Human Freedom after Darwin: A Critical Rationalist View


A University of London philosopher argues that Darwin's discoveries have transformed concepts of human freedom. His account of humanity's place in nature presents an alternative to strict determinism that does not leave the physical world a plaything of chance.
Read More Show Less
... See more details below
$22.66 price
(Save 9%)$24.95 List Price
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (8) from $6.24   
  • New (3) from $14.42   
  • Used (5) from $6.24   
Sending request ...


A University of London philosopher argues that Darwin's discoveries have transformed concepts of human freedom. His account of humanity's place in nature presents an alternative to strict determinism that does not leave the physical world a plaything of chance.
Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

A leading proponent of the ideas of Karl Popper, Watkins (philosophy, U. of London) argues that philosophical discussion of human freedom has been transformed by developments in modern science, especially evolutionary biology. He offers and defends a strictly naturalistic account of freedom and creativity and tests it against examples of drug addiction, hypnosis, slavery, brainwashing, and creative leaps in thought.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812694079
  • Publisher: Open Court Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 12/13/1999
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.95 (h) x 0.88 (d)

Meet the Author

John Watkins was born in 1924 and became a career naval officer. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for torpedoing a German destroyer in 1944. After the war, he became a political scientist, though under the influence of Sir Karl Popper he switched to philosophy. He taught at the London School of Economics from 1950, Emeritus Professor since 1989. Watkins wrote over 100 articles and three influential books: Hobbes's System of Ideas (1965), Freiheit and Entscheidung (1978), and Science and Scepticism (1984). Following completion of Human Freedom after Darwin, Professor Watkins died suddenly while sailing his yawl Xantippe on the Salcombe Estuary, Devon, England.
Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1: Critical Rationalism and Science

What sort of history might classical rationalists expect science to have? That science has developed might seem to pose a problem for them. Descartes declared that all the scientific truths in his Principles `have been known from all time and by all men'.2 Then what was there for Harvey, Galileo, Kepler, and others to do? Why the long, slow history? Part of the answer is that, in addition to fundamental principles known apriori, science needs auxiliary assumptions which cannot be supplied by reason, for instance about the relative masses and distances of the bodies in the solar system. But the main answer harks back to Plato. Truths can be innate in our minds without our being aware of them. They can be overlain, suppressed, "forgotten", needing to be recollected, one after another, perhaps under the prodding of experimental findings. So science will have a history. But classical rationalism is like classical empiricism in carrying the implication that its growth should be smooth and cumulative. Each new "recollection" of an apriori truth will add to what was there before without cancelling any previous "recollection"; earlier apriori truths can't get elbowed aside by later ones. And if the role of experience is, as Kant put it, to fill in the "complete plan" provided apriori by the mind's categories, the growth of science on its empirical side should also be essentially incremental.

Critical rationalism is at one with classical empiricism in denying the possibility of synthetic apriori truths, or non-analytic truths knowable independently of experience. A consistent proposition either holds in all possible worlds, in which case it is knowable apriori but analytic, or it holds in some possible worlds but not in others, in which case it is non-analytic and not knowable apriori. But what about pure mathematics? Was Kant wrong to hold that it consists of synthetic apriori propositions? In his 1978 Imre Lakatos distinguished those extra-scientific systems that are deductively organized into "Euclidean" ones where all the axioms are known to be true, and "quasi-empirical" ones where the axioms are not all known to be true and the axiom-set has to be judged by its consequences, as with scientific theories. His thesis was that all serious mathematics is quasi-empirical. In support of this he pointed out that, despite the endeavours of Frege, Russell, Hilbert, and others to "Euclideanize" mathematics, virtually everyone who had worked in this area-pre-eminently Russell himself, but also Bernays, Church, Curry, Godel, Kalmar, Mostowski, Quine, Rosser, von Neumann, and Weyl-had come to recognize, with great reluctance in some cases, the quasiempirical nature of mathematics. That Euclidean geometry itself, with its problematic Parallel Postulate, is not "Euclidean" was shown by the invention of non-Euclidean geometries in the nineteenth century.

