As we saw in the previous post describing social Darwinism, it was a disastrous experiment for mankind in the twentieth century, but need it have been? Certainly some dastardly individuals justified their tyrannical reigns with it, but we must take a sober look at the theory and evaluate its ability to explain the moral truths that were discussed earlier.
The ethics of social Darwinism are largely relativistic and subjective. Any society could develop an ethical justification for its moral actions by claiming that their goal was the advancement of humankind. This is a seemingly noble goal, but the definition of the “advancement of mankind” is hardly universal. Under social Darwinism, each society ultimately chooses its own definition and then forges ahead with its own effectual policies.
A totally relativistic system such as social Darwinism, however, runs afoul of our innate sense of moral right and wrong. For example, we intuitively know that murdering innocent people is morally abhorrent. We know that murdering millions of innocent people is especially horrendous. Certainly a supporter of social Darwinism could argue that the goal of producing a superior race of humans justifies the means (murdering innocents) of reaching that goal. This utilitarian view, however, does not escape the basic moral intuition that mass extermination of human life is morally wrong. The end cannot possibly justify the means and so social Darwinism violates our intuitive knowledge of right and wrong.
Second, moral rules are non-physical entities, but strict adherents to social Darwinism believe mankind evolved by completely natural and material processes. To a Darwinist there is only time, space, and matter, and therefore everything in the universe must be explained by those three things. Since our moral intuition is not discovered by our five senses, but by self-reflection, then there must be an immaterial or “soulish” aspect to a human person. Any ethical theory that denies the existence of non-physical objects seems to contradict our innate ability to know objective, moral truth.
Third, moral norms are a form of communication between two intelligent agents. Who are the two agents in social Darwinism? The ultimate source of morality for the social Darwinist is a random, natural, and unguided process (i.e., Darwinian evolution). In other words, the transmitter is not an intelligent agent and does not possess any sort of rational faculties. Therefore, there is clearly no communication happening at all, so again the theory violates our moral common sense criteria.
Much more can be said about social Darwinism and we will continue this analysis in a future post!