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

Mind and Evolutionary Explanation II: Darwinian Applications

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 and Chaired by: Matthew Ratcliffe

Wendy Hamblet, California State University, Stanislaus
"Mutilated/Mutilating Beings: What is Genetically Encoded?"
Many anthropologists link the rituals of mutilation, expulsion and sacrifice that were practiced pervasively throughout the early history of Western cultures to our current ways of being-in-the-world. This link implies that the violent history of the West may be creative reconfigurations of a certain "logic of domination" communicated in ancient rituals of purification by counter-cultural rejection. The new genetics raises the hope of the retrospective unfolding of the history of the species as it is encoded in our chromosomes. But this also means that the philosopher and the anthropologist must now turn to the scientist in order to discover and confront what is most deeply imbedded in human nature. The new genetics raises the hope that, if scientist, social scientist and philosopher can themselves form cooperative creative community, we may together be able to discover ways to intercede in our own most "natural" ways of being to reconfigure our behavioural tendencies.

Terence Sullivan, University of Utah
"Evolution: The Truth About Cinderella?"
Daly and Wilson claim that children living with one genetic parent and one stepparent are 40 times more likely to be physically abused and up to 100 times more likely to be killed than children living with two genetic parents. Further, they claim that such differential parental solicitude is the result of domain-specific psychological mechanisms that have been produced by natural selection as a means of bettering the fitness returns of parent's investment in their children. However, there are a number of problems with this evolutionary explanation which, in turn, indicate that evolutionary considerations alone are not sufficient to explain child-abuse.

Mark Russell, Virginia Tech
"Alcoholism and the Latest Quest"
Last year the Quarterly Review of Biology published an article touting a novel evolutionary account of human alcoholism based on "frugivory" in primate and hominid ancestry. (Frugivory refers to seeking out and feeding on fruit, which may be over-ripe and contain ethyl alcohol.) Evolutionary accounts of alcoholism are by no means new; alcoholism and a great many social problems have received constant attention in the last two centuries as phenomena with possible hereditary and genetic causes. But the approach known as "darwinian medicine" that underlies the frugivory hypothesis is a new development in the quest for evolutionary explanations of human (mis)behavior and disease. The present essay briefly reviews some aspects of the history of this quest with respect to alcoholism, explores the arguments presented in support of darwinian medicine, and turns finally to certain epistemological weaknesses in this latest attempt to construct an evolutionary explanation. I argue that certain of these weaknesses are substantial enough to threaten the wholesale viability of evolutionary accounts of human (mis)behaviors. While some philosophers of biology have recognized these weaknesses, they continue to go unnoticed by the proponents of darwinian medicine. Absent a strategy for addressing these weaknesses, the tale of frugivory and alcoholism is likely to become another "just-so" story, like so many previous attempts. However, there may be good reason to think that the weaknesses point to problems so deeply philosophical as to be irresolvable by any strategy available in our current framework of conceiving "genes" and "behaviors." Some ways of moving beyond this framework are discussed.

Part I: Methodology
Part III: The Limits of Evolutionary Explanations

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