On the significance of William James to a contemporary doctrine of evolutionary psychology

Human Studies 30 (4):357 - 375 (2007)
Academic popularizers of the new field of evolutionary psychology make notable appeals to William James to bolster their doctrine. In particular, they cite James’ remark that humans have all the “impulses” animals do and many more besides to shore up their claim that people’s “instincts” account for their flexibility. This essay argues that these scholars misinterpret James on the instincts. Consciousness (which they find inscrutable) explains cognitive flexibility for James. The evolutionary psychologists’ appeal to James is, therefore, unwarranted and, given the conditions relevant to the public and professional audiences they address, also ineffective as a rhetorical tool for enlisting new recruits.
Keywords Evolutionary psychology  William James  Instincts  Consciousness  Cognitive flexibility
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