Our Growing Timeline

The scholars and texts we've examined so far (and, in parentheses, figures and texts that we have not studied but who are important to the history of ideas we have discussed; or who are considered in other instances of this class) include:
Rene Descartes (1596-1650), The Meditations (1641).

(Charles Darwin (1809-1882) and his work Origin of the Species (1859).)

(Karl Marx (1818-1883).)

William James (1842-1910), "What is an Emotion?" (1884) and "Talks to Teachers" (1899).

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), Civilization and its Discontents (1930).

(Jean Piaget (1896-1980).)

(Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934).)

B. F. Skinner (1904-1990), Walden II (1948).

(E. O. Wilson (1929), Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (1975).)

John Alcock (????), The Triumph of Sociobiology (2003).





I'll share some guiding questions about The Triumph of Sociobiology on some of the first few chapters that we are reading, to get us started. While reading, try to answer these. I'll sprinkle in some thoughts and suggestions.

First, some terminology: Introduction and Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4



Some of the criticisms or concerns leveled at evolutionary psychology:
I'll mention four. The first three have been raised before frequently, and are addressed by Alcock. The last is my way of phrasing a slightly different form of criticism.
  1. E.P. relies upon just so stories. These are easy to fabricate and not falsifiable.
  2. E.P. assumes genetic determinism.
  3. E.P. defenders have never identified a gene for a behavior.
  4. E.P. defenders often confuse normative issues with factual ones.
Alcock does a good job, in my opinion (you're welcome to disagree) of at least addressing the first three criticisms. Regarding the first, however, there may be a matter of degree here. It could be that good evolutionary psychology method is possible, but also that some (many?) evolutionary psychologists are lazy and make up just so stories. Anecdotes would suggest that this sometimes happens.

Alcock addresses the claim that e.p. justifies bad behavior that is selected. He rightly points out that justification is different than description and causation. I do think that he lets e.p. off too easily, however. Most people find it hard not to confuse normative and descriptive issues. (We discussed this when we saw Skinner claim it was easy to identify the good life.) As a case in point, Wilson in his book Sociobiology claims that ethics should become a branch of biology. This shows a complete failure by Wilson to understand the difference between norms (shoulds) and descriptions (is's). Without a clear method to keep these matters straight, e.p. will often fall into such muddles.



A recommendation: you should consider reading Ernst Mayer's fine introduction to evolutionary theory, What Evolution Is (it's in Penfield at QH366.2 .M3933 2001) or better yet Dawkins's The Selfish Gene (in Penfield at QH437 .D38 1989 and also available as an ebook from Penfield).