Open Journal of Philosophy
2012. Vol.2, No.4, 219-227
Published Online November 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 219
Evaluating the Philosophical Foundations of
Development Theories
J. Chidozie Chukwuokolo
Department of Philosophy and Religion, E bonyi State University, Abakaliki, Nigeria
Email: jerrychidozie @
Received August 4th, 2012; re vised Septe mber 1st, 2012; accepted September 15th, 2012
This paper in its contribution argues that there is the need to understand the metaphysical and epistemo-
logical issues that undergird human behaviour and ipso facto human nature in formulating development
theories. This will enhance appropriate evaluation and application of these theories for the betterment of
any society. It establishes the relevance of human nature to social theories. Accordingly, social theories
spur the explanation, nature, function, institutions, and prediction of social patterns of development. Since
society is primarily an amalgam of people in social intercourse, human nature impinges on human behav-
iour. Thus, just as the nature of molecular behaviour enhances the understanding of the behaviour of gases,
proper understanding of social theories and those things that spur them enhance the understanding of hu-
man societies. Thus the understanding of the coherence and workability of any social theory is therefore
predicated on the perspective gained on human nature. The critical, analytical and evaluative methods of
philosophy will be dominant in the work.
Keywords: Philosophical Foundations; Development Theories and Human Nature
What are those issues that plague the philosophical mind in
formulating development theories? In other words, theories of
societal development are supposed to fall under the purview of
sociology and anthropology, what are the philosophical inter-
ests in such areas, can there be any justifications in philosophy
studying development theories? It is obvious that philosophy
has certain approaches that are sui generis into investigation of
any subject matter; development theories inclusive. In other
therefore to appreciate the formulation of the goals, objectivity
and universality of development, certain considerations have to
be made. What are those things that inform the formulation of
development goals and objectives? Theories of society (whe-
ther good or bad) have implicit in them theories of human na-
ture. In order to appreciate such theories, there is the need to
evaluate the conceptions of human nature that undergird them.
However, philosophers of various epochs and ideological lean-
ings seem to attest to the view above. Leslie Stevenson avers
that: “The meaning and purpose of human life, what we ought
to do and what we can hope to achieve—all these are funda-
mentally affected by whatever we think is the real or true nature
of man.” (Leslie Stevenson, 3).
On his own, Amerigo Lapati (1973: pp. 501-502) shares this
perception when he asserts that, “Basic to the study and under-
standing of any theory that deals with human behaviour is the
concept of the nature of man underlying that philosophy or
theory”. However, human nature is a product of biological,
social, physical-chemical, psychological and religious elements
that engender the uniqueness of human being. Development
theories hinging on human nature therefore are predicated on
certain metaphysical and epistemological commitments.
Two fundamental metaphysical commitments arise—one pas-
sive and the other autonomous. The passive one entails a me-
chanical deterministic orientation that subjects man to the iron
clad laws of nature namely environment and genetic inheritance.
On this construal, the cosmos is governed by a web of natural
laws; humans are part of this cosmos and ipso facto they are
subject to these laws. This implies that there is no absolute
wholly other that is incomprehensible to humans yet controls
human affairs. Humans on their own are not reducible to any
essence that can not be investigated scientifically such as the
self. Thus every “essence” of man is investigable, manipulable
and predictable. Martin Hollis (1977: p. 5) calls this typology
of man “plastic man”, as against “the autonomous man”.
The autonomous conception of man is that, that confers on
man elements of freedom, responsibility and choice. Freedom
predisposes that any attempt to study man entirely as a law-
governed being results in a ruse. All that can be done is to elicit
justifications from acting agents as to why they act the way
they do. Humans on this construal are free and rational to cer-
tain respect if not entirely. There is an essence which crystal-
lizes in a unique self that makes choice from alternatives in any
circumstance. Thus seen, autonomous conception places man
the “rational subject self” on responsibility for his actions in
contrast to the plastic man whom if we stretch things very well
is absolvable from responsibility for his actions.
At this stage, it is note worthy that various theories exist un-
der the above metaphysical conceptions of human nature. There
are those who believe that man is a bio-geographically deter-
mined being. An example is Jared Diamond who opines that
environmental determinism resulting from bio-geography ac-
counts for the differences that exist among societies in devel-
opment. There are others as B. F. Skinner who postulates psy-
chological determinism where social phenomena are reduced to
It is pertinent to establish the relevance of human nature to
social theories. The basic assumptions of social theories are to
postulate the organization of society, its functions, structures,
institutions, nature and patterns of development. Society pri-
marily is an amalgam of people in social intercourse. Human
nature on its own impinges on human behaviour. Just as the
nature of molecular behavour enhances the understanding of the
behaviour of gases, the understanding of human nature en-
hances the understanding of human societies. Our understand-
ing of the coherence of any social theory therefore is predicated
on the perspective gained on human nature. It is on this para-
digm that we can appreciate Hegel’s postulation of absolute
monarchy or Locke’s representative democracy.
J. C. A. Agbakoba (2001) notes three ways in which theories
of human nature enhance our understanding of social theories.
He starts by positing a teleological conception where the pur-
pose of society and the way it is organized and structured are
seen as means of reaching some goals that are inherent in man
and which man naturally strives to attain. For instance, the so-
cial contract theory of Jean Jacque Rousseau could be predi-
cated on a perceived principle of equality at birth which socie-
ties have lost in their evolution. The need for re-organization of
societies to reflect this equality stares them in the face as suc-
cesses are judged in terms of their degrees of equality.
Causality devoid of teleology is the second way. Social
structures and institutions are perceived as determined by hu-
man nature through a causal web. This presupposes that socie-
ties have no goals except those their members chose. Thus,
nature does not provide inherent ends. The third way is that of
human free will. For instance man always does what he freely
wills; the regularities of action in the society are mere coinci-
dences. This results from the capability of individuals having
various means of actualizing the same thing. All we can do
therefore is advisory roles in man. This is the view of any thor-
ough-going existentialist (J. C. A. Agbakoba, 2003: p. 5). We
shall note the inescapability of determinism in any study of
human nature and development theories as the major concep-
tions result from disagreement and reconciliation of the appli-
cation of determinism to human behaviours.
