Biology and Philosophy

, Volume 20, Issue 2–3, pp 271–289 | Cite as

Killing Babies: Hrdy on the Evolution of Infanticide



Sarah Hrdy argues that women (1) possess a reproductive behavioral strategy including infanticide, (2) that this strategy is an adaptation and (3) arose as a response to stresses mothers faced with the agrarian revolution. I argue that while psychopathological and cultural evolutionary accounts for Hrdy's data fail, her suggested psychological architecture for the strategy suggests that the behavior she describes is really only the consequence of the operation of practical reasoning mechanism(s) – and consequently there is no reproductive strategy including infanticide as such, nor could the alleged strategy be sufficiently mosaic to count as an adaptation. What might count as an adaptation is a ‘window’ before bonding that permits practical reasoning about the reproductive value of infants and hence variable maternal investment, and which, contra (3) arose early in hominid history due to a combination of increases in infant dependency and increased human abilities for conditional practical reasoning.


Cultural evolution Infanticide Psychological adaptations Sarah Hrdy Sociobiology 


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Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Deptartment of PhilosophyDartmouth CollegeHanoverUSA

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