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

Mind and Evolutionary Explanation III: The Limits of Evolutionary Explanations

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

Brian Garvey, Trinity College Dublin
"Darwinian Aims and Freudian Motivations"
It is sometimes held that Darwinan arguments provide support for Freudian claims to the effect that humans have innate unconscious mental states. Christopher Badcock has developed this view at length, but it is also held by Edward O. Wilson, David Barash and Robert Trivers. In this paper, I take issue with this view. Among the traits involved are emotional ambivalence towards close kin and infant sexuality. I begin with one common phenomenon - a child's wanting to sleep in the same bed as its parents - as it might be explained in terms of evolutionary advantage, and in terms of Freudian unconscious motivations. In both explanations, the phenomenon is explained at least in part - by the child having an interest in preventing the arrival of new siblings, and thus increasing the amount of parental investment it is likely to receive. The temptation then is to say that the evolutionary goal is the object of an unconscious motivation. However, a behaviour that produces end x is not necessarily the same as a behaviour which is motivated by a desire even an unconscious one to bring about end x. Nor is a desire which produces behaviour which promotes end x, the same as a desire to promote end x. The whole point of Darwinian explanations is to eliminate any need to posit motivations even unconscious ones - on the part of the organism to bring about an evolutionarily advantageous result. To posit such motivations is to regress to the Lamarckian 'evolution by slow willing of animals'. It would also lead to the absurd conclusion we must attribute to every organism - including plants - unconscious desires to do all the things that promote their survival and reproduction. Finally, I consider the question of what it takes to attribute an unconscious motivation to someone.

Andrew Fenton, University of Calgary
"Knowing Me and Knowing Ewe: Towards Better Accommodating Nonhuman Knowledge"
In this paper I explore the possibility that contemporary analytic epistemology is speciesist. In addition to suggesting some ways in which they are guilty of this prejudice, I offer a defense of why epistemologists should avoid being speciesist. To facilitate the discussion I make a distinction between active and passive knowers. Unlike the passive variety, active knowers possess cognitive values which inform how they hierarchically order their noetic structures. Though most philosophers think of animals as passive knowers, primatologists and cognitive ethologists are offering a different picture.

Elizabeth Lloyd, Indiana University
"Why Do People Find Evolutionary Psychology So Compelling?"
There has been a recent boon in "evolutionary psychology". I shall discuss what is involved in this research program, its methods, and its differences with other evolutionary approaches to the mind. I shall then focus on the methodological and theoretical difficulties with evolutionary psychology, and explore the reasons that researchers have been so attracted to this research program. The attractions of evolutionary psychology are multiple, and include: simplicity, reductionism, lack of clear evidential guidelines, the ability to ignore difficult historical or archaeological problems, the lack of rigor compared to the comparative method, and the mandate to use oversimplified versions of evolutionary theory and views of the environment and culture. I end with a discussion of the prospects of improving evolutionary psychology.

Part I: Methodology
Part II: Darwinian Applications


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