On the epistemological commitment what people hold as the
truth influence their path to development. The epistemic out-
look of a people which is the predominant truth or knowledge
acquisition process at the disposal of such a people determines
the rate and pattern of development of such society. Our con-
tention is that the epistemic world view of a people colour the
kind of knowledge available in the society and hence the path
of development pursued by such a society. This is evident in
the culture-thesis of development held by GWF Hegel where
both his epistemic and metaphysical standpoint influenced his
development theory.
From the fore-going it is evident that the metaphysical and
epistemic outlooks of societies are fundamental to the percep-
tion of human nature which underpins development theories. In
this regards, we shall critically pursue the philosophical foun-
dation of development under the following sub-headings:
Determinism, freewill and development; Teleology, causation
and development; Materialist interpretation of development.
It is obvious that there are other areas of bisection between
philosophy and development; we shall suffice with the above
sub-headings especially as we have carried out comprehensive
research elsewhere bordering on the topic.
Determinism, Freewill and Development
Determinism is a principle that favours that all events have
general laws in which they are interconnected with other phe-
nomena such that understanding these laws confers on the re-
searcher the capacity for prediction. It is believed that science
as it is constituted embodies sets of equations that are in such
interconnected link-state of matter in time. In classical Newto-
nian physics, these states are identified with the positions and
momentum of partic le s. Ther mody na mics i dent ifi ed t he se stat es
with pressure, volume, temperature, free energy and entropy.
Recent results of quantum physics have identified the state with
the PSI function or probability state. This probability state does
not imply imperfection in knowledge but all that is knowable at
the time. This has made some philosophers to conceive deter-
minism as having the stamp of necessity and impossibility as
complementary. This enthrones the law of excluded middle:
anything that happens in this law governed universe must hap-
pen and vice versa, no middle way. Bernard Berofsky (cited in
Agbakoba, 2001: p. 7) brings out clearly this law-like nature of
determinism when he avers that it is a position that, “all events
(facts, states) are lawful in the sense roughly that for any event,
e, there is a distinct event, d, plus a (causal) law which asserts
whenever d then e”.
This brings out clearly that no event escapes a set of suffi-
cient conditions for its occurrence. It is pertinent at this stage to
point out that this link between two events is not accidental but
is of necessity. If this is taken, the thorough going determinists
do assert that all the investigation of nature must go on ad-
infinitum in the search for causal antecedents without any area
that determinism does not transcend. Determinism reviewed on
this construal conflicts with the concept of the person as a uni-
que entity that transcends deterministic analysis and one with
freewill and responsibility. However, Hollis argues against the
self as a unique entity not subject-able to law. Accordingly, he
asserts that one cannot be distinctly unique as an individual; but
one can only be unique in so far as such a one “is the only in-
stance of the intersection of a complex of laws” (Hollis, 1977: p.
11). Thus seen, free will and ipso facto free action is a ruse
especially when construed as an act that proceeds from an un-
caused unique personality capable of making choices given
several alternatives.
Apart from this, it is evident from modern physics that the
elements/particles that compose the world are not things but
conceptual waves of probability. This probabilistic stance ex-
tends to human actions and confers limitations to it. Thus, de-
terminism must reflect the limitations of man in its theoriza-
tions. For instance, there are instances of “chance events” in
real life as when luck plays out but determinism denies such
objective cha nce. But these “chance events” could be linked by
laws with previous events. In this regard they may not be in-
fractions of determinism. This brings to fore the view of Sander
Pierce who rejects universal or thorough determinism. For him,
this rejection is anchored in tychism which is an element of
spontaneity in the world. But, the study of the world is aimed at
conferring on the investigator the ability to predict events. De-
terminism when presented in the above sense removes predict-
ability from the study of the universe. This is because a system
or an event could be deterministic without being known. This
means that those sufficient conditions or laws governing such
events may not be known and the prediction of such events may
not be due with certainty.
It is noteworthy to observe that determinism though not es-
tablished conclusively empirically is much too valuable to
abandon. This is because like induction, it is not so much meta-
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
physical as methodological as it describes a feature of human
struggles rather than the world. Contrarily, determinism is not
thoroughly refuted empirically. This results from the fact that
failure to establish sufficient conditions of say an event does
not negate the existence of such conditions. All it establishes is
the incompleteness and incorrectness of human analysis of the
events. Hence, determinism is not an empirical truth defendable
as a correct description of the world. Ernest Nagel (1996: p.
354) sees it as possessing the status of a “guiding principle”
which formulates in a comprehensive fashion one of the major
objectives of positive sciences. In supporting Nagel, Agbakoba
has this to say: In addition, we do have some good reasons to
agree with the thorough determinist: every advance in science
and technology confirms or enhances the plausibility of deter-
minism; and in our everyday interaction with fellow human
beings, we do ensure the operation of causality and law-like
regularities We thus generally presume that choices and
decisions dont just happen, but have causes and effects and
are thus determined (8-9).
