Concept/Content naturalizing error / idealized nature in painting by Henri Rousseau
Information caption Once one becomes aware of mutualisms between species, reciprocities among individuals within a species, and the potentials of open behavioral programs, the view of natural selection as universally "selfish" is clearly too narrow. Kin selection among Belding ground squirrels or honeybees may inform our understanding of the evolution of morality, but it does not map or determine human behavior. Human psychology establishes its own values. Human society establishes its own laws. Humans are not enslaved by some stereotyped "law of the jungle" (despite the premise of some "reality" television shows!).
Inquiry caption Spencer's claims seemed misguided on an even more fundamental level. His psychology and sociology reflected a biological determinism and progressive ideology based ultimately on his own political beliefs. He did not extract values from nature, so much as inscribe them into his own scientific theories. This is called the naturalizing error. It is an error in science. Scientists may do this without realizing it, with their cultural perspective functioning like a conceptual blindspot. Here is a 1908 painting by Henri Rousseau. Rousseau sought realism and intentionally based his depictions on greenhouse specimens. But they are highly idealized and romanticized, nonetheless. How do we guard against a "scientific" account of nature becoming tainted with a cultural artifact? In what ways might viewing nature as fundamentally competitive and ruthless— or even as morally perfect — be shaped by our economic and cultural views more than by critical interpretation of the evidence?
Target Concept: Cultural bias may generate error in science, with adverse effects beyond science.
Painter Henri Rousseau, "Fight Betweeen a Tiger and a Buffalo," 1908 (original at the Cleveland Museum of Art)
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