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Durham University

Department of Philosophy

Forthcoming Research Seminars and Lectures

Dr Joe Saunders
Research Seminar Coordinator

(For past seminars and lectures see here)

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27th February 2013: Royal Institute of Philosophy Lecture: Raymond Tallis (Liverpool) - Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity

(10 July 2012)

Royal Institute of Philosophy Lecture

This Royal Institute of Philosophy Lecture will be held in the Birley Room, Hatfield College. Refreshments will be available from 5pm with the lecture commencing at 5:30pm

Title: Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity


Increasingly, it is assumed that human beings are best understood in biological terms; that, notwithstanding the apparent differences between humans and their nearest animal kin, people are, at bottom, organisms. This has had numerous consequences but among the most prominent is the encroachment of biology on the humanities. Neuro-evolutionary approaches to art (neuro-aesthetics, evolutionary literary criticism), to the law (neuro-law), to ethics (evolutionary ethics), to the social sciences (as in evolutionary economics and neuro-politics) are symptoms of the ascent of biologism.

Biologism has two main pillars. The first is Neuromania. This is based on the incorrect notion that human consciousness is identical with activity in the brain, that people are their brains, and that societies are best understood as collections of brains. Since the brain is an evolved organ, its function can be understood in terms of its role in maximising our chances of survival. Neuromania therefore leads to Darwinitis, the second pillar of contemporary biologism. This is the assumption that, since Darwin demonstrated the biological origins of the organism H sapiens, we should look to evolutionary theory to understand what we are now; that our biological roots explain our cultural leaves.

Against biologism, I will emphasise the extent to which we are not identical with our brain: neural activity is a necessary but not a sufficient condition of human consciousness. Persons are not their brains. Moreover, we are part of a community of minds that has grown up over the hundreds of thousands of years since we parted company from the other primates. The gap between our nearest animal kin and ourselves is too wide to read across from the one to the other.

The aspiration of the humanities to become ‘animalities’ is a major obstacle to serious thinking about our own nature.


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