Adaptationism and adaptive thinking in evolutionary psychology

Philosophical Psychology 25 (2):245-277 (2012)
Abstract
Evolutionary psychologists attempt to infer our evolved psychology from the selection pressures present in our ancestral environments. Their use of this inference strategy?often called ?adaptive thinking??is thought to be justified by way of appeal to a rather modest form of adaptationism, according to which the mind's adaptive complexity reveals it to be a product of selection. I argue, on the contrary, that the mind's being an adaptation is only a necessary and not a sufficient condition for the validity of adaptive thinking, and that evolutionary psychology's predictive project is in fact committed to an extremely strong and highly implausible form of adaptationism. According to this ?strong adaptationism,? the macroevolutionary trajectory of a population is determined by, and therefore predictable on the basis of, the selection pressures acting upon it. Not only is this form of adaptationism prima facie highly implausible, it requires making a number of naïve and likely false assumptions concerning the nature of heritable phenotypic variation in natural populations. In particular, it assumes that phenotypic variation is inevitably small in its extent, unbiased in its direction, and copious in its quantity. Because it is unlikely that these conditions obtain as a general rule, and even more unlikely that they obtained in early human populations, I conclude that there is little reason to believe that adaptive thinking can be used to infer the current structure of our minds from evidence of past selection pressures
Keywords evolutionary psychology  adaptationism  modularity
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Paul E. Griffiths (1996). The Historical Turn in the Study of Adaptation. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 47 (4):511-532.
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