Elucidations: Prev Next

What do they study

  • Study of traits shaped by natural selection
  • No formal distinction from evolutionary biology
  • Example psychological traits/behaviors: jealousy, homicide, male promiscuity
  • What was its evolutionary function of jealousy? (studied by Bus)
    • Mate-guarding behavior. If you spend lots of resources/time on offspring, you want to make sure they’re yours.
    • Observed in primates standing in front of their mates and chasing off all other suitors
  • How to validate this hypothesis?
    • There are two claims to be tested empircally :
      1. The existance of jealous mental states caused people to leave more offspring
      2. Those offspring inherited the tendency to have jealous mental states


Couldn’t you just make up a narrative for any trait?

  • It is fair to accuse EP of making ‘just so’ plausible stories.
  • Though unfair to say there is anything wrong with that, even if it can be used to justify any conclusion.
  • Hypotheses (in general) have this feature as well.
    • We could’ve come up with a hypothesis for why the sky is black.
  • EP has been unfairly criticized for ‘just so’ stories when they are widespread in science.
  • However need to be careful to resist seduction of hearing a ‘just so’ story and think that the hypothesis is confirmed.
  • Admits that EP are more likely to succumb to this seduction over other fields
  • The narrative ought just the beginning of a research programme to verify it.

Difficulties of research

  • Can’t do tests on humans (ethical reasons, lifespan too long to measure reproductive success)
  • Mental states do not leave fossils
  • Need to make claims about proto-humans.

Relevance to philosophy

  • There is tendancy of (moral/political/mind) philosphers to bring in evolution as a skyhook for their theories
  • It’s not usually a core argument, but it’s used as support
  • They usually not good support because EP is almost never empirical
  • Furthermore, lots of evidence of evolutionary selected features that are selected for ‘arbitrary’ reasons, unrelated to flourishing
    • E.g. female preferring mate to have a particular spot pattern/chirp just
      due to ‘how they’re wired’ / randomness
    • So evolutionary fitness of a moral trait is not a good supporting argument by itself