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A Philosopher Takes on Evolutionary Psychology

“Evolutionary psychological inferences commonly fail to satisfy reasonable epistemic criteria.” The failures are so significant that good evolutionary psychology may not be possible.  So argues Subrena Smith, a philosopher at the University of New Hampshire. Her paper, “Is Evolutionary Psychology Possible?“, was recently published in Biological Theory. In it, she argues that the popular research program of evolutionary psychology is methodologically unsound. Dr. Smith also wrote a shorter version of the argument that was published at The Evolution Institute. In it, she first presents a description of the aims of evolutionary psychology: The mandate of evolutionary psychology is to give true evolutionary explanations for contemporary human behavior. Evolutionary psychologists believe that many of our behaviors in the present are caused by psychological mechanisms that operate today as they did in the past. Each mechanism was selected for its specific fitness-enhancing effects, and each of them is responsive only to the kinds of inputs for which it is an adaptation. To achieve the aims of evolutionary psychology, researchers “need to show that particular kinds of behavior are underwritten by particular mechanisms.” More specifically, evolutionary psychology confronts what Dr. Smith calls “the matching problem”: For a present-day psychological trait to be related to an ancestral psychological trait in the way that evolutionary [More]

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