Friday, December 09, 2005

Evolutionary Psychology Debate Rages

Citizen Cain did a lot of reading in Evolutionary Psychology a few years back, and found some of it intriguing, some of it persuasive, and some of it dubious. Evolutionary psychology seemed all the more persuasive because many of the critiques of it were shoddy and seemed to deliberately miss the point. I'm thinking specifically of Stephen Jay Gould, Hilary Rose, and Stephen Rose. It seemed to me that if that's the best the critics could do, then Ev Psych must have been on pretty solid ground.

But earlier this year, a new criticism of evolutionary psychology was published that was a cut above previous efforts. Adapting Minds : Evolutionary Psychology and the Persistent Quest for Human Nature, by David Buller, a philosopher of science, seemed fair, informed, and reasonable. And it seemed to undermine most of the more provocative claims of the Ev Psych researchers.

But now Ev Psych has come back swinging, with defenses by leading researchers against Buller's criticisms of EP findings related to social contract reasoning, jealosy, and the psychology of parental care. Citizen Cain hasn't had time to study the arguments and decide who's right. A synopsis of Buller's attack is here. Ev Psych godfathers Leda Cosmides and John Tooby have organized the counterattack here. A counter-counterattack from Buller is here. Comments would be appreciated from anyone who has taken the time to wade through these papers, or, for that matter, from anyone who has a strong, uninformed opinion.

POSTSCRIPT (12/11): La Citoyenne told me that on reading the last phrase of this post, requesting comments from those with strong uninformed opinions, that I had made a typo. Wrong. I made a joke. But only sort of, because I like comments, even if they're uninformed. At Citizen Cain the posts are always informed; the comments may or may not be.