Consilience has ratings and reviews. Manny said: At first, I wasn’t sure I liked Consilience. E.O. Wilson is frank about his disdain for philos. Wilson was excoriated for his knowledge claims, for his logic, for his intentions, and for his conclusions. Consilience was truly judged to be a. “A dazzling journey across the sciences and humanities in search of deep laws to unite them.” –The Wall Street Journal One of our greatest.

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First, there was the review of Consilience in Science: To say that the review was negative would give negativity a bad name: Wilson was excoriated for his knowledge claims, for his logic, for his intentions, and consilienec his conclusions. Consilience was truly judged to be a very bad book indeed.

Second, there is the interesting little nugget of information that Consillience ferreted out wlison week or two ago when I was in a large book store in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I discovered wwilson my extreme interest that the book was first published Wilwon 27th, and that the edition I held in my hand was the tenth printing of September Now I know that these days print runs are fairly small; but any book which goes through ten printings in six months has to be saying something right, to someone, somewhere down the line.

These two reactions bear out very much what I have discovered more generally. My intellectual friends, that is to say those in the academy, almost to a consiliencr condemn the book. They think that it is shabby, shoddy, loose, and lots of other things.

I am sure that Ed Wilson in his response to me is going to tell me that he has got many academic friends who think otherwise, but he knows that I mix with all sorts of wrong people, and that indeed that I rather like to slum. They feel that Wilson has given much to their lives, and that this is a book which is the culmination of his gifts to others. In other words, there is not much middle ground on this book.

Hence, the question I want to ask first of all is: Why is there such a difference?

And how should we react to it? Indeed, I myself can find places where I get really rather tense. Let me pick out three such spots.

As is well known, Wilson is an eminent sociobiologist, and as is also well known Wilson has been much criticized for his excursions into sociobiology, particularly of the human kind.

One of the areas which has brought the most severe criticism on Wilson has been his supposed sexism. General opinion is that the time has surely come for a retraction. But let me simply say that if you are looking for some kind of retraction in ConsilienceI am afraid that you are going to be disappointed. Wilson states these outrageous views quite bluntly once again in Consilienceand uses exactly the same language. Not one bit of retraction has occurred.

Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge – Edward O. Wilson – Google Books

As it happens, I agree entirely with Wilson coonsilience all of this. It seems to me absolutely stupid — and hypocritical to boot — to suggest that males and females are as emotionally identical as they are physically different. Nobody who takes Darwinian evolutionary biology really seriously can possibly imagine that there are going to be no biological differences: And, of course, truly all but the ignorant know full well that there are differences between the sexes.

Those who pretend otherwise are simply not speaking the truth. But, true ornot, the general trend — particularly in universities and particularly in faculties of arts and social science — is to pretend that all is uniformity. The second point where Wilson will upset and offend comes in the context of his discussion of free will.


This is an area where he has been criticized before, particularly by Philip Kitcher in his harsh condemnation of sociobiological theory: Here I desert Wilson and join the critics. I really think that it would have helped had Wilson taken some of these criticisms seriously for all that the tone of Vaulting Ambition was, like the very title, mocking and designed to give offence.

Although Wilson seems to think there is a possibility of free will, given sociobiology, he gets wilso less from the compatibility of laws and freedom, and more from a form of indeterminacy which he sees in nature. But as philosophers have long wilsson out, indeterminacy does not lead to freedom: If my actions are entirely without cause, then I can hardly be held responsible for them.

These are difficult matters I recognize, but I think that if one were to criticize Wilson at this point then one would have just complaint. Wilson divides people who take ethics seriously into those who believe that there are empirical foundations for ethics and those who believe that there are idealistic, or rationalistic, foundations. Wilson criticizes philosophers for not working wilaon this problem in sufficient detail and with proper ardor.

There is a huge amount of literature on the subject, starting with G. I am not saying that Wilson should have covered it all, or wison part of it, but I think it would have been better had he looked at some of the material on this. I would consillence go after him in all the ways that others would, but I suspect that each and every one of us could find a place to criticize. This brings me to the other side to the equation.

The answer is quite simply that Wilson is not in wilzon business wioson providing formal academic philosophy.

