The scholarly writings of 20th-century American philosopher Marvin Farber owed a great deal to the field of anthropology and the theory of evolution in both their scientific and conceptual ramifications. For him, humankind is a recent and fragile species on planet Earth. From the cosmic perspective, he argued that our species has no meaning or purpose other than those value judgments that human beings themselves make in order to adapt, survive, and thrive in a material universe that is, for him, totally indifferent to the ephemeral existence of our zoological group.
Having been influenced by the thought of Ludwig Feuerbach, Karl Marx, and Ernst Haeckel, Farber’s ideas are a contribution to philosophical anthropology. Thus, despite his early interest in phenomenology, Farber came to see it only as a method that had to be used within the perspective of a naturalist framework free from all dualistic, idealistic, and spiritualistic suppositions.
Farber was very aware of the predictive, explanatory, and exploratory powers of the theory of evolution. For him, humankind as societies of knowers and doers is a product of both organic history and sociocultural development. He held that all religious beliefs are grounded in those psychological wants, needs, and desires of our very vulnerable species. Furthermore, all human values must recognize the advances in the special sciences, the need for rigorous reflection, and a naturalist framework that embraces both a cosmic perspective and the implications of the empirical theory of organic evolution.
While stressing those perennial themes of inquiry in the history of serious thought, Farber spoke of the philosophical quest and saw as one of its major functions the critical evaluation and holistic synthesis of the natural and social sciences within a plurality of logical, cooperative, and complementary methodological procedures. He especially respected anthropology as an academic discipline, acknowledging that its facts, concepts, and approach are indispensable for any sound and valid view of humankind within nature.
There is a qualified optimism in his healthy-minded interpretation of the tenuous place of human existence within this material universe. Farber stressed that the natural world is independent of and prior to the human knower and the knower’s sociocultural environment. Consequently, for Farber, the process of reflective thought occupies only an infinitesimal part of this dynamic cosmos, and it occurs only when there are sentient beings in action.
As an evolutionist, Farber warned about illicit transference: the unwarranted extension and application of an explanatory principle valid in a particular field of inquiry to other areas of investigation or realms of reality to which it cannot validly be transferred and used. A glaring example of this fallacy would be the overextension of the descriptive mechanism of the survival of the fittest from biology to sociology, with devastating ethical results. For Farber, it must be remembered that in human inquiry each field of science has its own peculiar problems, research methods, explanatory mechanisms, and open-ended interpretations.
There is always a need to clarify the place of our own species within this material universe and to assess the status of mental activity in the context of organic history and sociocultural development. Farber followed the advancements in the special sciences and acknowledged that the ongoing findings in comparative primate behavior studies offer a striking confirmation of the scientific theory of organic evolution. For this naturalist and humanist as philosophical anthropologist, the goal of scientific philosophy is to increase human freedom, happiness, and longevity.
- Farber, M. (1967). Phenomenology and existence: Toward a philosophy within nature.New York: Harper Torchbooks.
- Farber, M. (1968). Basic issues of philosophy: Experience, reality, and human values. New York: Harper Torchbooks.
- Farber, M. (1968). Naturalism and subjectivism. Albany: State University of New York Press.
- Mathur, D. C. (1971). Naturalistic philosophies of experience: Studies in James, Dewey and Farber against the background of Husserl’s phenomenology. St. Louis: Warren H. Green.