Subjects of the World: Darwin's Rhetoric and the Study of Agency in Nature

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University of Chicago Press, Oct 15, 2009 - Science - 272 pages

Being human while trying to scientifically study human nature confronts us with our most vexing problem. Efforts to explicate the human mind are thwarted by our cultural biases and entrenched infirmities; our first-person experiences as practical agents convince us that we have capacities beyond the reach of scientific explanation. What we need to move forward in our understanding of human agency, Paul Sheldon Davies argues, is a reform in the way we study ourselves and a long overdue break with traditional humanist thinking.

Davies locates a model for change in the rhetorical strategies employed by Charles Darwin in On the Origin of Species. Darwin worked hard to anticipate and diminish the anxieties and biases that his radically historical view of life was bound to provoke. Likewise, Davies draws from the history of science and contemporary psychology and neuroscience to build a framework for the study of human agency that identifies and diminishes outdated and limiting biases. The result is a heady, philosophically wide-ranging argument in favor of recognizing that humans are, like everything else, subjects of the natural world—an acknowledgement that may free us to see the world the way it actually is.

 

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Contents

The Allure of Agency Purpose in Biology
53
The Illusions of Agency Free Will and Moral Responsibility
135
Appendix
227
Notes
229
Appreciation and Acknowledgments
239
References
243
Index
253
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About the author (2009)

Paul Sheldon Davies is professor of philosophy at the College of William and Mary. He is the author of Norms of Nature.


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