What sort of history does critical rationalism expect science to have? The short answer is: a turbulent one. That a theory has been riding high, achieving a wide range of predictive successes, does not mean that it is verified; it is open to daring spirits to construct rivals to it. A rival theory should match or, better, exceed the present theory in explanatory and predictive power; it may proceed from radically different assumptions; if it does, these may lead to predictive implications that diverge, if only slightly, from those of the present theory; these will point the way to crucial experiments from which both old and new theory will be at risk. Karl Popper was famously impressed by the risk of refutation which Einstein ran when he put forward his General Theory of Relativity (henceforth GTR) in competition with Newtonian Mechanics (henceforth NM). The latter had been superbly corroborated by a great variety of experimental observations, and had seemed to Kant, and continued to seem to many others, a grand system of verified truth. But GTR had predictive implications that diverged from those of NM. There were not many such divergences, and they were all small; but in some cases, for instance with regard to the bending of light rays passing close to the sun, they were large enough to be exposed to experimental test.

There had been a rather similar relationship between NM and its predecessors. NM led to small but systematic revisions of the predictive content of Galileo's and Kepler's laws. Galileo's law had freely falling bodies near the earth's surface falling with constant acceleration. NM said that they will fall with a slightly increasing acceleration; for their acceleration varies with the gravitational force, which varies inversely with the square of the distance between the centres of gravity of the earth and the falling body, and hence increases as this distance decreases...

Read More Show Less


Call a view of human freedom eliminative if it says that human beings have no freedom, or no more than other physico-chemical systems; levelling if it says that they have the same sort of freedom as other animals; and distinctive if it says that they may attain a degree of freedom which other animals either cannot attain at all or can attain only to a much lower degree. Classical empiricism has generally sponsored a levelling or eliminative view. Thus Hobbes allowed liberty equally to men and to beasts (1655, p. 409) and, indeed, to inanimate things (Leviathan, p. 107). Hume claimed that his idea of necessity, far from lowering human actions to the level of the operations of senseless matter, raised the latter to the former's level (Treatise, II, iii, 2 ); but levelling-up is still levelling. By contrast, classical rationalism (a term which in the present context covers Kant's theory of knowledge as well as Descartes's, Spinoza's, and Leibniz's) has generally been associated with distinctive views.

Call a world-view naturalistic if it abides unswervingly by the principle that "Man is a part of nature", where `Man' denotes the whole person, mind and body. Classical empiricists' levelling or eliminative views of freedom generally stayed within the bounds of naturalism. By contrast, classical rationalists' distinctive views generally strayed beyond those bounds. (We shall find this to be true of Spinoza, although "Man is a part of nature" was a main thesis of his.) So the question arises whether critical rationalism, here seen as the mettlesome successor to those once powerful but now moribund classical theories of knowledge, supports a viable view of human freedom that is at once distinctive and naturalistic. This book will offer a positive answer by unfolding such a view.

The plan of the book is as follows. In Part One a naturalistic world-view will be arrived at in the following way. In Chapter 1 the critical rationalist view of human knowledge will be presented with special reference to a recurrent feature of growth of science, a feature that defeats both classical empiricism and classical rationalism and is of decisive importance in several ways. In Chapter 2 guidelines will be laid down to regulate a critical rationalist's science-oriented world-view. Chapter 3 will take up the question of determinism. The above feature will be used as an argument for a kind of indeterminism quite distinct from chance. The above guidelines will call for the inclusion, give-or-take a few revisions, both of classical Darwinism, whose main metaphysical implications will be drawn out in Chapter 4, and of neoDarwinism, or Darwinism with its modern genetic underpinning, whose implications for `Man's Place in Nature' will be examined in Chapter 5.

By the end of Part One we will have taken a down-to-earth look, mainly from a Darwinian or neo-Darwinian viewpoint, at most of the grand metaphysical issues-God, soul, materialism, idealism and, more especially, the mind-body relation. Part Two will turn to the possibility of a distinctive view of human freedom within the naturalistic framework set out in Part One. The investigation will open with an examination of some historically significant views about freedom or autonomy, in the hope of locating mistakes to avoid and leads to follow. The thinkers to be looked into, not in chronological order, are Hobbes and Hume, Descartes, Schopenhauer and Kant, and finally Spinoza who will get a chapter to himself. Although there will be large differences, it will be from two diverging tendencies in Spinoza, to be labelled "Conquer Fortune" and "Transcend Fortune", that our Third View of human freedom will draw most. The philosophical legitimacy of the mind-body relation it presupposes will be considered in the Epilogue.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)