Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Quote Of The Day: Dawkins On Why Essentialism Must Die

Today's quote comes from a book called This Idea Must Die by John Brockman. In it is a section from famed biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins for why he thinks the philosophical idea of essentialism must die. I don't unfortunately have a page reference because I'm getting this second hand from an article on

For Plato, a circle, or a right triangle, were ideal forms, definable mathematically but never realized in practice. A circle drawn in the sand was an imperfect approximation to the ideal Platonic circle hanging in some abstract space. That works for geometric shapes like circles, but essentialism has been applied to living things, and Ernst Mayr blamed this for humanity’s late discovery of evolution — as late as the 19th century. If, like Aristotle, you treat all flesh-and-blood rabbits as imperfect approximations to an ideal Platonic rabbit, it won’t occur to you that rabbits might have evolved from a non-rabbit ancestor and might evolve into a non-rabbit descendant. If you think, following the dictionary definition of essentialism, that the essence of rabbitness is “prior to” the existence of rabbits (whatever “prior to” might mean, and that’s a nonsense in itself), evolution is not an idea that will spring readily to your mind, and you may resist when somebody else suggests it.

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