Darwin sought to not only produce a new scientific truth, but also to put an end to polygenism, the current scientific discourse on human origins that gave tacit and at times explicit support for slavery: ‘... when the principle of evolution is generally accepted, as it surely will be before long, the dispute between the monogenists and polygenists will die a silent and unobserved death.’ (Charles Darwin, Descent of Man, p. 235)

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Political Descent: Malthus, Mutualism, and the Politics of Evolution in Victorian England, by Piers J. Hale.

B. Ricardo Brown. 2016. BOOK REVIEW: Political Descent: Malthus, Mutualism, and the Politics of Evolution in Victorian England, by Piers J. Hale. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2014.
[[*Unedited/uncorrected Draft*]]
Vol. 51, No. 2, pp. 367–369; Published online: July 21, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Political Descent: Malthus, Mutualism, and the Politics of Evolution in Victorian England, by Piers J. Hale. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2014. 465 pp. $45.00 US (hard cover).

Piers Hale has written an engrossing and well argued work on the complex milieu of Darwin’s early evolutionary theory and its subsequent interpreters. In so doing, he places the current disputes on evolutionary theory, particularly those between proponents of individual versus group selection, into a proper social, historical, and intellectual context. The assumptions regarding the social relations of competition and cooperation were no less obvious in Darwin’s day than in our own. Political Descent argues that Malthus, Lamarck, and especially Darwin himself, were well aware of the political, moral,and social implications of evolutionary theory. Likewise, the assumptions grounding our present debates can be seen in these “distant” debates if we take Hale’s invitation to suspend our usual disdainful sense that the arguments have “progressed” since then, or that it was ever simply an argument between Darwinists and anti-Darwinists.

Hale begins with a discussion of Malthus and the politics of evolutionary theory before and after Darwin focused on the role of competition and cooperation in human evolution The question of whether natural selection can account for the existence of altruism and social cohesion produced two ideological formations, one that embraced the social stasis invoked by Malthus, and the other a radical, progressive, anti-Malthusian politics that originates in Lamarck and Darwin’s own Lamarckianism. The opposition is between between those who would interpret Darwin through the lens of Malthus, and those who would have Darwin without Malthus.

Hales shifts the figure of Darwin from its usual role as the organizing center of attention to show Darwin in dialogue with Malthus, Spencer, and Wallace. Hale describes how Darwin’s rejection of Lamarck, and with it the radical politics often attached to the theory of acquired characteristics, facilitated the acceptance of the Origin by placing it within the mainstream of Whig politics. However, this invited Malthusian interpretations of natural selection that Darwin flatly rejected. Darwin insisted noted that his use of Malthus was always metaphorical. Darwin’s use of Malthus certainly influenced the reception of the Origin of Species, but Darwin’s Origin reinterprets Malthus theory in support of an ever changing nature. This, Hale shows, contributed to the diverse politics and social theories that continue to spring from Darwin’s engagement with the species question.

Hale provides a nice account of Wallace’s often overlooked address to London’s Anthropological Society that attempted to reconcile its avowed polygenism with the monogenism espoused in Darwin and Huxley’s Ethnological Society. Despite Darwin’s enthusiasm for Wallace’s paper, he held firmly to his views on the centrality of natural and sexual selection in human evolution while embracing the portion of Wallace’s paper that showed the importance of social relations in the development of moral sentiment and altruism in humans. Darwin praised Wallace’s paper, perhaps a little back-handedly, as the best he had read in the journal of the Anthropological Society.

Darwin’s natural selection faced increasing criticism in the years between the writing of the Origin of Species and the Descent of Man. Wallace’s spiritualism left Darwin without an important ally, and he turned to the work of other liberals during the writing of the Descent. Herbert Spencer, Walter Bagehot, Adam Smith, David Hume, J. S. Mill, Harriett Martineau all appear as influences on Darwin’s monogenic account of how natural and sexual selection could by themselves account for the moral and social evolution of humans. Hale reminds us that the Descent of Man was partly motivated by Darwin’s insistence that “evolution did not endorse the moral standards of every cheating tradesman” nor does “the most noble part of our nature, moral conscience” originate in “the base principle of selfishness” (p. 111).

