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The phylogeny fallacy and the ontogeny fallacy

Abstract

In 1990 Robert Lickliter and Thomas Berry identified the phylogeny fallacy, an empirically untenable dichotomy between proximate and evolutionary causation, which locates proximate causes in the decoding of ‘genetic programs’, and evolutionary causes in the historical events that shaped these programs. More recently, Lickliter and Hunter Honeycutt (Psychol Bull 129:819–835, 2003a) argued that Evolutionary Psychologists commit this fallacy, and they proposed an alternative research program for evolutionary psychology. For these authors the phylogeny fallacy is the proximate/evolutionary distinction itself, which they argue constitutes a misunderstanding of development, and its role in the evolutionary process. In this article I argue that the phylogeny fallacy should be relocated to an error of reasoning that this causal framework sustains: the conflation of proximate and evolutionary explanation. Having identified this empirically neutral form of the phylogeny fallacy, I identify its mirror image, the ontogeny fallacy. Through the lens of these fallacies I attempt to solve several outstanding problems in the debate that ensued from Lickliter and Honeycutt’s provocative article.

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Acknowledgments

I am deeply grateful to Paul Griffiths and Karola Stotz for reading and commenting on numerous drafts of this article. I would like to thank participants of the 2010 AAHPSSS conference and members of the Sydney University History and Philosophy of Biology group and the Sydney-ANU philosophy of biology group for their helpful feedback. I am also grateful to Pierrick Bourrat, Fiona Cowie, Ben Fraser, Maureen O’Malley, Karl Rollings, Kim Sterelny, John Wilkins, and an anonymous reviewer for their valued comments on this work. Special thanks to Frances Olive. This research was supported under Australian Research Council’s Discovery Projects funding scheme and an APA through the University of Sydney.

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Correspondence to Adam Hochman.

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Hochman, A. The phylogeny fallacy and the ontogeny fallacy. Biol Philos 28, 593–612 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10539-012-9325-3

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10539-012-9325-3

Keywords

  • Phylogeny fallacy
  • Ontogeny fallacy
  • Evolutionary psychology
  • DST
  • Genetic program