He makes his position quite clear right at the beginning: Wilson tells us — as he has told us before — about his childhood: Wilson makes it very clear that, having lost Christianity, this does not mean that he wanted or was able to give up on religion entirely. Indeed, all who know Wilson will know that he consilienfe not only a deeply moral man, but a deeply religious man: Wilson takes very seriously the whole question of the meaning of life in some ultimate sense.

Moreover, never a man to let a problem or an obstacle deter him, having lost the supports of Christianity, he is determined to find e supports elsewhere. Indeed he has found them elsewhere, namely in evolution — a fact which Wilson proclaims here e before in many places notably in On Human Nature.

Cpnsilience sees evolution as a progressive move upwards: He sees a history from early beginnings — just as one has in Christianity — up to the present, with humans focused right at wilsn centre — again paralleling Christianity — and then on to the future — a further echo of Christianity, and other great religions.

Moreover, Wilson makes it clear that, in true religious fashion, he sees this all bound up with moral issues. For Wilson, the great moral commandment stems from evolution. One ought to promote evolution: For Wilson, if we lived in a world of plastic, then we would quite literally wither and die.

For Wilson, therefore, the ultimate moral norms are those which demand that we take nature seriously and promote its well-being. At one point in Consilience Wilson discusses the naturalistic fallacy, the supposed fallacious transition from statements about matters of fact to statements about matters of obligation. To the professional philosopher to me! Wilson simply shoves the fallacy to one side, roughly and with contempt.

But to Wilson, and to those who read him in the right way, this approach is entirely right.

Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge

The naturalistic fallacy is simply irrelevant: We are as we are because we have evolved, and this evolution was upwardly progressive thus giving us and the rest of nature its value. It is therefore our moral duty to keep evolution going, and to preserve that which we have. Consilkence philosophers simply have to be wrong, and since it is they who mistakenly first raised the queries, let them find the answers to their own pseudo problems.


This is the extreme Protestant belief that Iwlson is approaching, and that there will be a great fight between the forces of good and the vonsilience of evil: For Wilson here, as elsewhere notably in Sociobiology: The New Synthesis we have the forthcoming trials and tribulations brought on by the human population explosion and by the ever-decreasing range of biodiversity.

For Wilson, we wilsonn approaching the man-made Armageddon and the challenge is that which lies before us. There is a fight to be fought between good and evil and we will all be tested. And of Wilson the man. A conclusion I draw in a loving and favourable manner. What I argue, therefore, is that to read Wilson and particularly clnsilience read Consilience as a work of formal philosophy is to miss entirely the wood for the trees.

If you want to go after the details, then you can criticize Wilson, without end, in almost every place.

Consilience by Edward O. Wilson | : Books

As of course is also true of Jesus and the four Gospels. If you want to go after the details, you can criticize Jesus in every detail in almost every place. If you are an Orthodox Jew, you get mad at the way that Jesus works on the Sabbath. If you are a promoter of the family, you get mad at the way that Jesus shows indifference to his mother and his relatives.

If you are a believer in strength, then you get mad at the way that Jesus promotes pacifism. And if you are in favour of total abstinence or vegetarianism, then you get mad at the miracle at Cana and at the miracle of the loaves and fishes. Jesus not only ate the flesh of living beings but multiplied them enough to feed five thousand. But to read Jesus in this way is to miss the great strength of the Gospels. Likewise to adopt such a pettifogging attitude towards Consilience is to miss exactly that which Wilson offers.

I do not mean to end on a negative fashion, but I would say that having el Ed Wilson for his vision I do not thereby imply that all should join it.

I myself respect very much his vivid and vast imagination. I respect also his wiilson religious sense. But respect does not in itself imply agreement. I respect Saint Augustine above all other philosophers, but I cannot subscribe consilienfe Christianity. At the bottom line, it simply does not speak to me.

I just cannot accept Jesus as my Savior. I have to confess — as Wilson already knows, since he and I have wrestled over these issues many times — I have the same reaction towards the vision of Wilson: Perhaps this is all a question of background training.


I grew up as Quaker, and although unlike many American Quakers but like all English Quakers dilson faith was Christological, when it fell away, or rather slipped silently away, I felt no need or urge ever to adopt another religion, spiritual or secular.

I am in nature an extremely religious person, but I find myself simply unable to respond to grand exhortations of ultimate meaning. I find meaning, if anywhere, in still small voices within — or from Schubert Lieder without! Wilson came from a fundamentalist background: Therefore, for myself I remain a skeptic.