In chapter four, Hale leaves behind these disputes to consider how important English liberals and socialists responded to their rapidly changing social context. Moving from the debate between Spencer and Huxley over the role of government in the progress of society, Hale describes the radical responses to the Social Darwinism, the most well known of these being the geographer and anarcho-communist Peter Kropotkin. Hale reestablishes the place of Kropotkin and radical geography in the history of evolutionary theory. The social and political stakes in the debates between the various interpreters of Malthus and Darwin in the United Kingdom were great. From laissez faire to anarchism, utopian socialism and Fabianism, devotees of Malthus such as H. G. Wells, Henry Hyndman, and G. B Shaw promoted the view that society is itself an organism that evolves. Socialist and non-socialist politics were equally girded by their engagement with Malthusian arguments and Spencerian utopianism.

This theme is continued in the discussion of Weissman, Pearson, and others whose thought fit well with notions of degeneracy and decline that were ubiquitous in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Hale concludes by bringing the discussion back to the present day to remind us that these fundamental disputes have never been resolved, and that they continue to animate our conflicting approaches to the place of human society in evolutionary theory.

Hale’s excellent essay shows the social and biological sciences to be deeply intertwined from their moment of origin. Political Descent is a valuable corrective to simplistic accounts of the politics of evolutionary theory.

B. Ricardo Brown, Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, N. Y.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Syllabus: Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud (Pratt Institute, Fall 2015)

Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud
School of Liberal Arts & Sciences
Department of Social Science & Cultural Studies
Course number/section: SS.290
Credits: 3
Friday, 9:30am – 12:20pm
North Hall 112

B. Ricardo Brown, PhD
Professor of Social Science and Cultural Studies

Office Location: Dekalb 419
Office Hour: Friday 9-9:30am and 12:20-1pm
Office Phone number: 1.718.636.3600 ext. 2709
Email: BBRow993@pratt.du
Twitter: https://twitter.com/UntilDarwin/

Bulletin description
In this course we will examine our concepts of society, power, value, and desire through reading selected works by Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Sigmund Freud. The goal is to understand their ideas and the social context that shaped them through a close examination of their works not to attempt to prove or disprove their many arguments. The emphasis of the course will be on engaging the original texts and attention will be paid to how each writer went about their critiques as well as the revolutionary consequences that followed --- including those that were antithetical to their own views and work.

Detailed description
Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud: The Sciences of Life and Society
In this course we will examine our concepts of society, power, value, and desire through reading selected works by Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Sigmund Freud. The goal is not to attempt to prove or disprove their many arguments, but to understand those views and the social context that shaped them through a close examination of their works. Special emphasis will be on reading the original texts and attention will be paid to how they went about their critiques as well as the revolutionary consequences that followed --- including those that were often antithetical to their own views and work.

In this course we will examine the knowledge of social life and its relation to our concepts of society, power, value, and desire through reading selected works of Marx, Darwin, Nietzsche, and Freud. You might begin thinking about the course in this way: Darwin placed us in the natural world and showed that we share a common genealogical origin in nature. Marx shows us how we have changed that nature and at the same time changed ourselves. Nietzsche raised the problem of what those changes have cost us: what have we had to give up in order to have society? Finally, Freud sought to understand how we might deal the consequences of civilization/culture (he used the German kulture, which can as in the English,mean either culture or civilization).
The overarching is for you to begin to understand these ideas and the social context that shaped them. So what is important is how they went about their critiques and the revolutionary consequences that followed --- including those that were antithetical to their own views and work, e.g., eugenics, Nazism, the gulags, etc., but which are nonetheless often invoked their names.

