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Evolutionary psychology: theoretical and methodological foundations

Goldfinch, Andrew (2012) Evolutionary psychology: theoretical and methodological foundations. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Of all the research programmes in the evolutionary behavioural sciences, evolutionary psychology is unique in the scale and intensity of criticism it faces, from both philosophers and social scientists, forming a powerful impression that, no matter its purported benefits, evolutionary psychology is a discredited research programme, an outdated research programme, something one can legitimately dismiss. This thesis contends that those who dismiss evolutionary psychology wholesale fail to entitle themselves to that dismissal. I begin by championing a streamlined evolutionary psychology, one that navigates away from unnecessary controversy, one that better reflects the actual practice of evolutionary psychology on the ground, and one that doesn’t overshadow what’s valuable about the programme. After correcting several common misconceptions about evolutionary psychology, I arrive at the heart of what adaptationist hypothesizing can do for psychology: discovering new design features of extant psychological traits and discovering hitherto unknown psychological traits. I go through the logic of adaptationist reasoning in psychology. Inter alia, I argue that, although evolutionary psychology hypotheses might start off as ‘simple’, they can progressively become more complex, progressively mirroring the adaptations they’re targeting. Existing philosophy of science treatments of evolutionary psychology have given prominence to sceptical arguments, which means the positive presentation of evolutionary psychology has come rather short – something I seek to redress by demonstrating its potential for novel predictions across a wide spectrum of phenomena. It’s reasonable to demand greater evidence for evolutionary psychology explanations but it’s wrong to demand that evolutionary psychology alone satisfy such demands – these demands are properly allocated to the evolutionary and behavioural sciences collectively. With its legitimate and reasonable role in the evolutionary behavioural sciences correctly identified, evolutionary psychology merits serious consideration – contrary to the prevailing pessimism concerning its credibility.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2012 Andrew Goldfinch
Library of Congress subject classification: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Sets: Departments > Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method
Supervisor: Alexander, J McKenzie and Frigg, Roman

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