Discovering the functional mesh: On the methods of evolutionary psychology

Abstract

The aim of this paper is to clarify and critically assess the methods of evolutionary psychology, and offer a sketch of an alternative methodology. My thesis is threefold. (1) The methods of inquiry unique to evolutionary psychology rest upon the claim that the discovery of theadaptive functions of ancestral psychological capacities leads to the discovery of thepsychological functions of those ancestral capacities. (2) But this claim is false; in fact, just the opposite is true. We first must discover the psychological functions of our psychological capacities in order to discover their adaptive functions. Hence the methods distinctive of evolutionary psychology are idle in our search for the mechanisms of the mind. (3) There are good reasons for preferring an alternative to the methods of evolutionary psychology, an alternative that aims to discover the functions of our psychological capacities by appeal to the concept of awhole psychology.

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Davies, P.S. Discovering the functional mesh: On the methods of evolutionary psychology. Mind Mach 6, 559–585 (1996). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00389659

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Key words

  • Evolutionary psychology
  • cognitive psychology
  • standard social science model
  • functional mesh
  • adaptive (evolutionary) functions
  • selection for
  • selection of
  • evolution by natural selection
  • evolution by random drift
  • computational theory
  • information-processing theory
  • neurological theory
  • information-processing tasks
  • psychological functions
  • how-possibly explanations
  • a whole psychology