It is important to keep in mind that this course is only a single semester and so it can only serve as an introduction to some aspects of what are extensive and varied bodies of work. Many students do not have the opportunity to read any of these authors except for brief excerpts or secondary accounts. So the primary purpose here is to allow you to begin an engagement that, for the fortunate, lasts a lifetime.

So, we will examine the production of nature, society, power, and desire through the works of Marx, Darwin, Nietzsche, and Freud. And we examine them not because they are canonical “great works” but because they mark how works become canonical; not because we are concerned with “Great Men” or “Great Figures In Thought” but because these authors/works mark changes in knowledge and the limits to truth in their time by raising fundamental problems that the sciences of life and society seek to address address. The readings for this course will cover both their well known as well as more obscure, but often more important, works of social critique.

Themes, motifs, etc., to note during your readings in this course:

I. Continuities and discontinuities between the concepts, problems, and analyses. How does the author draw connections between concepts drawn from different fields of knowledge?

II. Interests and experiences that connect the authors, e.g., education, illness, exile or voyage, etc.

III. The social relations that connect the works, including:

Slavery, race, and the slave trade
Society and the social relations of capital
Nature and “the environment”
Bourgeois morality
Degeneration, criminality and madness

IV. Whether the author argues that interpretation is open and can change, or argues tha the past is more or less fixed in its meanings, i.e., if the believe that “the facts speak for themselves”.

V. The place of materialism, chance, and contingency in these works. Rejection of idealism in favor of scientific rationality and Enlightened experience.

VI. An emphasis on either (or both) individual experience and history.

VII. How these works reject a narrow or specialized intellectualism and cut across the established disciplines of their time.

VIII. As you read your texts, pause to think about how these works transformed knowledge and create the basis for the disciplines, specialties, and social policies of the present, i.e., their transvaluations of the values of their time and their concern for “Life” and “Society”.

Course Goals

This course will:

A. introduce and familiarize students with some of the key works of Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud.
B. give students the opportunity to directly engage some of the primary texts of sociology, biology, psychology, and philosophy.
C. allow students to interpret the social and intellectual contexts of these works and to use these works as material objects for understanding the social and intellectual currents of the 19th and 20th centuries.
D. deepen students understanding of the continuities and discontinuities of the sciences of life and society.
E. present students with a range of modes of argumentation and presentation, from Darwin’s “one long argument” of the Origin of Species to Nietzsche’s aphorisms.
F. provide students with a foundation for study in the social sciences and the liberal arts.

Student Learning Outcomes

At the end of this semester, students will:

A. demonstrate a knowledge of the range of work undertaken by Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud.
B. understand the sources of some of our most fundamental social and political questions.
C. position themselves in relation to contemporary disputes, e. g., evolution.
D. identify key concepts in the social sciences.
E. demonstrate an ability to analyze and interpret primary texts in the genealogy of sociology, psychology, philosophy, and biology.

The Course of Study

Week I [8.28.2015]. Introduction to the Course
This week you have a series of short autobiographical sketches, interviews, and memoirs which provide an introduction to the authors we will be reading and discussing. These readings will provide you with some useful biographical insights as well as an impression of how our four authors were seen by themselves and their contemporaries.

Darwin. 1860. Preface and postscript from Journal of researches into the natural history and geology of the countries visited during the voyage of H.M.S. Beagle round the world, under the command of Capt. Fitz Roy R.N. London: John Murray. Tenth thousand. Final text.
Pages v-viii.

Marx. Letter to Ruge, Kreuznach, September 1843.

Marx. Two Interviews:
Interview by John Swinton, The Sun, no. 6, 6 September 1880.
Interview with Karl Marx, by H., Chicago Tribune, January 5 1879.

Sir Mountstuart Elphinstone Grant Duff. A Private Letter to British Crown Princess Victoria About Meeting Karl Marx, February 1, 1879.

Eleanor Marx, “Biographical Comments on Karl Marx by his daughter.”

Frederick Engels. Speech at the Grave of Karl Marx, Highgate Cemetery, London. March 17, 1883.

