Compare Mills to Wilson Essay

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Mill and Wilson

Attempting to find any common ground between the moral and political philosophies of John Stuart Mill and Edward O. Wilson seems futile, given that their ideas are based on extremely different premises and assumptions. Wilson was a Darwinian evolutionist who argued that human culture, behavior and morality was mostly rooted in genetics -- in DNA that had evolved over millions of years -- while this idea would simply have been alien to Mill. Wilson was a determinist and reductionist who seemed to put a low premium on individualism, while for Mill the individual was absolutely free and sovereign, and could not be coerced of controlled unless he or she did harm to others. There simply is no room in such unlimited personal freedom in Wilson's philosophy which is more concerned with the survival and reproduction of the human species as a whole than with individuals. In any case, cultural and moral attitudes were inherited rather than learned, which was not the at all the philosophy of Mill and other classical liberals.

Edward O. Wilson was a Darwinist and socio-biologist who insisted that human behavior, culture and morality were all rooted in genetics as DNA had evolved over the centuries. Mind and consciousness had a physical basis in the genes, and culture has coevolved with genetics. Material culture has a genetic basis, as does the use of tools, development of language, speech and bonding behaviors, as well as the "compulsive volubility" of humans compared to other primates (Wilson 133). Although anthropologists, psychologists and sociologists often disliked this type of reductionism and were reluctant to 'biologize' their disciplines, Wilson staunchly maintained that many aspects of human culture and communities had a genetic-biological foundation that was universal. Skin color was inherited, for example, as were artistic, musical and mathematical abilities, and differences in empathy and infant-caregiver bonding between individuals (Wilson 213, 253). Wilson was not a racist, however, and maintained that modern science supported the "genetic kinship by common descent" of all humans (Wilson 266). Indeed, the genetic inheritance of all human across racial, ethnic and cultural groups was truly what made everyone human. For example, incest avoidance and awareness of the dangers of inbreeding was genetically based across all cultures, as were natural abilities to recognize dishonesty, deceit and cheating, and the capacity for "territorial aggression" (Wilson 170). A whole host of behaviors and traits were inherited across cultures, from schizophrenia to "dominance communication" to "gender differences in mating strategies" (Wilson 169).

As a Darwinian biologist, Wilson argued that the main goal of human life was the survival and reproduction of the species, and that its future was in danger due to overpopulation and damage to the environment. He argued that there were upper limits on population based on food, natural resources, land and environmental quality, and that the carrying capacity of the planet was "not much greater than ten billion" (Wilson 282). Indeed, humanity was on the verge of a "Malthusian precipice" that would lead to the collapse of civilization and its possible extinction (Wilson 286). After all, the extinction of other species was becoming increasingly common and accelerating at an alarming rate, so Wilson asserted that both morality and self-interest dictated that the "preservation of biodiversity" should be the highest priority for human society (Wilson 294).

John Stuart Mill, the utilitarian and classical liberal, had a very different view of human culture and morality that was not based in biology and genetics like Wilson's. In fact, they could not have been since these sciences were still in their infancy when we published On Liberty in 1859 -- the same year that Charles Darwin's Origin of Species appeared. Mill does not seem to imagine any…

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