But is determinism the same with fatalism? We usually hear
such assertions as whatever will be, will be no matter whatever
we do. Fatalism carries in it a negation of freewill and it is in
this way that it differs with determinism. Determinism has not
conclusively negated freewill but fatalism assumes such a pos-
ture. But before we explore this further, what is fatalism? This
is a negation of the import of freewill in the affairs of man to
the extent that events are pre-ordained with certainty that they
must occur whether we like it or not. As Reuben Abel (1976)
puts it:
Fatalism asserts not that every event has a cause, but that
every event has been pre-ordained; that the causes of events are
outside ourselves; that whatever occurs does so regardless of
what we do; that we cannot act, since events are beyond our
control; that there are no alternatives; that deliberation is illu-
sory. (243)
It is a vacuous doctrine in which its irrefutability is built on
an untenable law of excluded middle for everything points to its
establishment. This irrefutable stance is typical of fatalism. As
Abel (1976) puts this difference between fatalism and deter-
The irrefutability of fatalism is built into it, like the self-pro-
claimed infallibility of a sacred writing. If you point this out,
the fatalist says your argument, too, is preordained. Determin-
ism likewise can be neither proved nor disproved; but deter-
minism is not for action. Its efficiency is pragmatic: it is the
refusal to abandon the search for causes. (243)
However, fatalism is not flawless: this results from its erro-
neous assumption that the future is mapped out in such a way
that the “self” or the “will” has no impact in constituting it. But,
it is evident that man’s freewill has been exerted in the past in
such a way that predictions are refuted. This is typical of the
Cassandra paradox: a prediction to you about you may motivate
you to defy the prediction. Nevertheless, we cannot know
whether fatalism is true or false. Even when it is true, it is not
valuable to us as it ought not to be a guiding principle for any-
body. Even a fatalist does certain things for himself, for one
who has a fatalistic prophecy that such a one would become a
professor must and often do work hard to realize such lofty
ambition. We shall therefore, jettison fatalism and go ahead to
see whether determinism can serve as a guiding principle in
formulating development theories.
Determinism as postulated above has to grapple with one of
the perennial philosophical problems of freedom, choice and
responsibility. Is man actually free? And if not is he responsible
for his actions? Abel (1976: p. 243) observes that “this is an
important problem because freewill lies at the intersection of
two fundamental but perhaps incompatible convictions: the
subjective or inward phenomenological certainty of freedom:
and determineism, the insistence that every event has a cause”.
Further, we can still ask whether freewill conflicts with deter-
minism. Philosophers of different epochs have attempted to
find solutions to the above questions raised. One such attempt
results in reconcilliationism. According to this view, determin-
ism properly describes non-behavioural reality; however free-
dom still exists at the behavioural sphere. J. I. Omoregbe (2004)
seems to share this view. According to him, Hume’s assertion
that motives are the determining necessary factors that condi-
tion human behaviour is a ruse. This is because man freely
chooses from motives that present themselves as alternatives.
As he puts it:
Hume has a peculiar understanding of freedom and free ac-
tions. He argues that if we say that an action is free, we thereby
mean that it has no cause, and that it is simply the product of
chance. But motives do not determine actions; they only influ-
ence them, their influence is only, in-so-far as they are allowed
by human freedom. Man is free to accept or reject any particu-
lar motive; he can refuse to yield to the influence of any par-
ticular motive. Among many motives that may present them-
selves for action, man freely chooses which of them to accept
and which to reject and suppress. Motives therefore do not
eliminate freedom as Hume thinks. (Omeregbe, 41)
Reconciliationists are all agreed that freedom occurs when an
agent is not constrained by force from doing what he wills or
forced to do what he wills not. Thus, what is imperative to es-
tablishing whether an agent is free or not, is the understanding
of the laws that govern any action. Such imperatives capable of
obstructing an action as external force, pathological state of the
mind, insanity etc are termed excuse factors by Francis Raab
capable of inducing us to withdraw responsibility from the
agent. On this construal, the self is asserted as autonomous and
capable of taking decisions without yielding to external factors.
This is typical of circumstances where in the medieval inquisi-
tion era, convinced men refused to recant their positions even
when death stared them in the face.
Agbakoba has argued against libertarianism as postulated by
Berlin according to which the fear of the disappearance of our
moral language establishes determinism. According to him,
Berlin begged the question in his fear of the disappearance of
our moral language as he needed to establish that we shall
never succeed if we tried to alter our actions. As he puts it:
In addition, for our moral language to disappear as Berlin
feared, we not only need to accept determinism, but also that
every cause of an act is an evidence against the imputation of
responsibility. This is however not the case; Berlin merely
begged the question. He needed to show that if we tried to alter
our actions we shall never succeed (11-12).
Although the establishment of a free self that is not suscepti-
ble to determinism is difficult, the doctrine of emergentism has
been used to ground this view. Emergentism is the view that
evolution has established an added feature that is irreducible to
its components. This irreducible component enables us to assert
that it is man himself not a part of him that performs or causes
his actions. This irreducible property is not an assemblage of
political phenomena that are acting in tandem with natural laws.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 221
However, this view masquerades a discussion on consciousness
which we accept its inexplicable stance. Richard Taylor’s (1963:
pp. 61-62) attempt at dismissing such metaphysical entity is
paradigmatic here:
the complexity and apparent inexplicability of human be-
haviour is now reason for us to seek the understanding of man
in a metaphysical realm radically different from that used in
the understanding of other things both organic and inorganic.
Although the establishment of a subject self that transcends
determinism is beyond our scope in this work, all we have to
say is that it has not been dislodged. Otherwise how can we
account for me mory in man?
At this juncture, it is pertinent that we sum that the opposi-
tion between determinism and freedom and its attendant un-
successful attempts at reconciling them exist at a fundamental
metaphysical level that begs for conclusive results so far. At the
core of the problems is what human beings think themselves to
be; if determinism were true, man’s concepts of morality, law,
efforts of the will crashes. Yet these concepts are integral in our
day to day decisions. The problem is made more acute as its
adherents are made up of materialists or naturalists who deny
the existence of the self capable of acting freely. Idealists and
or dualists while believing in the existence of a free self can
limit their acceptance of determinism to the world of matter.
However, as noted earlier the establishment of a free self capa-
ble of exerting freedom as we know it is difficult. It is worse off
when the interaction between mind and matter are attempted.
We shall assert that believing or jettisoning either determinism
or freewill is reductive and does not capture reality as it is. This
is because we perceive actually elements of the two. Freedom
does not necessarily contradict determinism. Therefore, it is
most plausible to acquiesce to the version of reconciliation that
blends the two. This augurs well with the synthesis inherent in
the dialectical process where determinism is thesis and freewill
the anti-thesis.
