ISHPSSB 2001 || Quinnipiac University, July 18-22, 2001

Mind and Evolutionary Explanation I: Methodology

Philosophers and scientists are increasingly turning to evolutionary biology in order to formulate naturalistic accounts of human mental processes. For example, evolutionary psychologists, such as Cosmides and Tooby, claim that their programme can and will ultimately supply a "precise definition of human nature", which will take the form of a set of domain-specific, functionally individuated cognitive adaptations called 'modules'. Also influential in philosophical circles are teleological theories of representation (e.g. Millikan [1984, 1993], Papineau [1987, 1993]), which attempt to naturalise intentional states by appealing to a biological selectionist account of function. Whilst many philosophers are flocking towards a naturalistic, biological account of mind, others, such as Thomas Nagel, charge such approaches with 'scientism' and with taking for granted a naive, overly restricted conception of 'scientific objectivity'. The papers in these sessions set out to explore the limits of evolutionary approaches to human mentation: Do such approaches constitute an illuminating - or even comprehensive - window onto the mind? What are their methodological, epistemological and ontological limitations? What room do they leave open for alternative perspectives? In what ways, if any, are they misguided?

Organized by: Matthew Ratcliffe

Sally Ferguson, University of West Florida
"Methodology in Evolutionary Psychology"
Opinions divide over the question whether there is more than one distinct methodology in contemporary evolutionary psychology, and, if so, whether there is any significant difference between those methodologies in terms of their prospects. Some philosophical treatments of the issue maintain that there are two such methodologies, as do some evolutionary psychologists. Some of the philosophical treatments of these distinct methodologies insist that they differ dramatically in terms of their prospects, as each is vulnerable to different objections and to the same objections to different degrees, while evolutionary psychologists suggest their prospects are equivalent. Other accounts collapse the distinction altogether and take the approach that there is but one methodology in the field, subject to one set of objections. In this paper I examine this issue in detail, and argue that, not only are there distinct methodologies being practiced in this field, and not only do they differ in terms of their prospects, but indeed there are importantly different distinct sub-methodologies within those methodologies. Those sub-methodologies themselves differ in terms of the objections to which they are most vulnerable and in terms of their prospects.

Matthew Ratcliffe, University College Cork
"Cognitive Adaptation and Truth: A Sceptical View"
Teleological theories of mental representation, such as those proposed by Millikan and Papineau, seek to provide an evolutionary account of belief-forming processes which accommodates reliable, normative correspondence between beliefs and the world. Crucial to the success of these theories is the claim that survival-enhancing beliefs will, more often than not, be "true" beliefs. The connection between 'survival-enhancing' and 'true' has been challenged on empirical grounds by Stich, Plantinga and O'Hear amongst others. In this paper, I challenge it on conceptual grounds. I develop Lewontin's 'constructionist' perspective on biological adaptation in order to show that the concepts of 'adaptation' and 'function' that teleological theories rely upon are unable to support any tenable notion of 'truthful' correspondence between beliefs and the objective world. I conclude by claiming that current evolutionary accounts of intentional states inadvertently entail a very traditional form of epistemological scepticism. This substantially undermines their underlying rationale, which is precisely to circumvent familiar epistemological potholes through the adoption of a naturalistic, biological perspective. It also constitutes an epistemological challenge for evolutionary approaches to human cognition more generally construed.

Thomas Polger, University of Cincinnati
" Against the Argument from Functional Explanation"
There is an argument for functionalism-and ipso facto against identity theory-that can be sketched as follows: We are, or want to be, or should be dedicated to functional explanations in the sciences, or at least the special sciences. Therefore--according to the principle that what exists is what our ideal theories say exists--we are, or want to be, or should be committed to metaphysical functionalism. Let us call this the argument from functional explanation. I will try to reveal the motivation for making such an argument, and sketch the kind of response that should be made by critics of functionalism. The argument from functional explanation is particularly implausible if it is thought to lend support to versions of currently popular "teleological" functionalism.

Part II: Darwinian Applications
Part III: The Limits of Evolutionary Explanations

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