gellner, Franz Boas, Herbert Spencer, Karl Popper, Kingsley Davis, Lee Cronk, Mario Bunge, Napoleon Chagnon, Pitirim Sorokin, R. A. Fisher, Robert Merton, Robin Fox, William Mallock
This particular post focuses on biosocial anthropology, sociobiology, social biology and bio-social science. Biosocial anthropology is a very specific intellectual community which has self-ordered around the theoretical and evidentiary contributions of Napoleon Chagnon, William Irons, Lee Cronk, and my personal favorite for heterogeneity and provocation, Robin Fox. This community has always traveled in different circles than those of sociobiologists like E.O. Wilson. Biosocial anthropology is also distinct in emphasis from social biology.
I will also detail the bio-social perspective of Kingsley Davis, which in many ways anticipated the conceptual innovations of biosocial anthropology, but whose bio-social science is unknown. His work is an exercise in “anti-reductionism” (my term)—arguing instead for the distinctiveness of human social evolution as opposed to the development of beings in nature.
Tags: Arthur de Gobineau, E.O. Wilson, Emile Durkheim, Friedrich Hayek, G. Stanley Hall, Henry Buckle, Herbert Spencer, Josiah Nott, Karl Marx, Montesquieu, Napoleon Chagnon, Pitirim A. Sorokin, R. A. Fisher, Richard Lynn, Robert Merton, William Graham Sumner, William Ripley
Alexander M. Carr-Saunders (14th January 1886-6th October 1966) was president of the London School of Economics from 1937 to 1956. When his The Population Problem: A Study in Human Evolution appeared in 1922, it cemented his reputation. According to his obituary in Population Studies this book has since been viewed as a seminal contribution to “social biology” due to its formulation of the “optimum number.” Carr-Saunders defined the optimum number as the greatest number of individuals who could be sustained by a given environment. For Carr-Saunders, moreover, this optimum number “involves the idea of the standard of living,” where in order to reach and to maintain this standard of living, populations, from primitive to civilized, employ practices to either “reduce fertility” or to “cause elimination,” including abortion, abstinence from sexual intercourse, and infanticide, in greater or lesser proportions (214.)
This was not all, however, as the maintenance of the highest standard of living possible required that the “younger generation must become proficient in the skilled methods which makes this standard possible of attainment, and in particular it is important that young men should not marry unless they are both energetic and skillful.” In such basic facts “we may see evidence exerted by social conditions and conventions” (224.)
Carr-Saunders has attracted some attention from Hayek scholars due to his influence on Hayek’s notion of cultural evolution. Erik Angner in Hayek and Natural Law contends, “there is good reason to think that Hayek’s evolutionary thought was significantly inspired by Carr-Saunders and other Oxford zoologists” in particular supplying Hayek’s understanding of the mechanisms of group selection.
Kuhn’s Demon, or: The Iconoclastic Tradition in Science Criticism January 21, 2013Posted by Will Thomas in Ideology of Science.
Tags: Allan Franklin, Augustus de Morgan, Barry Barnes, Bruno Latour, David Bloor, Gerald Geison, Gerald Holton, Gregor Mendel, Isaac Newton, James Watson, John Maynard Keynes, Louis Pasteur, Mary Jo Nye, Michael Bycroft, Michael Mulkay, Michael Polanyi, Nicholas Wade, Peter Medawar, R. A. Fisher, Rebekah Higgitt, Robert Merton, Robert Millikan, Simon Schaffer, Stephen Brush, Steve Fuller, Steven Shapin, Thomas Kuhn, William Bateson, William Broad
The message that scientists are human and that science is messy is crossing the ether once again. Of late there has been a certain degree of excitement percolating among historians and science-studies scholars over the #OverlyHonestMethods hashtag on Twitter. It seems that scientists are sending out tweets about their work that happen to nicely coincide with the images of science that historians would like to present to the world. Twitter is, of course, the world hub for “trending” topics, and this particular trend is already simmering down. But, before the moment is completely gone, it might be worthwhile to reflect briefly on the history of the ideas 1) that there exists a dominant image of science as a pristine and rigidly ordered activity, and 2) that the negation of this image would be broadly beneficial to scientists and society.