"Is" and "ought"See also: Evolutionary ethics
Part of the controversy has consisted in each side accusing the other of holding or supporting extreme political viewpoints: evolutionary psychology has often been accused of supporting right wing politics, whereas critics have been accused of being motivated by Marxist view points.
Many critics have alleged that evolutionary psychology and sociobiology are nothing more than political justifications for the "status quo." Evolutionary psychologists have been accused of conflating "is" and "ought", and evolutionary psychology has been used to argue against social change (because the way things are now has been evolved and adapted), and to argue against social justice (e.g. the argument that the rich are only rich because they've inherited greater abilities, so programs to raise the standards of the poor are doomed to fail).
In rebuttal, Glenn Wilson, a pioneer of EP, "promoting recognition of the true power and role of instincts is not the same as advocating the total abandonment of social restraint." Left-wing philosopher Peter Singer in his book A Darwinian Left has argued that the view of human nature provided by evolution is compatible with and should be incorporated into the ideological framework of the Left.
Evolutionary psychology critics have argued that researchers use their research to promote a right-wing agenda. Evolutionary psychologists conducted a 2007 study investigating the views of a sample of 168 United States PhD psychology students. The authors concluded that those who self-identified as adaptationists were much less conservative than the general population average. They also found no differences compared to non-adaptationist students and found non-adaptationists to express a preference for less strict and quantitative scientific methodology than adaptationists.
The book The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker responded to many of the moral and political criticisms. He also describes two logical fallacies:
- The naturalistic fallacy is the idea that what is found in nature is good. It was the basis for Social Darwinism, the belief that helping the poor and sick would get in the way of evolution, which depends on the survival of the fittest. Today, biologists denounce the Naturalistic Fallacy because they want to describe the natural world honestly, without people deriving morals about how we ought to behave -- as in: If birds and beasts engage in adultery, infanticide, cannibalism, it must be OK).
- The moralistic fallacy is that what is good is found in nature. It lies behind the bad science in nature-documentary voiceovers: lions are mercy-killers of the weak and sick, mice feel no pain when cats eat them, dung beetles recycle dung to benefit the ecosystem and so on. It also lies behind the romantic belief that humans cannot harbor desires to kill, rape, lie, or steal because that would be too depressing or reactionary.
Evolutionary psychology has been criticized by some feminists, such as Tang-Martinez, as justifying rape. Evolutionary psychologists McKibbin et al. argue that this is a fallacy in the same way it would be a fallacy to accuse the scientists doing research on the causes of cancer of justifying cancer. Instead, they argue that understanding the causes of rape may help create preventive measures.
For more discussion of these issues, see Confer, et al., (2010).
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