Biological thinking in evolutionary psychology: Rockbottom or quicksand?

Philosophical Psychology 11 (2):183 – 205 (1998)
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Abstract

Evolutionary psychology is put forward by its defenders as an extension of evolutionary biology, bringing psychology within the integrated causal chain of the hard sciences. It is extolled as a new paradigm for integrating psychology with the rest of science. We argue that such claims misrepresent the methods and explanations of evolutionary biology, and present a distorted view of the consequences that might be drawn from evolutionary biology for views of human nature. General theses about adaptation in biology are empty schemata, not laws of nature allowing the subsumption of mind under biology. Functional thinking is an indispensable tool for psychology, mostly of value in abstractive unification and as a heuristic, but it gains little from association with evolutionary notions of selection. Thus, we argue, the cherished integrative causal model evaporates, and evolutionary phraseology serves no more than rhetorical purposes. Moreover, the universality of human nature and the evolutionary irrelevance of individual variation are presented as biological truths that psychologists should respect in their approach to mind. On closer inspection, this turns out to be rather dubious biology. Psychology might conceivably be better off as a continuation of biology by different means, but evolutionary psychology does not provide the conceptual integration leading to such a happy union.

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