Development theories have carried in them these metaphysi-
cal commitments that have hampered their proper explanations
on the development differences that exist among societies. En-
vironmental determinism for instance, has committed its ad-
herents to the dangerous position of those who are disadvan-
taged by such environments to give up hope in attempting to
change their circumstances. But commitments to either deter-
minism or freewill have influenced to a greater deal how people
have reacted to their development levels via theorizations. But
development (event—determined) cannot be described ade-
quately, except contextual knowledge is added to it.
Teleology, Causation and Development
When explanations to the development of an organism or
organization are sought in terms of purpose, and or goal states,
a teleological explanation is sought. There are two kinds of
goals elicited by this sort of explanation: goal intended and goal
directed. A goal intended behaviour is one in which an agent
consciously sets out goals or ends and extends stimuli geared
towards the actualization of such ends or goals. A goal directed
behaviour is integral to the nature of the agent involved and
cannot be imputed intentionality and consciousness of activity,
but whose activities can still be purposive. For instance, an
acorn could be said to be geared towards the end state of be-
coming an oak. But what is teleology? Alan Ryan (1975: p. 184)
defines it thus:
To explain an event teleologically is to explain its occurrence
on the grounds, that it is contributory to a goal or end state,
and to imply one essential thing—that the goal or end state is
sought or maintained by the system in which the events take
place. What this requirement amounts to is that the system in
question has to possess some kind of negative feedback charac-
teristic in the sense that the movement away from its goal is
compensated for by some kind of corrective mechanism.
Certain philosophical issues arise with teleological explana-
tion constructed in this way: Firstly, there is an apparent fallacy
revolving around any causal explanation presented as if effect
precedes cause. This concerns the typification of relationship
between the determining and determined factors within this
explanatory paradigm. Goal intended behaviour is easily ame-
nable to this mould of causal explanation while it is more
tenuous to subject goal directed behaviour to such reductive
category. Some philosophers have as Richard Braithwaite
(1968) opined that goal directed behaviours could be reduced to
goal intended ones by attributing drives, instincts or conatus to
the organism. This is because in lower organism, these attrib-
utes are regarded as consciousness in debased forms. This
means that the consciousness in man differ from those organ-
isms in degrees not in kinds or forms. Hence, human beings
streamline their goals very clearly more than animals. Though
instincts may be regarded as fundamentally different from con-
sciousness, it functions as consciousness in any goal intended
This view is however susceptible to the criticism of intro-
ducing a metaphysical entity whose only property is being the
cause of goal—directed behaviour. This stems from its unveri-
fiability status hinged on unconditionality. Its existence can
never be established in alio of the covert behaviour it is sup-
posed to explain.
Again, scientific progress has imputed causal explanations to
certain goal-directed behaviour. This is done when such behav-
iours are explained in terms of their physico—chemical proper-
ties. However, this reductive tendency of subjecting goal-di-
rected behaviours to ordinary causal relations have made some
philosophers as Ernest Nagel and Carl Hempel to discard tele-
ological explanations as misleading ways of stating causal ex-
planations. For instance, Nagel’s argument that “X occurs in
order that Y” taken as X is the sufficient condition for Y is a
misleading way of presenting X as the cause of Y. Alan Ryan
(1975: p. 185) has noted correctly that this causal flow is wrong:
the intention of the argument is to explain the occurrence of X
by Y and not vice versa. According to him, when X is made the
sufficient condition for Y, it implies that any change in X
should cause a change in Y; but where it is stated that X occurs
in order that Y, it implies the reverse.
Further, critical observation will lay bare another flaw in
such explanation for teleological explanations do not state the
obvious attainment of the goal. For instance, that X is the suffi-
cient condition for Y denotes that the occurrence of X auto-
matically makes Y manifest. But expressing it as X occurs in
order for Y does not carry the automatic import that Y must
occur whenever X is seen. Lack of the goal attainment does not
remove the teleological import of the expression, after all the
essence of the expression is to explain the occurrence of X via
the end state Y and not the occurrence of Y.
All we have done so far is to explicate the fact that teleo-
logical explanations are hardly reducible to ordinary causal
explanations. The explanation of the event X results because it
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
plays a cardinal role in the attainment of the goal Y. Even
though that the end—state usually manifest after all the con-
tributory composite events are available, yet it is this end state
that adduces explanation to them. This is because to actualize
the goal in mind, certain relations are prior established before
the goal.
From the foregoing discussions, it seems that teleological
explanations are established by induction. Goals and states of
affairs that lead to them are identifiable as the relationship ex-
isting between goals and their contributory factors is such that
the later is a necessary condition for the former. It is pertinent
to note that this does not exclude the contributory roles that
alternative factors play. But that induction enables us to observe
the various conditions and alternatives that enhance the pro-
gress of a system’s attainment of its goals; this maps out the
paths to the systems persistence towards progress. As Richard
Kitchener (1983: p. 798) puts it:
It is the establishment of teleology by induction that necessi-
tates a holistic approach in teleological explanations. There is
a need to view teleological relations in its entirety, not only as
a whole but as one with internally related parts. It is in this way
that one is able to identify the goal state and the elements that
contribute towards bringing it about.
Another issue that is worthy of observation is the fact that
though non-teleological explanations are numerous, they are
never mentioned in the teleological explanations. Rather, these
factors are subsumed under the phrase “under normal develop-
ment conditions”. It is taken for grante d that devel opment must
progress normally hence no attempts are made to specify teleo-
logical explanations as stipulating conditions under which de-
velopment must occur. Again, discussions on the duration of
successive stages of the contributory factors are glossed over or
ignored completely. This is made more manifest by the unspe-
cific nature of teleological explanations. However, no matter
the extent of weaknesses of the teleological explanatory model,
proper observation, calculation and causal analysis, can provide
us adequate knowledge of how successive stages of develop-
ment occur. Hence, causal explanation plays a fundamental role
in explicating the essence of any system under study. Ryan
observes on this note that: “Everything I have said so far about
our inclination to look for hidden mechanisms and to inquire
into the working of systems suggest that teleological explana-
tions are very much our first thought, not our last.” (Ryan, 1975:
p. 186).
