Sunday 1 January 2012

Raymond Tallis conducts: The Intellectual Plague of Biologism. Inner Circle Seminar 184 (2 December 2012)

Raymond Tallis
Photograph by Terry Tallis

The Intellectual Plague of Biologism                

Raymond Tallis
Inner Circle Seminar No. 184
introduced by
Anthony Stadlen
Sunday 2 December 2012
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

In the Inner Circle Seminars we have seen how other disciplines can throw light on psychotherapy. But, in two seminars, we study how a reductive, inauthentically ‘interdisciplinary’ approach can throw darkness rather than light. Last month, Rachel Blass explored how ‘neuropsychoanalysis’ perverts psychoanalysis. Today, Raymond Tallis discusses how biologism aspires to turn the ‘humanities’, including psychotherapy, into ‘animalities’.

Raymond Tallis writes:

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. I will argue that, while the brain is a necessary condition of every aspect of human consciousness, it is not a sufficient condition – which is why neuroscience, and the materialist philosophy upon which is it based, fails totally to explain any aspect of the human person. Since the brain is an evolved organism, 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 brains, and that 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. This has obvious implications for psychotherapy.

Raymond Tallis BM BCh MA FRCP LittD (Hon Causa) DLitt (Hon Causa) F Med Sci FRSA was Professor of Geriatric Medicine at the University of Manchester and a consultant physician in Health Care of the Elderly in Salford until 2006. He also advised the government on health care of older people and in particular on the development of stroke services. He has published 200 research articles in the neurology of old age (epilepsy and stroke) and neurological rehabilitation, and original articles in Nature, Medicine, Lancet and other leading journals. In 2000 he was elected Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences. He received the Dhole Eddlestone Prize; the Founders Medal of the British Geriatrics Society; the Lord Cohen Gold Medal for Research into Ageing. He is Chair of Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying.

He has published a novel, short stories, three volumes of poetry, and 22 books on the philosophy of mind, philosophical anthropology, literary theory, the nature of art, and cultural criticism. These offer a critique of current predominant intellectual trends and an alternative understanding of human consciousness, the nature of language and of what it is to be a human being. For this he has been awarded two honorary degrees: DLitt (Hon Causa) University of Hull, 1997; and LittD (Hon Causa) University of Manchester 2002.
In 2008 he was appointed Honorary Visiting Professor in the Department of English at the University of Liverpool. He writes op-eds for The Times and has a column in Philosophy Now. He is a regular at the leading literary and science festivals. He is a frequent broadcaster, with recent appearances on Start the Week, Nightwaves, Inside the Ethics Committee and The Moral Maze. His latest book is Aping Mankind. Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity (2011).

In 2009, the Economist Intelligent Life Magazine listed him as one of the world’s 20 leading polymaths.

Venue: Durrants Hotel, 26–32 George Street, Marylebone, London W1H 5BJ (
Cost: Psychotherapy trainees £116, others £145, some bursaries; coffee, tea, biscuits, mineral water and liquorice allsorts included; payable in advance; no refunds or transfers unless seminar cancelled
Apply to: Anthony Stadlen, ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra Avenue, London N22 7XE
Tel: +44 (0) 20 8888 6857 E-mail: 
For further information on seminars, visit:
The Inner Circle Seminars were founded by Anthony Stadlen in 1996 as an ethical, existential, phenomenological search for truth in psychotherapy. They have been kindly described by Thomas Szasz as ‘Institute for Advanced Studies in the Moral Foundations of Human Decency and Helpfulness’. But they are independent of all institutes, schools and colleges.

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