Nietzsche, “How One Becomes What One Is” from Ecce Homo.

Freud BBC address (the only sound recording of Freud’s voice)

Freud, three Prefaces to The Interpretation of Dreams.

Francis Darwin. 1887. “Reminiscences of My Father’s Everyday Life” from The life and letters of Charles Darwin, including an autobiographical chapter. London: John Murray. Volume 1.
John van Wyhe, editor. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (http://darwin-online.org.uk/)

Week II [9.04.2015] Darwin, The Origin of Species I
As you read this weeks texts, notice how Darwin introduces the question of the origins of species and how he presents his book as essentially one long argument.

The Origin of Species, 1st edition: Origin of Species, Introduction
pp. 1-6.
Tbe Origin of Species, Chapter II, “Variation under Nature”
pp. 44-59.

The Origin of Species, “An Historical Sketch of the Progress of Opinion on the Origin of Species Previously to the Publication of the First Edition of this Work” pages 53-64 of The Origin of Species (3rd edition), also available in Appleman, pp. 87-94. Complete Works of Darwin Online: http://darwin-online.org.uk/pdf/1861_Origin_F381.pdf pp. xiii-xix

Week III [9.11.2015]. Darwin, The Origin of Species II
Darwin presents Nature as dynamic and constantly changing. This week he presents one of the fundamental concepts of Darwinism and tries to anticipate the objections to his theory, especially the most difficult one: the problem of instincts.

Origin of Species, Chapter III, “Struggle for Existence”
pp. 60-79.
Origin of Species, Chapter IV, “Natural Selection”
pp. 80-130.
Origin of Species, Chapter VI, “Difficulties of the Theory”
pp. 171-206.
Origin of Species, Chapter VII, “Instinct”
pp. 207-244.

Week IV[9.18.2015]. Darwin, The Descent of Man I
Ten years after the publication of the Origin of Species, Darwin explicitly addresses the application of the theory to the origins of humans and the meaning of human variety. He introduces an important addendum to Natural Selection in animals: Sexual Selection. Note that it is the female of the species who determines the course of selection now.

Descent of Man, Chapter VI, “On the Affinities and Genealogy of Man”
pp. 146-165.
Descent of Man, Chapter VII, “On the Races of Man”
pp. 166-206.

SUGGESTED READING: Chapter V. On the Development of the Intellectual and Moral Faculties during Primeval and Civilized Times, pp. 131-150; Complete Works of Darwin Online: http://darwin-online.org.uk/pdf/1874_Descent_F944.pdf
Origin of Species, Chapter XIV, “Recapitulation and Conclusion”
pp. 459-490.
Descent of Man, Introduction and Chapter I, “Evidence of the Descent of Man from Some Lower Form” Complete Works of Darwin Online: http://darwin-online.org.uk/pdf/1874_Descent_F944.pdf
pp. 1-25.

Week V [9.25.2015]. Darwin, The Descent of Man II
Descent of Man, Chapter VIII, “Principles of Sexual Selection”
pp. 207-259.
Descent of Man, Chapters XVII – XX, “Secondary Sexual Characteristics of Man”
pp. 556-605.
Descent of Man, Chapter XXI. “General Note and Conclusion”
pp. 606-619.

Week VI [10.02.2015]. Marx, The Holy Family, or Critique of Critical Criticism
by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. The complete text is located at Marx & Engels Collected Works (MECW), Vol.IV: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/cw/volume04/index.htm
This is not the first work by Marx, but it is the first one “co-authored” with Engels. Perhaps indicative of their relationship as writers, Engels writes only the first few sections, and Marx writes about 90% of the text on his own. More than that, peruse the work so that you might see that it is actually a work of literary criticism. Marx is critiquing Eugene Sue’s Mysteries of Paris and the reviews/critiques of Sue written by his former comrades in the revolutionary Neo-Hegelian League of the Just.