At this juncture, let us examine causality in se. The concept
of causation has passed through many phases; Aristotle speaks
of causation in terms of his four causes; formal, material, effi-
cient and final. However, his notion of cause has been more
accurately designated as aspects of being for they hardly pre-
cede what they are causes of. For Francis Bacon, cause is des-
ignated as means to an end. Since, this end is the manipulation
of nature, knowledge of causes became synonymous with
power. Gottlieb Leibniz conceives cause in terms of sufficient
reasons while Rene Descartes sees cause as ground, necessity
or implication. David Hume however had impacted greatest on
the concept of causation when he hit at its greatest problem;
being able to establish the observation of external event com-
pelling another to happen by necessity.
What then is causality? This entails the relation between two
events: phenomena or things in which one event occurs before
the other. While the first is said to be the cause, the latter is said
to be the effect. As Agbakoba (20) puts it; “A causal statement
generally takes the form of event A causing event B, which is
an effect it produces.”
However, a critical analysis of the various ways we conceive
causation will expose its problematic: how to characterize the
relationship between the two events. For instance, it was be-
lieved that lightening causes thunder because lightening pre-
cedes thunder. But, it is known now that both lightening and
thunder are two aspects of the same thing, that is, electrical
discharge in the ionosphere. The discharge simultaneously
emits sound and light. The implication of this is that for A to
cause B, there must be C (physical contact). But Abel avers that
the moon and the sun cause the tidal waves of the sea from a
remote distance. Same is true of the causal influences brought
about by the remote control of the electronic gadgets. It was
also thought that a cause must precede its effect, but break-
throughs in quantum physics (relativity theory) have disproved
this. Even in logic the necessity that causation carries is jetti-
soned for material implication of modern extensional or truth
functional logic .
Be these as they may, positivists attempt to characterize cau-
sality as carrying the stamp of necessity and sufficient condi-
tion for the occurrence of events. They hardly establish this
necessity of relation between two events. This view is similar to
Hume’s constant conjunction theory of causation. This implies
that causal laws express necessity and sufficient condition that
make events occur. Positivists also hold that the two events
should not imply each other.
Abel notes the problematic of holding causality on the above
light. According to him, when events are analyzed, they often
turn out to be less discrete than we would wish in deciding
what causes what. In effect, it means that it is difficult in the
legion of possible causes to anchor the actual cause of event.
He cites Brand Blanshard’s example of malaria. For him, it is
difficult to locate the actual cause of malaria from the legion of
alternative causes namely: the bite of anopheles mosquitoes, the
actual depositing of plasmodia, the attack of the red blood cell
by the plasmodia, the loss of hemoglobin, the deprivation of
oxygen in the tissues of the body. He concludes that all we do
in sorting out causes and effects is to impose an intelligence
structure of discrete events upon the continuous stream of oc-
currences to suit our purpose because it is difficult to locate the
cause of malaria. (Abel, 12-13)
Positivists’ success however is in noticing the differences
between accidental generalizations, that enumerate and cannot
license counterfactual statements, and causal statement that are
nomothetic capable of licensing counterfactual statements.
They do not make distinctions between mere regularities and
defacto regularities. As Agbakoba puts it:
However, they are still unable to make a distinction between
defacto and mere regularities such as the succession of day and
night, and causal laws or statements. Defacto regularities do
not tell us why a thing happens; only that it always occurs. For
instance, the regular sequence of day and night tells us only
that the one follows the other, and not why it does so. But
causal laws are meant to tell us why a thing or an event oc-
curred the way it did. (Agbakoba, 2003: p. 21)
Realists on their part hold that necessity exists in nature as
the observed regularity of events are indicative of a generative
operating substratum. For them, there is the need to unmark the
phenomena for the underlying mechanism at work. Hence,
contrary to the belief of the positivists, they do not assert the
logical dependence of events. This follows from the fact that
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 223
realists believe that micro entities as the sub-atomic particles
underlie macro entities as the desks we observe. Hence, macro
and micro entities are logically dependent on each other’s pro-
perties and relations. We shall sum up by asserting that though
it is difficult to characterize the relation between cause and
effect, the realist view is preferable. This results from the diffi-
culty of the positivists in establishing the basis of scientific
laws and also on our convincing assumption that there is neces-
sity in nature.
What are the impacts of our discussions on teleological ex-
planation, and causation to development? We shall start by
asserting that the feedback mechanism in the theories confers
plasticity to the theories. And this has a far reaching effect on
development conceptions. This is explicated in the persistent
capacity of systems in the attainment of set goals given varying
conditions via multiple alternatives of activities. This is im-
pacted upon by the favourable socio-psychological stance of
humans explainable causally and teleologically that goes pari-
pasu with the notion that the meaning of a thing motivates an
action. The important aspect of this is that though plasticity is
inherent in the theories, they do not eschew choice. This is
because if we assert that human beings act in tandem with laws
and necessities, we shall not run into contradictions as they
could either accept or reject such laws. Our contention in this
work is that it is the rational application of choice by varying
peoples of the world that makes for the differences that exist at
the levels of the development of peoples. This follows from our
view that plasticity does not abrogate choice and choice is made
by how adaptable a people’s rationality is to their existential
needs. The implication of this is that the consistency, coherence
and workability of any social theory are predicated on the per-
spective gained on human nature.
Materialism and Development
The developmental stance of any group of people is a pro-
duct of their perception of the ultimate reality. Any people that
see the ultimate reality in terms of idea will over-emphasize
aspects of the society that promote idealism. So also is any
society that lay much emphasis on matter as the ultimate reality.
