To speak of humans as “limited beings” is to criticize the current Modernist perspective that has grown up since the Enlightenment of humans as essentially masters of the universe – all knowing with free will to do as we please. It is also a nod to philosopher William Wimsatt and his book with the title Re-Engineering Philosophy for Limited Beings: Piecewise Approximations to Reality (2007). The perspective associated with Modern philosophy has been criticized since at least Nietzsche as a view that separated humans from the world by putting us as merely observers of objective reality (Nagel 1986). It has been lampooned under the notion of a split between body and mind or matter and spirit that have no relation to each other. Language is almost as ethereal as mind when it is considered to be just a reflection of objective reality (Harris 1981). Emotions are merely epiphenomena of no real consequence. The criticisms of these legacy views of
Darwin’s Origin of Species appeared at an auspicious moment in history. The exploration of the whole globe with its strange creatures as in Darwin’s voyage on the Beagle was in full swing, and the hopeful sense of human progress following the Industrial Revolution was in full blossom. But the sciences of mechanics and mathematics as from Descartes and Newton formed a legacy that themselves descended from changing notions of god, humans, and agency. The discussions of evolutionary theory (A) and the evolutionary significance of civilization (B) are inextricably tied to these scientific and theological roots.
Three long term themes in the West are worth tracing. The first is a shifting focus in the life sciences from the general question of the nature of life versus the investigation of specific organisms. The second is the shift in theology over the Middle Ages and into the age of science from a concept-less and name-less view of god to a view of god as having specific powers. The third is