Holy Family, Chapter IV, “Love”, pp. 27-30 [pp. 20-23]
Holy Family, Chapter V, “‛Critical Criticism’ as a Mystery-Monger”, pp. 69-97 [pp. 55-77]
Holy Family, Chapter IX, “The Critical Last Judgement”, pp. 260-261[pp. 210-211]

Holy Family, Chapter VIII, “The Earthly Course and Transfiguration of ‛Critical Criticism’”, pp. 201-259 [pp. 162-209]

Week VII [10.09.2015]. Marx, Grundrisse and Capital
The Grundrisse is fundamental to understanding Marx’s project as he moved from his early works to the writing of Capital. I would like your to pay attention two aspects of this texts. The first is how Marx constructs his argument. This is important because the Grundrisse is seen in two somewhat contradictory ways: as either an abandoned work or as the “rough draft” of Capital. The second is the final section where Marx lists the topics “not to be forgotten” in his future work.... and the importance of both Greek art and Shakespeare in his thought at that time.

Grundrisse, Marx’s Analytical contents list, pp. 69-80
Grundrisse, "Introduction" also known as "Manuscript M", pages 81-114

Grundrisse, “Original Accumulation of Capital”, pp 459-471
Grundrisse, “Forms which precede Capitalist Production”, pp. 471-513

Week VIII [10.16.2015]. Marx, Grundrisse and Capital I and III

Capital, Volume III, Chapter 52, “Classes”, pp. 1025-1026
Grundrisse, “The concept of the free labourer contains the pauper. Population and overpopulation etc.” pp. 604- 608. Marx-Engels Archive: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1857/grundrisse/ch12.htm#p604
Grundrisse, “Competition”, pp. 649-652
Capital, Volume I, Chapter 13, “Cooperation”, pp. 439-454

Week IX [10.23.2015]. Marx, Grundrisse and Capital

Capital, Volume I, Chapter I, “The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret thereof”, pp. 163-177
Capital, Volume I, Chapter 31, “The Genesis of the Industrial Capitalist”, pp. 914-926
Capital, Volume I, Chapter 32, “The Historical Tendency of Capitalist Accumulation”, pp. 927-930
Capital, Volume I, Chapter 33, “The Modern Theory of Colonization”, pp. 931-947

Grundrisse, “Value of labour”, pp. 281-289
Grundrisse, “(Labour power as capital!), pp. 293-294

Week X [10.30.2015]. Nietzsche, Good and Bad
You will recall that in the Holy Family, Marx addresses issues of morality and social life through a critique of Sue’s novel and the Young Hegelians (a.k.a.“The League of the Just”). Nietzsche undertakes a revolutionary critique of morality in the wake of Darwin and Marx. Notice his use of “genealogy” and recall that Darwin’s argument was also from a “genealogical perspective, as was Marx’s tracing of the commodity fetish.

Beyond Good and Evil "The Natural History of Morals", pp. 95-118
Collected Works online:
"Beyond Good and Evil" from Ecce Homo, pp. 310-312.


Week XI [11.06.2015]. Nietzsche, Morality
The Genealogy of Morals, Essay II, “Guilt, Bad Conscience, and the Like" pp. 57-96
“The Genealogy of Morals” from Ecce Homo, pp. 312-314

Finally, Now that we have found ourselves a part of a vast natural world, a species with the capacity to make our own history, and one that has made that history in ways that it often refuses to acknowledge, we come to Freud, who confronts the legacy of these intellectual and psychological upheavals, but just as important, the social catastrophes of the first half of the 20th century.

Week XII [11.13.2015]. Freud, Science and Religion in the Wake and Shadow of Catastrophe
The Future of an Illusion

Week XIII [11.20.2015]. Freud
The Future of an Illusion

Week XIV [12.04.2015]. Freud, Society as a Negative Dialectic
Civilization and its Discontents

Week XV [12.18.2015]. Final general discussion
Civilization and its Discontents


Required Readings
The readings for the class will be drawn from the following sources. The primary texts that you will want to purchase for this course are below. Some are available online, and where possible that has been indicated in the syllabus, however, make certain that your translation or edition is the same as that listed here, as they are the specific edition that we will be using for class discussions.