Such a society will tend to develop material aspects of society
at the expense of the other dimensions of reality. We shall in
this section, address the following questions: what is material-
ism? How does materialism affect the course of socio-economic
evolution of society? Does this externalistic disposition cater
for mankind’s holistic developmental needs? We shall round
off this section by creating an internalist-externalist dimension
of materialism in order to show how this is the most consistent
aspect of materialistic theory that has gained most perspective
on human nature as it really is.
One of the basic questions of philosophy is ascertaining the
interrelationship between thinking and being, spirit or nature
which is primary? Materialism is an attempt at grappling with
this question. To this extent, materialists, posit the understand-
ing that the world (reality as a whole), the sun, the moon, the
whole earth, animal and man have independent existence inde-
pendent of human consciousness, and that the human being on
his own is a product of the world wherefore he appeared and
wherein he lives. The materialist’s answer to the basic question
above does not limit itself to asserting that matter is primary to
consciousness, but also offers a stand point on what matter is?
This implies a definition of what is to be considered material
and spiritual, a study of their essences and a justification of the
materialist idea of the relationship between consciousness and
being and of spiritual to material.
The idea of materialism therefore could be summed as aris-
ing from the notion or idea that matter is the essence of reality,
and that matter creates mind and never vice versa. This implies
that the mind and all its qualities (thought and thought pro-
cesses) are bye-products of the brain; brain itself and its quali-
ties arose at certain stage in the evolution of living matters.
Hence, the brain and its qualities are products of the material
world. It is pertinent at this stage to note that in the historical
development of materialism, two basic stances to the under-
standing of matter are observed. As F. M. Burlatsky et al. (1985)
put it:
An understanding of matter is the basic element of a materi-
alist philosophy In the process of historical development of
philosophical thought, two basic approaches to the explanation
of matter emerged. In approximate terms, they could be de-
scribed as: 1) The explanation of matter from the standpoint of
its structure, and 2) The explanation of matter in terms of so-
lution of the basic questions of philosophy. Both approaches
always existed in one variation or another; the former however,
was popular in the earlier period of the development of phi-
losophy Under those circumstances, philosophy concen-
trated on explaining the essence of matter, its relation to con-
sciousness, on ascertaining what its attributes are. (51-52)
Throughout the early history of philosophical materialism,
materialist philosophy was enormously successful in the elabo-
ration of theories of matter and in its struggle against idealism,
agnosticism and obscurantism from antiquity to the early 19th
century. Some philosophers believed that it offered a convinc-
ing justification of the objective nature of matter and of its
knowability. Also standing in tandem with the level of scien-
tific knowledge, it explicated a theoretical position on the stru-
cture of matter, on the relationship between matter and motion,
and made demonstrable the objective nature of space and time.
Materialist theory, however, showed some shortcomings as
social production, science and world philosophical thoughts
developed enormously in the mid-19th century. It became ob-
vious that matter was not being studied systematically. Again,
the most serious defect to the study of matter at this period was
its metaphysical understanding: more often than not, matter,
motion, space, time and other aspects of matter were seen in
terms of isolated and independent concepts that independently
foundate the universe. There was hardly any scientific approach
to the unity of matter and motion. In effect, a mechanism where
the motion of matter and all changes in nature were presented
as varieties of mechanical movement was obviously a short-
coming. Another shortcoming was that since matter is under-
standable in terms of the ultimate reality, it was not extended to
social life. This resulted from the restricted identification of
matter with nature; hence there was hardly any discourse on
matter as the foundation of the social history of mankind.
These shortcomings and N. G. Chernyshevsky’s (1950: p.
675) view that “matter is what exists. Matter possesses qualities.
Forces are manifestations of qualities. What we call natural
laws are modes of operations of the forces” laid a foundation
for Marxist scholars to explore the historical-social dimension
of the development of matter. It took Karl Marx, Fredrick
Engels and Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (1975) to effect this revolu-
tion on matter and extended it to all other spheres of philosophy.
F. M. Burlatsky et al. (Eds.) put it this way:
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
The most important contribution by the founders of Marxism
to the elaboration of a qualitatively new understanding of mat-
ter lies in their discovery of the material foundation of social
life. Pre-Marxian philosophy in its entirely (sic) both material-
ism and idealism, approached the analysis of historical social
processes from idealist positions. Philosophy preceding Marx
thought that social transformations took place under the impact
of the will, intention and interests of men, mostly influential
persons like Kings, emperors, generals, or educationists, writ-
ers and philosophers. They regarded society as the sum total of
individuals, and as a being whose determining characteristic is
thinking. (64)
This view point on the scientific explanation of matter vis-à-
vis socio-historical development of society was culminated in
Marxian historical materialism and dialectical materialism.
Marx’s analysis of matter in the historical process revealed the
underlying basis of the formation of all human qualities: labour.
Accordingly labour is perceived as the material process of
transformation of the natural environment by man. However,
the issues remain whether labour is necessarily material. Bur-
latsky et al. (Eds.) see the import of labour thus:
It is not only the nature around man that is modified in the
process of labour; one also changes oneself, ones own nature.
