Philosophical Explorations (2008)
There has been much controversy over whether the claims of evolutionary psychologists, if true, imply that we humans are significantly less free than has traditionally been thought. This in turn gives rise to the concern that excuses are being given to philanderers and other ne’er-do-wells for their behaviour. Evolutionary psychologists themselves often respond to this concern by claiming that it presupposes that they believe in genetic determinism, which they do not. Philosophers, such as Janet Radcliffe Richards in Human Nature after Darwin, respond by appealing to compatibilist accounts of free will. The thought is that whether or not our behaviour is caused by evolved mental mechanisms, has no bearing on whether or not it is free. The present paper takes issue with this use of compatibilist arguments. Compatibilist accounts of free will do not just say that an action can be determined and still free; they also distinguish between situations where we are free and ones where we are not. The latter includes not just situations of external coercion, but also situations where there are internal obstacles such as compulsion, addiction or self-deception. While not attempting to outline a full account of what it is to be free, this paper will outline one set of conditions which are sufficient for our freedom to be said to be restricted – conditions which are shared by situations of addiction, self-deception, etc. But a central pillar of evolutionary psychology is that the mind consists wholly or largely of modules whose operation is mandatory. The outputs of these modules are often characterised as desires or goals. It will be argued that this implies internal obstacles to free will that are relevantly similar to the obstacles of addiction, self-deception, etc. It is ultimately a scientific question, and hence outside the scope of this paper, whether the relevant evolutionary-psychological claims are true or not. However, they are central to the discipline, and this paper will argue that if they are true that has negative consequences for how free we are. Hence, the view that evolutionary psychology implies that we are less free than has traditionally been thought is not without foundation.
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