Recently I had the urge to read up on some terms and concepts from the philosophy of religion, for clarification purposes. The work I chose (because I had online access to it) was “The Dictionary of Philosophy of Religion” written by Charles Taliaferro. Most of the terms I already knew by description or experience but I didn’t know them by their proper names. So, I figured that I would share some of the more interesting finds.
There are, generally, two ways to explain a phenomenon: you can either describe what or who “brought it about” or you can describe it at a deeper, more fundamental level. These two approaches have sometimes been referred to as the ‘personal cause’ and the ‘non-personal cause,’ respectively. This bifurcation traces its origins back to Aristotle who originally described four distinct types of causes. But we won’t go into that here (instead, check out my post on Aristotle and the Four Causes). For our purposes, we just need to know that there are different ways of explaining a phenomenon and they are not synonymous.
As an adjunct faculty member of Philosophy, one of my soapbox lectures to my students is the importance and application of the Principle of Charity. I mention it in the 1st Day Syllabus, I mention it again about half-way through the semester, and I include it as a short-answer question on the Final Exam.
At its core, the Principle of Charity (PoC) involves thinking well of people; their intentions, their capabilities, and their knowledge level. I take it very seriously because (1) it is the civil, respectful, and necessary thing to do and (2) it actually makes discussions or discourse more efficient by not wasting time on misunderstandings or by committing straw person fallacies. In either case, the PoC has a wide range of important uses and that is why I hammer it into to my students from the get-go. Below, I will explain what it is and give some pertinent examples as well as provide some good resources for further reading.
The Social Darwinist is someone who believes that the Darwinian theory of evolution — i.e. “survival of the fittest” — should be actively applied to people, societies, or nations. To the Social Darwinist, ALL of life is a struggle for survival in which the strongest naturally prosper at the expense of the weak — and it is right and natural that they should do so because that’s just the way things are, and/or natural law is Above Good and Evil.
Such people rarely concede that their chances for survival may have started higher than others due to reasons such as inherited wealth, social prestige, or even dumb luck. They typically state that we, collectively, have become complacent and stupid; they want to remove any trace of “weakness” and “stupidity” from society. It may seem to some that because humans aren’t currently enduring wars or other catastrophic extinction events, evolution in humans has ceased altogether (or at least paused — either one of which is highly problematic). If Social Darwinists do talk about evolution, they are very likely to talk about evolutionary levels and teleological evolution rather than Darwin’s actual theory (which was more of a pass-fail concept). Regardless, it is worth taking a look at the typology of Social Darwinists.