Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


32nd Annual Convention; Atlanta, GA; 2006

Event Details

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Symposium #132
Biology As Destiny: The Moral, Evidential, and Conceptual Shortcomings of Evolutionary Psychology
Sunday, May 28, 2006
10:30 AM–11:50 AM
Area: TPC; Domain: Theory
Chair: Ted Schoneberger (Stanislaus County Office of Education, Modesto, CA)
Discussant: Ted Schoneberger (Stanislaus County Office of Education, Modesto, CA)
Abstract: In The Mismeasure of Man, Gould (1981) defined "biological determinism" as the doctrine that "holds that shared behavioral norms, and the social and economic differences between groups . . . arise from inherited, inborn distinctions" (p. 52). A current, popular version of this doctrine is evolutionary psychology. Phillip Kitcher (1985) has criticized evolutionary psychology for offering insufficiently supported hypotheses which tend to fortify antecedently held, tradition-bound prejudices. In response, Janet Radcliffe Richards (2000) has examined Kitcher's arguments which she interprets as "left-leaning" and found them wanting. The first paper in this symposium examines how Richards' arguments fare. Steven Pinker has argued that intellectuals in our culture hold a theory of Blank Slate theory of human nature which denies that the human mind has an inherent structure. The second paper argues that the Blank Slate theory is a straw person, that there is a modern denial (or ignorance) of learning (not inheritance), and offers supporting evidence against evolutionary psychology. Finally, the third paper argues against the traditional nature/nurture dichotomy by providing a clearer conceptualization of environment at two levels of analysis, as well as examples of complex gene/environment interactions with respect to physical traits and behavior.
Logic, Method, and Morals in Evolutionary Psychology.
STUART SILVERS (Clemson University)
Abstract: Few disputes in science have exhibited such virulence and personal vilification as that generated by evolutionary psychology, nee sociobiology. Downright repugnance has marked some exchanges in the debate. The provocation is in the explicit claim that evolutionary psychology constitutes a scientific account of the intuitive concept of an innate human nature that, its critics argue, threatens to undermine other intuitive concepts of human well-being. Critics claim that by emphasizing evidence of natural inequalities, evolutionary psychology implies consequences that give aid and comfort to "right-wing" social agendas. Advocates reply that there is nothing in the theory which validates the purported unwelcome implications for the ideals of human well-being and that such objections are motivated by "left-wing" egalitarian ideologies presupposing the cogency of the Tabula Rasa concept. Philip Kitcher's (1982, 1985, and 2001) sustained, trenchant critique of the methodology and cultural reactions to evolutionary psychology has gone largely unanswered. Janet Radcliffe Richards (2000) has examined in detail Kitcher's methodological arguments which she interprets as "left-leaning" and found them wanting. This paper is about how her arguments fare.
Not So Fast Mr. Pinker: Making The Case for Human Nurture.
MATTHEW P. NORMAND (Florida Institute of Technology), Henry D. Schlinger (California State University, Los Angeles)
Abstract: Steven Pinker has argued that 1) the prevailing "theory of human nature" held by intellectuals in our culture is "the idea that the human mind has no inherent structure and can be inscribed at will by society or ourselves"--the so-called Blank Slate theory; 2) there is a corresponding denial of human nature; and 3) modern cognitive neuroscience and evolutionry psychology together are convincingly challenging the Blank Slate position. In the paper, we 1) describe this Blank Slate position as straw person; 2)argue that there is a modern denial (or ignorance) of learning, not inheritance; and then 3) describe some of the evidence against an evolutionary psychology account of human nature and in favor of a learning account, acknowledging that the development of behavior always results from the constant interaction between genes (evolution) and environment (learning).
Why Nature vs. Nurture Should Just Go Away.
MATTHEW P. NORMAND (Florida Institute of Technology)
Abstract: Nature or nurture? Most modern theorists stress the importance of both nature and nurture, preferring instead to question how much of a role each plays in the development of any given trait (physical or behavioral) rather than to question which is reponsible for a specific trait or which is responsible for traits in general. Although seemingly prudent, such a line of inquiry is as flawed as an either/or conceptualization of the debate. The present paper will discuss why this is so by 1) providing a clearer conceptualization of "environment" at two levels of analysis (macro-level and micro-level), 2) providing examples of the complex interaction of the environment and genes with respect to various physical traits, and 3) providing examples of the interaction of genes and the environment with respect to behavior.



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