Re: Underestimating evolutionary psychology

From: Marc Geddes (
Date: Thu Jun 17 2004 - 21:59:06 MDT

--- Gordon Worley <> wrote: >

> To say that morality is `influenced' by evolution is
> like to say that a
> falling rock is `influenced' by gravity. It might
> be true, but it
> eliminates all explanation of what's going on. The
> only reason we can
> even talk about falling rocks is because of gravity.
> Similarly, the
> only reason we can talk about morality is because
> during evolutionary
> history a certain sense of desirability lead to
> greater reproductive
> success than no sense of desirable behavior. And
> the only reason we
> can talk about talking about morality is because an
> evolutionary
> adaptation at some point in human evolutionary
> history allowed humans
> to think about their own behavior and think about
> why some behaviors
> might be more desirable than others. Like
> everything with humans,
> evolution didn't just `influence' it; evolution made
> it possible!
> As far as environment `playing a role', it's well
> established that
> environment molds the behaviors of a particular
> organism *within* the
> framework of its evolved adaptations, so again,
> `playing a role' is
> understating things. In fact, I'd argue that there
> is no separation
> between environment and evolution---it's all
> evolution!

O.K, but I should point out here: To say that 'it's
all evolution!' might be true, but it eliminates all
explanation of what's going on. ;)

You may as well have said that 'it's all physics'.

> Again, I think your creating a nature/nurture
> division, but calling it
> evolution/environment. It's all the same story and
> there's little
> reason to pull it apart. The only place I see to
> meaningfully make a
> division is between ancestral environment (the EEA
> of a species) and
> the current environment as it may differ from the
> ancestral
> environment. If there's no difference, we have
> little to get excited
> about. If there is a difference, as is certainly
> the case with humans,
> then something interesting may happen, again as is
> the case with
> humans. But regardless of a difference between the
> environment now and
> then, evolutionary psychology is still able to
> provide a complete
> explanation because, remember, evolutionary
> psychology would otherwise
> be known just as psychology today if the Darwinian
> revolution had hit
> that field 50 years ago. Evolutionary psychology
> encompasses all of
> psychology, but from an evolutionary perspective.
> -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
> Gordon Worley
> Phone: 352-875-5808
> e-mail: PGP: 0xBBD3B003
> Web:

Sure, 'it's all evolution', why not just say 'it's all
physics'. The point is that we need different levels
of description for different purposes. For instance
The laws of physics won't tell us much about human
psychology even though in principle human psychology
could be entirely described in physics terms.
Different modes of description are needed at different

Here's an extract from my favourite book ever - 'The
Fabric of Reality':

'There is, for example, evolutionary morality, which
notes that many forms of behaviour which we explain
in moral terms, such as not committing murder, or not
cheating when we cooperate with other people, have
analogues in the behaviour of animals. And there is a
branch of evolutionary theory, sociology, that has had
some success in explaining animal behaviour. Many
people have been tempted to conclude that moral
explanations for human choices are just
window-dressing; that morality has no objective basis
at all, and that 'right' and 'wrong' are simply tags
we apply to our inborn urges to behave in one way
rather than another. Another version of the same
explanation replaces genes by memes, and claims that
moral terminology is just window-dressing for social
conditioning. However, none of these explanations
fits the facts. On the one hand, we do NOT tend to
explain inborn behaviour - say, epileptic fits - in
terms of moral choices; we have a notion of voluntary
and involuntary actions, and only the voluntary ones
have moral explanations. On the other hand, it is
hard to think of a single inborn behaviour - avoiding
pain, engaging in sex, eating or whatever - that human
beings have not under various circumstances chosen to
override for moral reasons. The same is true, even
more commonly, of socially conditioned behaviour.
Indeed, overriding both inborn and socially
conditioned behaviours is itself a characteristic
human behaviour. So is explaining such rebellions in
moral terms. None of these behaviours has any
analogue among animals; in none of these cases can
moral explanations be reinterpreted in genetic or
memetic terms. This is a fatal flaw of this entire
class of theories. Could there be a gene for
overriding genes when one feels like it? Social
conditioning that promotes rebellion? Perhaps, but
that still leaves the problem of HOW WE CHOOSE WHAT TO
DO INSTEAD, and of what we mean when we explain our
rebellion by claiming that we were simply right, and
that the behaviour prescribed by our genes or by our
society in this situation was simply evil.'

Short extract for private study (fair usage) from 'The
Fabric of Reality' (Pg 360, Penguin paperback)


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