Michael Ruse


Michael Ruse (1940 ...) 

Philosopher of science dedicated especially to evolutionary biology. Born in Birmingham in June 1940, nine months before me. Evolutionist along with E. O. Wilson, of the self-named sociobiologists. He declares himself a non-belligerent atheist. He seems to think that Christianity and evolutionism are compatible. He is one of the great "gurus" of evolutionism and a prolific writer and disseminator.

I think he is the philosopher who has more interest and dedication in seeking the foundations of ethics in biology. At several moments I had thought that Ruse had found the basic ideas. But, so far, I have not seen that he has publicized them. I sent him on 10.6.2017, at Florida State University, a copy of Survival and Altruism but he did not accuse me of receipt.

I think Ruse's writings reflect the most characteristic and updated landscape of the basic ideas. And in addition, Ruse contemplates survival and altruism in the same texts, although he does not unify them as necessarily complementary. Which is logical because he does not "see" the priority of the survival goal. As a convinced evolutionist, he reluctantly remains in evolution as the objective. And he agrees to be committing the naturalistic fallacy. by making evolution the goal of itself. He has doubts about what it is and where does the evolutionary progress that some postulate goes, and admits that he has not managed to find the foundation of ethics.

Ruse's writings are essential for anyone who has an interest in these issues. I will comment on a few more significant phrases, summarizing and updating the pages I dedicate in Supervivir (Corral: 2015, 195-216):

In 2002, shortly after discovering the basic idea, I was very happy to read in El País the review of an article by Ruse entitled "Une défense de l`éthique évolucioniste" published in "Fondements naturels de l`éthique", By Editiones Odile Jacob, 1993. I urgently requested the book from Paris and I read it with anxiety. But when I finished I was left with two phrases that I translate and copy. He says:

Let us now turn to the crucial question of meta-ethics. What kind of grounds can I propose for the normative theses that I have just explained? And a little later, after citing Rawls he says: I have nothing to offer!

And shortly after, he reinforces this weakness and says: " Consequently, I maintain that a True Darwinian evolutionary ethics assumes that there is no meta-ethical justification for normative ethics." 

Another important book for us is "Can a Darwinian be a Christian?" of 2001. There he reviews the evolutionist theories and the doctrines of Christianity. I think Ruse develops the analysis with the common bias of atheism, but with honesty. In the epilogue he answers: Of course!  to the question of the title. And it ends with the phrase: We do not have the capabilities that would allow us to scrutinize the ultimate mysteries. And he also says:Our limitations do not make Christianity obligatory, or even plausible, but they make tolerance and appreciation necessary for those who go beyond science, even though we can not follow them".

I have written the above to illustrate Ruse's differences with other atheistic evolutionists like Richard Dawkins and Edward O. Wilson. I believe that, to the latter, their belligerence has affected them negatively in some aspects of their scientific ideas.

As for our hypotheses, Ruse has almost seen them. I copy and comment, from this book, some of its most significant phrases:

* .- Regarding the concept of species: "Truly, species are like organisms: integrated entities. In other words, they are individuals". And it applies to our species: "...we can say that Homo sapiens is a real thing, an objective entity." 

But it does not go far from there. He wrote before that it is difficult to say what a species is. And as for all Darwinian evolutionists, including Darwin, for Ruse the subjects of evolution are organisms. Possibly this is the most important reason why he has not seen the basic idea. This question is the one that has raised the most doubts about my idea in some of the experts who have responded to my submissions.

* .- When talking about the groundwork of morality says that:  "The argument of Social Darwinism is simple and direct. It identifies what is believed to be the main causal force of evolution. From this cause, the moral norm is extracted: substantive ethics (what must be done). It is stated that this justification is sufficient". Then he says: 

"We are interested in Darwinists who are supporters of (biological) progress and who use it to justify their normative moral prescriptions." 

It seems that he joins this line of thought and later works extensively about progress as a very important factor of evolution, and quotes Wilson who considers that: "...progress is a property of the evolution of life in its whole.  "But Ruse does not seem very convinced because after going many times on the concept, he finishes: "...if the reader has got the impression that I have a serious conflict with the question of progress, he is right." 

As a summary and after many pages of thinking about the issue, concludes: "What can we say about the groundwork? What is the meta-ethic foundation of substantive ethics that is inferred from Darwinian biology? And he answers with a self-quote: "I have the impression -which Hume would share, I believe -that it is a mistake to search with a magnifying glass for a foundation of this type" [...] "there is no foundation at all as long as we do not begin to invoke God, in which case, we will presumably arrive at some kind of theory about the natural laws like the one that the Roman Catholics sustain". 

And keeps going: "It is better to stay in a position close to Hume, according to which morality is a matter of how we are and how we feel." 

It is a pity that I have not seen the basic idea. For which it is not necessary to invoke God since it is based on the "natural" behavior of men as living beings. Ruse has as a philosopher, in addition to the problem of the subject, the reductionism of all classical philosophers to consider man as being essentially spiritual for the purposes of behavioral norms. Norms that are supposed to be moral and different from those of other living beings. And on the other hand, also as a philosopher, a Kant and Hume follower, I suppose it does not occurs to him that Nature could establish an ethical principle that "compels" men: intelligent, free and rational beings that do not need, nor admit, no one tells them what they have to do.

But you can see his disenchantment in the way he closes this section: "...although for darwinians, morality is nothing more than an adaptation, it is a very particular adaptation. And adds: "Good finishing touch to end this exhibition." 

*.- He also dedicates a lot of time and effort to altruism. But he also partially sees it, although he is the closest to extended altruism. He says that humans have evolved (he does not say they have survived) by being social and altruistic. And he enunciates three possible causes or routes:

  • The material altruism of social insects
  • The altruism of the superbrain. The one who acts after valuing costs and benefits.
  • Natural selection has made us moral altruists.

The first route is from E. O. Wilson. The second is Trivers reciprocal altruism. But the third one seems his own. And it is a pity that he does not see it in its fullness. And since he has not seen the vital goal, he does not realize that natural selection is a part of the survival strategy and that's why we are altruistic.

Also, as expected, he gets confused with our biological altruism as social animals and with moral altruism. And he asks: what happens to Christianity in the light of all this? And warns that the confusion is going to be big (sic). And in spite of having almost gotten right with the three types of altruism, he abandons the general ideas and deals with concrete issues that are easier: sexuality, abortion, killing without necessity...

In any case, I think Michael Ruse took seriously the work of philosophizing about evolution. But he has and, I think, still is imprisoned in. He is aDarwinian evolutionist" and that limits his vision. It is the problem of specialties.

My limited knowledge of English limits my follow-up of his activities, but I think that he has not changed his ideas. I will try to be aware and have him aware of my ideas in case they serve him to revise his.

Marbella, 31.8.2018. The 19,24 Vale for today. Revised on 5.10.18 at 8.50