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Where Biology Meets Psychology Philosophical Essays


A great deal of interest and excitement surround the interface between the philosophy of biology and the philosophy of psychology, yet the area is neither well defined nor well represented in mainstream philosophical publications. This book is perhaps the first to open a dialogue between the two disciplines. Its aim is to broaden the traditional subject matter of the philosophy of biology while informing the philosophy of psychology of relevant biological constraints and insights.The book is organized around six themes: functions and teleology, evolutionary psychology, innateness, philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, and parallels between philosophy of biology and philosophy of mind. Throughout, one finds overlapping areas of study, larger philosophical implications, and even larger conceptual ties. Woven through these connections are shared concerns about the status of semantics, scientific law, evolution and adaptation, and cognition in general.




where biology meets psychology philosophical essays



My research focuses on philosophical issues within and about evolutionary biology. Philosophically, my work focuses on several inter-related issues: reductionism, emergence, the unity of science, and explanatory pluralism. In addition, my research addresses important biological controversies, such as the units of selection, the "species problem", phylogeny reconstruction, and evolutionary psychology. Thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation, I spent the 1999-2000 academic year at the University of Chicago working with paleontologists.


Since the 1970s philosophical interest in the biological sciences has exploded. This course will provide an introduction to the major issues in biology addressed by philosophers (and by biologists interested in the conceptual and foundational issues concerning their field).


Wimsatt, W. C. (1999). Generativity, entrenchment, evolution, and innateness: Philosophy, evolutionary biology, and conceptual foundations of science. In V. G. Hardcastle (Ed.), Where biology meets psychology: Philosophical essays (pp. 139-179). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


Adaptation is the one biological concept that is central to mostdebates over evolutionary psychology. Every theoretical work onevolutionary psychology presents the research tradition as beingprimarily focused on psychological adaptations and goes on to give anaccount of what adaptations are (see e.g. Tooby and Cosmides 1992;Buss et al. 1998; Simpson and Campbell 2005; Tooby and Cosmides 2005).Much of the philosophical criticism of evolutionary psychologyaddresses its approach to adaptation or its form of adaptationism. Letus quickly review the basics from the perspective of philosophy ofbiology.


Many philosophers who work on moral psychology understand that theirtopic is empirically constrained. Philosophers take two mainapproaches to using empirical results in moral psychology. One is touse empirical results (and empirically based theories from psychology)to criticize philosophical accounts of moral psychology (see e.g.Doris 2002) and one is to generate (and, in the experimentalphilosophy tradition, to test) hypotheses about our moral psychology(see e.g. Nichols 2004). For those who think that some (or all) of ourmoral psychology is based in innate capacities, evolutionarypsychology is a good source of empirical results and empirically basedtheory. One account of the make-up of our moral psychology followsfrom the massive modularity account of the architecture of the mind.Our moral judgments are a product of domain specific psychologicalmodules that are adaptations and arose in our hominid forebears inresponse to contingencies in our (mostly) social environments. Thisposition is currently widely discussed by philosophers working inmoral psychology. An example of this discussion follows.


Aside from monitoring the expansion efforts of evolutionarypsychology, there are a number of other areas in which furtherphilosophical work on evolutionary psychology will be fruitful. Theexamples given above of work in moral psychology barely scratch thesurface of this rapidly developing field. There are huge numbers ofempirical hypotheses that bear on our conception of our moralpsychology that demand philosophical scrutiny. (Hauser 2006 includes asurvey of a wide range of such hypotheses.) Also, work on moralpsychology and the emotions can be drawn together via work onevolutionary psychology and related fields. Griffiths (1997) directedphilosophical attention to evolution and the emotions and this kind ofwork has been brought into closer contact with moral psychology byNichols (see e.g. his 2004). In philosophy of mind there is still muchthat can be done on the topic of modules. Work on integratingbiological and psychological concepts of modules is one avenue that isbeing pursued and could be fruitfully pursued further (see e.g.Barrett and Kurzban 2006; Carruthers 2006) and work on connectingbiology to psychology via genetics is another promising area (see e.g.Marcus 2004). In philosophy of science, I have no doubt that many morecriticisms of evolutionary psychology will be presented but arelatively underdeveloped area of philosophical research is on therelations among all of the various, theoretically different,approaches to the biology of human behavior (cf. Downes 2005;Griffiths 2008; and Brown et al. 2011). Evolutionary psychologistspresent their work alongside the work of behavioral ecologists,developmental psychobiologists and others (see e.g. Buss 2005; Buss2007) but do not adequately confront the theoretical difficulties thatface an integrated enterprise in the biology of human behavior.Finally, while debate rages between biologically influenced and othersocial scientists, most philosophers have not paid much attention topotential integration of evolutionary psychology into the broaderinterdisciplinary study of society and culture (but see Mallon andStich 2000 on evolutionary psychology and constructivism). Incontrast, feminist philosophers have paid attention to thisintegration issue as well as offered feminist critiques ofevolutionary psychology (see Fehr 2012, Meynell 2012 and the entry on feminist philosophy of biology). Gillian Barker (2015), shares some evolutionarily based criticisms ofevolutionary psychology with philosophers of biology discussed inSection 4. but also assesses evolutionary psychology in relation toother social sciences. She also adds a novel critical appraisal ofevolutionary psychology. She argues that, as currently practiced,evolutionary psychology is not a fruitful guide to social policyregarding human flourishing.


Cognitive and Brain Science (CBS) is an inherently interdisciplinary area, drawing on psychology, neuroscience, linguistics, philosophy of mind, computer science, and biology. A Cognitive and Brain Science degree provides an excellent preparation for careers in the sciences, computer fields, health professions, law, and education.


GROUP APsychology 80: Psychology of MusicPsychology 91/92: Research in PsychologyPsychology 103: Brain and BehaviorPsychology 112: Biological Basis of PsychopathologyPsychology 117: Autism and Neurodevelopmental DisordersPsychology 118: Topics in InfancyPsychology 121: Applying Cognition to EducationPsychology 122: Cognitive AgingPsychology 123: PsychopharmacologyPsychology 124: Cognition of Games People PlayPsychology 126: Origins of CognitionPsychology 127: Behavioral EndocrinologyPsychology 128: Nutrition and BehaviorPsychology 129: Cognitive NeurosciencePsychology 131: Neuropsychology of CognitionPsychology 139: Social CognitionPsychology 140: Mathematical PsychologyPsychology 142: Seminar in Affective NeurosciencePsychology 144: Memory and RetentionPsychology 145: Mental RepresentationPsychology 146: Comparative Cognition and BehaviorPsychology 147: MultitaskingPsychology 153: Cognitive Neuroscience of Language ProcessingPsychology 154: PsychosisPsychology 156: Long Term Memory ProcessesPsychology 157: Multisensory PerceptionPsychology 191/192: Independent Research in PsychologyPsychology 199: Senior Honors ThesisBiology 143: Neurobiology


In 1890 James published a highly influential, two-volume synthesis and summary of psychology, Principles of Psychology. The books were widely read in North America and Europe, gaining attention and praise from Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung in Vienna. James then moved away from experimental psychology to produce more philosophical works (he is credited as one of the founders of the school of American Pragmatism), although he continued to teach psychology until he retired from Harvard in 1907.


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