Karl Marx
Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy (Rough Draft). New York: Penguin Books, 1973. ISBN: 0140445757

Capital, vol. I. New York: Penguin Books, 1973. ISBN: 0140445684

Friedrich Nietzsche
Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future. Translated with Commentary by Walter Kaufmann. New York: Vintage, 1966. ISBN: 0394703375

On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo. Translated with Commentary by Walter Kaufmann. New York: Vintage, 1969. ISBN: 0679724621

Sigmund Freud
The Future of an Illusion. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1961. ISBN: 0393008312
Civilization and its Discontents. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1961. ISBN: 0393301583
New Introductory Lectures in Psychoanalysis. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1965. ISBN 039300743

Charles Darwin
The Origins of Species (1st [1859] edition). A common and inexpensive one is ISBN: 0517123207 and contains the “Brief Historical Sketch” from later editions.
The Descent of Man. New York: Modern Library, 1995. ISBN: 1573921769

Suggested Texts:
Sigmund Freud. Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1961. ISBN: 0393007707

Friedrich Nietzsche. The Portable Nietzsche. Translated with Commentary by Walter Kaufmann. New York: Vintage. ISBN: 0140150625

Friedrich Nietzsche. The Gay Science: with a Prelude in Rhymes and an Appendix of Songs, Translated with Commentary by Walter Kaufmann, New York: Vintage, 1974.

Charles Darwin, Appleman, Philip, ed. 1979. Darwin: A Norton Critical Edition. New York: W.W. Norton, 3rd edition. ISBN: 0393958493

Karl Marx. Early Writings. New York: Penguin Books, 1992.

Karl Marx. The Holy Family or Critique of Critical Criticism (with Frederick Engels). New York: Progress Publishers, 1980 [1956]. ISBN:There are several editions, but only the one complete 1956 translation by Dixon and Dutt. As it is becoming increasingly rare, except for a new and expensive edition, we may only use those portions available from the Marxist Archive.

The reading for the class will be drawn from these and other sources. Given the number of bookstores available either on-line or here in the city --- as well as having the New York Public Library at your disposal---- you are responsible for obtaining the required texts. This is not to place a burden upon you, but it is a necessary part of education that you learn how to acquire books and materials for yourself. 

These are some additional sources for the texts:
The Strand http://www.strandbooks.com (at 12th street).
St. Marks Bookstop http://www.stmarksbookshop.com (moving soon to new NYC location)
Book Culture http://bookculture.com
Advanced Book Exchange http://abebooks.com
Barnes and Nobles http://www.bn.com

Course Requirements

Short Reading Responses:
Four short reading responses are required. One for each author. The due dates are indicated in the course schedule. These responses are 5 or should you choose, more pages (about 1200-1500 words). Each response will consist of the following:

  1. Discussion of the author’s mode of argumentation. Does it vary between texts or is it consistent? How would you characterize the way in which the author argues? Who do you think is the audience for the text?
  2. A general outline of the arguments and a brief discussion of the important concepts that you found in the readings. Discuss any aspects of the texts that might have changed your way of thinking about the author/works.
  3. What you see as the relation between this author/texts and those of the others we are reading this semester?

Remember, keep in mind as you read:

  1. The author’s style of arguing and how he constructs his argument.
  1. How he describes and defends key elements of his theory.
  1. How, if called upon, you might characterize his style of argument and writing?

At the end of the course you may submit a 1-2 page essay describing your evaluation of your performance and your assessment of what you believe to be a fair final grade.

Absences and Lateness
Persistent absences or lateness (or habitually sleeping, or performing work for other courses) will result in a reduction of your final grade.

Short essays: 70%
Participation (e.g., asking questions, discussing readings in class, etc.): 20%
Self-Evaluation: 10%