In my last blog entry I quoted some text from the first journal article (that I am aware of) which refers to my work. The first full-length book responding to my work has now appeared. The book is written by Peter Xavier Price who is based at the Sussex Centre for Intellectual History. Price provides an interesting critique of my first book:
His book is entitled:
Here is some of what he has to say:
"What is it about humanity that places it far above other life-forms? Why does it often perceive itself to be so unique when the natural world is teeming with biological anomalies? Perhaps even more tentatively, can humans truly claim to be the remedial agents destined to solve the current global environmental crisis? In Neil Paul Cummins' recent book, Is the Human Species Special?, the author sets out to address these very questions by speculating that mankind is indeed special because it represents the pinnacle of the evolutionary process. Employing a radical thesis which bears a remarkable resemblance to the infamously distorted dictum of the Vietnam War (i.e., that of 'destroying the village in order to save it'), Cummins suggests that mankind has reached a paradoxical stage in its development, whereby its imminent downfall may suddenly prove to be the means of its ultimate redemption. Thus, in this swashbuckling interpretation of the human response to environmental uncertainty, Cummins paints a picture of the human condition as seemingly analogous to the closing act in a grand, teleological narrative of biological endeavour and primordial purpose. 'Could it be', he speculates, 'that in order to fulfil its purpose and be the saviour of planetary life … humanity had to believe that it was potentially the destroyer of planetary life?'.
From the outset, it is important to note that Cummins' publication is an accomplished work – at once entertaining as it is erudite. The author clearly exhibits the full depth and range of his innate interdisciplinarity as he weaves seemingly disparate strands from his economic, environmental and philosophical background into a tightly argued and well-constructed piece. But what, we may be entitled to ask, are the inherent pitfalls to the bold thesis that he has constructed? Indeed, some may even believe that it falls short at the first hurdle. For how, they might argue, can the wiping out of a whole village constitute any sort of liberation for its inhabitants? Yet, as valid as this criticism may appear to be on the surface, it should be acknowledged that Cummins does in fact cover his tracks in this respect when he proposes that it is the imminence of the environmental disaster (rather than the purported disaster itself) that will ultimately ensure the planet's survival. Therefore, as far-fetched as the overarching argument may appear to be to some, it is simply wrong to accuse the author of outright contradiction.
This essay, then, is in large part an attempt to sketch out a far more convincing alternative to Cummins' arguments; but not, as may be expected, to what is essentially the central argument contained therein. In doing so, it aims to redeploy Cummins' ideas and to use them as a catalyst for further discussion; though, perhaps, in a direction that he mostly neglects or even ignores. At this initial stage, and in the interests of brevity, we may wish to describe this endeavour 'an assessment of the relative absence of history in Cummins' idiosyncratic account of human specialness'. For, appositely, this essay also seeks to highlight the importance of recognising humanity's unique sense of its own historicity – and, by extension, the decisive role that this must surely play in any adjudication of what it is to be an exceptional species. It is hoped, therefore, that we have already gone some way towards accounting for the choice phrases (i.e. 'historical dimension' and 'historicisation of humanity') which both comprise the frontispiece to this work. Nonetheless, what they mean in precise terms should become increasingly transparent as the essay develops. Suffice it to say that, having achieved this, we will then be in a much better position to review the suppositions undergirding Cummins' work."
"Indeed, Cummins' shortcomings are even further compounded by his exploitation of a number of schemes within his thesis which, as we have shown, are demonstrably historical, and yet do not appear to be historically accounted for. For it surely cannot have escaped notice that Mandeville’s early account of wealth-creation, via the paradox of 'unsocial sociability', bears more than a passing resemblance to the author's bio-evolutionary (or even quasi-eschatological) account of the potentially redemptive qualities of 'fallen' man. A similar case may even be inferred by his adoption of decidedly Malthusian concepts, about which, again, there appears to be no acknowledgment at all. Yet, even more significantly, Cummins' account of what he calls the 'trajectory of human evolution from hunter-gatherer to technological society' —indeed, the very thread upon which his whole argument is based—appears, in truth, to be little more than the eighteenth-century Scottish 'four-stages-theory', albeit in slightly modified form. Had Cummins acknowledged this interesting fact, he might even have reached the conclusion that we may now be entering (or already find ourselves in) a quinquennial, climatical phase of a potential 'five-stage theory', replete with its own conundrums and challenges. Since he does not, it is with deep regret that the author seems so unable to construct a thesis containing greater reference to, and perhaps greater reverence for, crucial historical antecedents. For, if he had done so, it certainly would have been that much more difficult to dispute so many of the arguments contained therein."
I particularly like the suggestion that my work extends the Scottish 'four-stages-theory', and that we are now in a: "quinquennial, climatical phase of a potential 'five-stage theory', replete with its own conundrums and challenges."