Man improves his abilities and knowledge, develops his intel-
lect for the performance of labour, man creates and uses work
implements which he constantly develops and improves to make
the labour more effective. Rather than take place in isolation,
labour activity is performed by large groups of people and
objective inter-relationship are formed between them required
for the purposes of improving the productivity of labour. (64)
From the above, Marx discovered the underlying objective
process of all social lives namely labour, social production
activities, development of labour implement, relations between
men in the process of labour, their development, and the de-
velopment of man himself. A very significant dimension of this
view is that desires, interests, thoughts and all spiritual lives are
determined by matter in the process of social life. As Marx and
Engels (361) put it: “The phantoms formed in the brains of man
are necessarily, sublimates of their material life-process, which
is empirically verifiable and bound to material premises.” This
significant discovery of the change of philosophical under-
standing of matter besides nature to include the foundations of
social life entails a widening and expansion of the concept of
matter. V. I. Lenin (1975: p. 6) captures this import when he
avers that Marx had noted significantly “the consistent con-
tinuation and extension of materialism into the domain of social
We have traced the evolution of the concept of materialism
to Marx’s ingenious discovery of matter as an integral part of
the social process. This now elevates the concept of matter to
history as the materialistic application of dialectics and materi-
alism to history and social problems. What appears obvious is
that in order to actualize one’s labour finesse a certain kind of
productive relationship emerges. This Marx explains in terms
of economic materialism. According to this view, economic
materialists assert that the totality of social progress including
changes in the superstructure of any society results from eco-
nomic or productive relationship that exists therein. Thus seen,
a materialist inclination to development apart from being re-
ductive will eschew the development of any dimension of soci-
ety that is not materialist. This is typical of most Western
(Eurasia) countries where emphasis are placed on the satisfac-
tion of the material needs of man at the expense of his spiritual
needs. So many spiritual decadences have been noted in this
direction: sex-change, gene cloning. Really, man is a composite
being; he has apart from his material dimension, a spiritual one
as well. Any theory that limits its description of man to matter
is not all-encompassing of man’s true nature. Asian Tigeran
development is hardly materialistic; it seems it is as a result of
their spiritual values.
Be this as it may, Antonio Labriola’s distinction between
economic materialism and other kinds of materialism dealt an
insidious blow on materialism. Thorold Rogers, a vociferous
advocate of economic materialism had defined it as those mate-
rialists who ascribe predominant importance to the economic
factors of life. Accordingly, they assert that economic factors
predominate over-ridingly in social life and are the fruits of
human knowledge and ideas. But, the way the idea of economic
materialism is presented seems not to exclude historical ideal-
ism. Marxian historical and dialectical materialism may not
necessarily preclude historical idealism since human knowledge
and ideas could result to the kind of relationships individuals
engage in materially in the course of their relationship with
people in the process of production, that is, it is a variety of
So many factors other than economics influence the his-
torico-social evolution of the society. These factors are subject
to reciprocal action: each influences the rest and is in its turn
influenced by the rest. The rise, development and fall of all
social relations of any particular civilization are determined by
the courses of its intellectual development, which in its turn, is
determined by the attributes of human nature. The modern ma-
terialists teach that economic systems are conformable to hu-
man nature (social economic systems being the result of one or
another degree of volume to human nature). Conversely, any
economy begins to contradict the demands of human nature as
soon as it comes into contradiction with the state of the produc-
tive forces. However, it is evident that the economic factor is
subordinate to another “factor”. This being the case, how can
we call economic factors predominant?
Further, the materialist view of history falls into another pit-
fall. This is because it fails to offer true objective laws as it
asserts in error that social development is material development,
which is the same as development in nature. Social develop-
ment can be brought about by a combination (give and take
action) of will (spirit) and matter. This is because between the
two, the factor which acts as subject is will (spirit). Therefore,
they should have discovered objective laws from the aspect of
spirit. But, on the contrary, they tried to discover objective laws
only from the aspects of matter which is the object. Since, mat-
ter (object) is under the control of spirit (subject), certain laws
can be found in matter. However, materialists use dialectical
laws which are subjective to camouflage their interpretation as
if these were based upon objective material laws.
If there are objective laws which operate on spirits, what are
they? They are the laws of God’s providence namely the laws
of creation and the laws of restoration which have operated
through man’s will. These laws are not subjective but objective
laws as they are determined by God and cannot be changed by
man’s will; man can hardly change these natural laws. At, this
juncture two interrelated philosophical problems arise: they
border on the issues of God’s existence and the existence of
mind and its interaction with matter. These issues culminate
into the question of mind and matter which one is prior to the
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 225
other? It is obvious that our tune seems to favour mind. This
results from findings of modern science, that is, as it concerns
the uncertainty theory. Classical physics had postulated mecha-
nism and determinism at the micro and macro-levels of reality.
But the results of modern physics have introduced non locality
or immaterial ity of quantum reality.
This results from the randomness of the particles and the
Heisenberg’s uncertainty theory. Agbakoba (2001: p. 66) cap-
tures this lucidly:
The randomness of the particles depicts the fact that quan-
tum particles behave with a certain randomness with result that
we can only get probabilities at the micro level, physical laws
at this level give only probabilities, though at the macro-level
these probabilities coalesce to give near certainties.
The import of the above view is that particles at the mi-
cro-level introduce elements of non-locality to matter. This
results from the faster-than-light sub-atomic particles that ex-
tension does not apply to, as underlying all realities. This is
accountable for the non-relevance of the spatial separation of
photons in measuring their co-relation. It is evident that quan-
tum mechanics has obliterated spatiality and extension that are
cardinal properties of matter. This results from the fact that no
matter how distantly separated or extended, the measurement of
particle as a light photon, automatically affects the others in the
whole quantum reality. D. Hodgson (1991: p. 369) avers that in
“quantum mechanics all systems which have interacted have
correlations so that generally the whole universe will be a sys-
tem as to which there can be simultaneity of distant events.”
Agbakoba (Mind, 67) again captures the import of the-faster
than-lightentity thus:
But in physics no particle, i.e., nothing with mass (extended-
ness), can be faster than light, because for one, it would require
energy approaching infinity to produce such a thing. Yet, this
thing, which obviously is not a particle, is faster than light.
Because it is faster than light it could traverse the whole quan-
tum universe instantaneously making space like distances or
motives irrelevant when we are considering it. By so doing, it
more or less confers the relevance of our notions of space to an
order different from itself, namely to the macro—world.
As we have seen, quantum mechanics establishes that at the
sub-atomic micro-level of every reality is an underlying non-
locale and immaterial coordinating reality. Hodgson (1991: p.
