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Epistemological Foundations of Evolutionary Psychology

Epistemological Foundations of Evolutionary Psychology
(Husserl-Archiv Freiburg / Klinik für Allgemeine Psychiatrie, Univ. Heidelberg)
Projektleiter: Dr. Thiemo Breyer
Projektmitarbeiter: Christopher Gutland, M.A.
According to Evolutionary Psychology (EP), the brain is an organ whose modular capacities have been selected for because they provided advantages of survival in the course of evolution. Consciousness as well as cognitive, behavioural and social abilities are seen as the results of specific reactions to evolutionary pressures, which have shaped humans and their ancestors over millions of years: “Natural selection shapes domain-specific mechanisms so that their structure meshes with the evolutionarily stable features of their particular problem domains. Understanding the evolutionarily stable feature of problem domains – and what selection favored as a solution under ancestral conditions – illuminates the design of cognitive specializations.” (Cosmides and Tooby 1994) In the proposed research project and symposium Epistemological Foundations of Evolutionary Psychology, the philosophical premises and problems of this scientific paradigm shall be addressed in order to critically assess the status of EP in the contemporary interdisciplinary field of the cognitive and life sciences.
The fundamental ideas of EP were discussed already at the beginning of the 20th century. For a few decades, though, they were suppressed by the uprise of three more prominent paradigms: 1) behaviourism and its focus on ontogeny as opposed to phylogeny; 2) the Zeitgeist belief that the individual is essentially free and can achieve everything through her own powers; 3) cultural relativism and its assumption that culture is the only factor that shapes social groups and the minds of its members. Since the 1970/80s, however, the ideas of EP, coupled with the success of sociobiology (Wilson 1975), have become increasingly more important as a theoretical bridge between the natural, behavioural, social and cognitive sciences investigating human nature as well as a rich domain of empirical research (cf. the journal Evolutionary Psychology, established in 2003).
In light of this development, three bundles of theoretical issues concerning the rationality and validity of EP arguments shall be addressed in the project: 1. the relationship between the biological foundations of cognitive processes and subjectively experienced mental states; 2. the relationship between organism, brain and brain modules; 3. the relationship between the things EP tries to explain and the way it explains them.
Internationales Symposium am IWH Heidelberg:
“Epistemological Foundations of Evolutionary Psychology”
16.-17. März 2012


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