My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Ever controversial, one can’t help but see some appeal in evolutionary psychology, at least with respect to certain aspects of human behavior (e.g. mate selection, parenting, and certain questions of cooperation versus competition.) As a social scientist, I was often struck by how much social science theories were like zombies – you couldn’t kill them, but if you moved fast enough you could ignore them. Which is to say, even as evidence of incorrectness piled up, theories would be tweaked to seem more consistent with reality – slap a “neo-” prefix on the front end and insert a few choice rationalizations into the theory, carefully worded so as to avoid direct contradiction the original idea. But in Darwinian Evolution one has a well-validated, powerful theory that is so simple and elegant that it’s hard not to see its merits.
While not explicitly divided up this way, this book could be segmented into three parts. The first part presents background information about evolutionary biology and cognitive psychology, the “parents” of evolutionary psychology. The meaty middle of the book investigates the areas of human behavior and decision-making where evolutionary psychology makes its most compelling arguments – e.g. familial relations, dietary decisions, disgust, cooperation, altruism, etc. The final section explores some of the criticisms that have been leveled against evolutionary psychology. These critiques are restricted to three scholarly complaints about the discipline (i.e. Pan-adaptationism, Reductionism, and Genetic Determinism.) It doesn’t delve into the current popular criticisms of evolutionary psychology – e.g. that it seems to justify womanizing and “toxic masculinity.” However, the author does explain that the discipline only comments on the “is” part of the “is-ought” dichotomy – i.e. explaining the way things are shouldn’t be taken as endorsing them as the way things should be. [This explanation is made regarding the discipline’s earliest blackeye – i.e. being used to justify eugenics.]
I found this to be a thought-provoking overview of this intriguing – if controversial — branch of psychology.
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