Guest Editor's Introduction to the Special Evolutionary Issue of Politics and Culture

Introduction to the Special Evolutionary Issue of Politics and Culture

I’m grateful to Michael Ryan for inviting me to serve as guest editor to this special evolutionary issue of Politics and Culture. Michael and I share an interest in integrating evolutionary research with literary and cultural theory. While discussing our shared interests, we have identified a number of important points on which we do not see quite eye to eye. So, Michael should not be held responsible for any of the ideas I express, though of course, he can be held responsible for giving me this opportunity to express them. Similar considerations apply to the relations between the guest editor and the contributors to this volume. We are all independent thinkers working in complex theoretical areas that have not yet been reduced to precise measurement. The chance that we would all agree on every main contention is vanishingly small. Even so, most or all of us would agree that humans have evolved in an adaptive relation to their environment and that as a result they share many species-typical dispositions that constrain their political and cultural behavior. Within that broad area of consensus, the essays here offer a good many divergent and sometimes conflicting ideas. Clearly, not all these ideas could be correct. Nonetheless, in my own judgment, all the essays are serious, well-informed, and thoughtful. They should richly reward the reader’s attention.

Some of the authors contributing to this volume were trained chiefly in the humanities and others trained chiefly in the sciences. Despite differences in style, most of the contributors would, I think, regard their efforts as part of a unitary intellectual culture. Several contributors make reference to E. O. Wilson’s concept of “consilience”: the idea that nature is a unified causal whole and that knowledge, also, can and should be unified. The scientists extend their explanations into the range of topics that have traditionally been the provinces of the humanities: religion, politics, history, and the arts. The humanists assimilate scientific knowledge and embrace the standards of epistemic validity that regulate the evaluation of evidence in the sciences. With respect to the idea that science can produce objective knowledge, many of the contributors to this volume, scientists and humanists alike, would distinguish their perspective from that of theorists who subordinate scientific knowledge to poststructuralist epistemology and ideological critique.

The call for papers for this special issue offered two options: (1) free-standing essays and reviews; and (2) contributions to a symposium on the question: “How Is Culture Biological?” (Michael Ryan proposed this question, and I thought it a good one.)

Authors contributing primary essays to the symposium on the question “How Is Culture Biological?” were limited to 3,000 words. The authors of primary essays were invited to respond to each other’s essays, and that invitation was extended also to anyone else who wished to write a response. Responses to each primary essay were limited to 1,000 words. Authors of primary essays were given the opportunity to write rejoinders to the responses, with no word limit on the rejoinders. The whole symposium—primary essays, responses, and rejoinders—is the final section in the volume. Both primary essays and responses to them are ordered alphabetically by the authors’ last names. Biographies of respondents are provided the first time the respondents appear in the sequence of essays and discussions. Biographies of authors contributing primary essays are included also with the primary essays.

The free-standing essays and reviews had no word limits and no stipulations about possible topics. As it turned out, the essays fell into five main categories: (1) the evolutionary paradigm shift; (2) politics and ethics; (3) religion; (4) literature; and (5) music. Some essays could equally well be included in two or more categories. Nonetheless, grouping the essays into categories should make it easier for readers to sort through them and select essays on topics in which they are particularly interested. The abstracts included at the head of each essay serve the same purpose.

Contributors were free to use whatever citation style they liked best.  The variants cluster around three major styles: MLA, APA, and Chicago Humanities Style. MLA involves parenthetical citation (author-title) keyed in to a Works Cited. In MLA style, date of publication appears at the end of the item in the list of Works Cited. APA also uses parenthetical citation (author-date of publication); in the References, date of publication appears after the author’s name. Chicago Humanities Style uses endnotes and provides full bibliographic information the first time any item is cited, with shortened forms thereafter.

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