Giovanni Altadonna

The contents of Consilience, written by Edward Osborne Wilson, are briefly summarized. This book aims to express, through the notion of “consilience” (taken from William Whewell), a manifesto for a unity of knowledge under the scientific method, in contrast to the contemporary disciplinary fragmentation and towards the Illuministic dream of the so-called “Ionian enchantment”. To achieve this goal, the author argues that the common material base of the world can guarantee the reduction of every discipline (namely Social Sciences and Humanities) to the Natural Sciences. From a philosophical point of view, through this statement Wilson expresses a metaphysical position characterized by materialism, neopositivism and rationalism. The epistemological implications of Wilson’s reductionism are therefore discussed, along other crucial issues such as the gene-culture co-evolution, sociobiology, biodeterminism. Particularly, the three meanings of “reductionism”, listed by Ernst Mayr, are compared to identify the epistemological weakness of Wilson’s approach in an ostentatious theoretical reductionism. It is briefly pointed out, following Stephen Jay Gould, Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza and Claude Lévi-Strauss, that Wilson’s sociobiology embraces an “adaptationism” that prevents us from understanding a particularly complex product of evolution such as the human mind. Then I summarize Wilson’s application of the consilience principle on human mind and behaviour, social sciences, arts, ethics and religion. Eventually, the final chapter of Consilience underlines the importance of the unity of knowledge in order to understand the complex problems linked to the effects of human-triggered ecological changes. The urgency and the importance of Wilson’s warning is finally emphasized.

Unità della conoscenza e riduzionismo in Edward Osborne Wilson
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