385) picks up from this point to argue that it is this faster-than
light reality that makes possible consciousness and mental
If at the base of reality especially the material reality is a sub-
atomic micro-level, faster than light and non-locale, it follows
that ultimate reality is non locale, without extension. Minds
strongest property is non-locality; therefore ultimate reality is
immaterial in the final analysis. We can therefore conclude
from the above, that materialism does not necessarily exclude
idealism. This is because contrary to the claims of materialists
that material environment determines social consciousness;
matter itself is an aspect of consciousness. Therefore, if we
must separate matter and mind on this note, we shall hold that
their imports are of mutual influence on man in the process of
his historical evolution. That is to say that man’s well-being is a
con-course of mutual interference of both mind and matter.
Materialism as an externalist thesis for development by as-
serting that social progress is a handmaid of material productive
forces is hardly all encompassing of all the forces of progress in
society. This results from the nature and mode of the presenta-
tion of the materialist argument as unable to account for the
cause of the development of the productive forces itself. This is
sequel to the view that dialectical development is brought about
by struggle between contradictory elements within the produc-
tive forces. Materialist as Marx had asserted that development
of the productive forces is self caused and they remain unable
to make clear the content of the contradictory elements within
the productive forces. Of course, this only asserts that devel-
opment of the productive forces does not come about through
the dialectic process. The idea and reason the productive forces
develop continuously is obscure in materialist thesis of devel-
The above observations bring to fore that emphasizing as-
pects of man’s nature vis-à-vis development shall not give us
what objectively exists in real order. This is because the evolu-
tion of the productive forces are not simply materialistic but a
combination of internal (spiritual) and external (material) fac-
tors. Any of the factors should not be over emphasized at the
expense of the other. Development is brought about by appro-
priate combination of these aspects, hence, the externalist -
externalist dimensions of materialism.
Conclusion: The Role of Philosophy in
Understanding the Dimensions of Human
Nature in Development Theories
It is pertinent that in concluding this work, we should touch
the epistemic commitments and their effect on development
theories. We have not given it any elaborate discussion here
because it has been a subject of our research finding elsewhere.
In the said work our contention was that what any society holds
as true and the application of their sources of knowledge acqui-
sition influence the rate of their development process. In the
instance, we averred that the development success of Eurasia
resulted from epistemic censorship they inherited from Judaism
(See Chukwuokolo, 2007: pp. 10-20).
Again we have discussed materialism and development with-
out discussing mind based theories of development; this will
make our work unbalanced. This is also because we have dis-
cussed this elsewhere with daunting conclusion. Accordingly,
we shall sum up this by asserting that though the mind actively
plays fundamental roles in the course of development, it is
hardly agreeable that it does so independent of the influence of
the material conditions that surround its existence and opera-
tions. This does not mean that we subscribe to the materialistic
thesis that confers passivity to the mind in the process of de-
velopment. This means that presenting the self—its existence
and relevance—in collective material transformations of social
life, entails an end of an ontological mutism. This gravitates
towards a convincing commitment to a materialist ontology of
human subjectivity mingled with a humanist ontology of mate-
rialism. Thus seen, this envisions a dialectical unity between
inter-subjectivity processes as grounding the processes of de-
velopment. This brings out clearly the relevance of the tradi-
tionally mentalist constructs as the self as a fundamental
mechanism for enhancing the participation of humans to social
collaborative production of their lives. Thus, this expanded
view does not merely call for the abrogation of dualism be-
tween individual and social process, rather it suggests ways of
enhancing specific processes that make their dialectical unity
possible. This stipulates what the self actually is, its location, its
purposes and relation to society are. What’s more? This con-
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 227
ception brings out clearly the dialectical relations that exist
among all important phases of qualified system of social life
namely the general practice of material production, the social
intercourse among people (dialogism of social life) and the self.
Such agentive role of both individuals and social dimensions in
human development is expanded thus making development a
non reductive process (See Chukwuokolo, 2008: pp. 94-105).
It could be seen that the mind-based theorists of development
aver that instead of emphasizing such external-materialists fac-
tors, premium should be placed on the spiritual dimension of
man. Accordingly, development should emphasize such internal
factors as values. Albert Schweitzer (1961) for instance posits
that western civilization has reached its apogee in infrastruc-
tural development but is a disaster since it over-emphasizes
materialist dimension of man. It is evident today that mankind
is at the precipice of extinction via its break-throughs in science
and technology. In the area of nuclear technology, man has
manufactured arms of omnicide capacity. Mankind could be de-
stroyed in a second if any of such nuclear arms is used. Albert
Schweitzer (20) captures the implication of this when he asserts
that western civilization is a disaster for “it is far more devel-
oped materially than spiritually; its balance is disturbed.”
However, it is noteworthy to acknowledge that over emphasis
on the spiritual dimension of man is problematic as well. Our
contention is that man should develop all his aspects—spiritual
as well as material-equitably. This is what the clear directive
role of philosophy should be in the formulation of development
It follows therefore that since man is necessarily rational;
anything focusing on man must necessarily focus on the devel-
opment of his rationality. Thus seen, since philosophy is man-
kind’s greatest exercise of rationality it follows that the applica-
tion of rationality into development activities is the essential
role of philosophy to development. It is worthy of note that the
critical and evaluative role of philosophy to development spans
to the kind of knowledge available to a people in the course of
development. We have treated the epistemological import of
knowledge base to development earlier. But suffice it to say
that man’s rational application of his intelligence influences the
kind of knowledge base for him. This knowledge base in turn
either accelerates or slows down the rate of development in any
society. From the fore-going, it could be concluded that the
import, roles and values of philosophy to development can
never be over-emphasized.
We have seen so far that development theories have under-
girding them some implicit perception of human nature. This
holds the key to the understanding and application of such
theories. Our contention is that for development theories to
work effectively, the players must understand the need for the
evaluation of the theories of human nature that spur such theo-
ries and their suitability or otherwise for their value commit-
ments. This is where ideological base of development theories
are very relevant in the process of development. Societies
should therefore formulate or accept development theories that
they have evaluated their philosophical foundations. This will
enhance the proper understanding and application of such theo-
ries. This is because theories are like architectural designs:
unless one understands the design, one cannot build the house
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