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Overcoming Biocultural Homogenization in Modern Philosophy: Hume’s Noble Oyster

Part of the Ecology and Ethics book series (ECET,volume 3)

Abstract

The great influence that the eighteenth-century philosopher David Hume had on Darwin’s conception of his evolutionary theory offers today a paradigmatic case for advancing an interdisciplinary integration between philosophical and scientific ideas. This interdisciplinary integration offers novel approaches to address some of the complex indirect drivers of current socio-environmental problems, such as biocultural homogenization. The identification of philosophical factors linked to losses of biological and cultural diversity adds to the concept of indirect drivers used by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. In this chapter, I undertake three interrelated goals. The first is to expose philosophical concepts and methods that are helpful to understand some complex indirect drivers of biocultural homogenization. The second is to investigate in Hume’s work philosophical foundations to overcome the prevailing taxonomic bias that favors only a few vertebrates and to contribute overcoming the exclusion of moral consideration for the most diverse groups of animals inhabiting our planet. My third, and the most general, goal is to demonstrate that it is possible to de-homogenize a prevailing negative view about European modern philosophy and to invite readers to discover, instead, some environmental values in Western thinkers and schools of thought that can be key for overcoming taxonomic biases and their associated impact on biocultural homogenization.

Keywords

  • Animals
  • Darwin
  • Ethics
  • Sentient
  • Taxonomic bias

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Because Hume dedicates separate sections in THN and EHU to humans and [other] animals, I will maintain Hume’s language in some passages of this paper, by referring to humans and animals. However, for my own analyses, I understand humans as another animal species.

  2. 2.

    The eighteenth-century Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary defines beast as “an animal distinguished from birds, insects, fishes, and man” (see Reddick 1996).

  3. 3.

    Of the 30 phyla of invertebrates that are known to science, only 2 are included in Hume’s examples of invertebrates: Mollusca (oysters, cockles, snails) and Arthropoda (insects [bees, drones [male bees], butterflies, fleas, flies, silkworms], mites) (see Table 11.1).

  4. 4.

    Hume concluded his Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (p 166) by stating that: “If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity and number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames, for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion” (emphasis added). This passage has played a crucial role in the appropriation of Hume’s philosophical legacy by twentieth-century positivist philosophers (see Frasca-Spada 1996).

  5. 5.

    Major historian on the development of evolutionary theories, Robert Richards (1989), has described David Hume as “Darwin’s favorite philosophical author.” Philosopher Edward Manier (1978) attempted a quantitative analysis of the incidence of different philosophers on Darwin’s thought by composing a table, which provides the numbers of quotes for each philosopher mentioned by Darwin in his notebooks. In Manier’s table, Hume ranks first with nine quotes. Five other philosophers appear below Hume in Darwin’s notebooks ranking of frequency: Auguste Comte (eight quotes), David Hartley (six quotes), Dugald Stewart (six quotes), William Paley (two quotes), and Immanuel Kant (one quote).

  6. 6.

    John T. Bonner and Sir Robert M. May (Bonner and May 1981) elegantly develop this point in their introduction to The Descent of Man by Charles Darwin.

  7. 7.

    See Popkin (1980), which includes “David Hume: His Pyrrhonism and his critique of Pyrrhonism” (pp 103–132), “David Hume and the Pyrrhonian controversy” (pp 133–148), and “Bayle and Hume” (pp 149–160).

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Acknowledgments

I thank Donald Baxter, Kurt Heidinger, Scott Lehmann, Francisca Massardo, Peter D’Alesandre, and Roy May for their insightful comments on the manuscript and zoologist Sacha Spector for his valuable help identifying animal kinds in Hume’s work.

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Rozzi, R. (2018). Overcoming Biocultural Homogenization in Modern Philosophy: Hume’s Noble Oyster. In: , et al. From Biocultural Homogenization to Biocultural Conservation. Ecology and Ethics, vol 3. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-99513-7_11

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