Philosophical Studies

, Volume 172, Issue 4, pp 949–967 | Cite as

How (not) to bring psychology and biology together

  • Mark Fedyk


Evolutionary psychologists often try to “bring together” biology and psychology by making predictions about what specific psychological mechanisms exist from theories about what patterns of behaviour would have been adaptive in the EEA for humans. This paper shows that one of the deepest methodological generalities in evolutionary biology—that proximate explanations and ultimate explanations stand in a many-to-many relation—entails that this inferential strategy is unsound. Ultimate explanations almost never entail the truth of any particular proximate hypothesis. But of course it does not follow that there are no other ways of “bringing together” biology and psychology. Accordingly, this paper explores one other strategy for doing just that, the pursuit of a very specific kind of consilience. However, I argue that inferences reflecting the pursuit of this kind of consilience with the best available theories in contemporary evolutionary biology indicate that psychologists should have a preference for explanations of adaptive behavior in humans that refer to learning and other similarly malleable psychological mechanisms—and not modules or instincts or any other kind of relatively innate and relatively non-malleable psychological mechanism.


Evolutionary perspective Ultimate explanations Proximate explanations Consilience Evolutionary psychology 



Thanks to the following for their helpful comments, criticisms, questions, and in one particular case, for several very good ideas too: Amy Allcock, Richard Boyd, Barbara Koslowski, Jane Dryden, Kate Cober, Robbie Moser, Roopen Majithia, Tamar Kushnir, and several anonymous referees.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyMount Allison UniversitySackvilleCanada

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