John Gray and cultural evolution


Sarah’s excellent essay on cultural evolution quotes philosopher John Gray arguing against social/cultural evolution. Gray wrote one of my favorite books, Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals (the cover photo of this book hangs on my wall). So it bothers me that he would argue that cultural evolution is a myth. I decided to see what he has to say about it in his latest book, The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths.

In all of Gray’s books that I have read, he has one primary focus: destroying the myth that humans are a special kind of animal that can make moral progress. Quoting from The Silence of Animals (Ch 1):

Science and technology are cumulative, whereas ethics and politics deal with recurring dilemmas. Whatever they are called, torture and slavery are universal evils; but these evils cannot be consigned to the past like…

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