International Society for History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology

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TUESDAY, JULY 7  /  09:00 - 10:30  /  DS-R510
Organized session / standard talks
Social and epistemic values in evolution (1)

Carla Fehr (University of Waterloo, Canada); Ingo Brigandt (University of Alberta, Canada)

The purpose of this two-part session is to both broaden and deepen philosophical discussions of social and epistemic values in evolutionary biology, with some of the papers specifically discussing evolutionary psychology. With this in mind we consider values in evolutionary biology from a wide range of philosophical perspectives. There are three philosophical themes that run though this session. The first theme looks at social and epistemic values in different stages of scientific knowledge production. Papers engaging this theme include discussions of the positive and negative roles of values in scientific practice ranging from the formation of research questions, to the development and implementation of scientific controls, and ultimately to theory choice. A second theme in this session involves the critical scrutiny of values in science. Papers exemplifying this second theme explore how social and epistemic values can be insulated from critical scrutiny. These accounts urge attention to the social structure of biological research communities and their place in the academy, as well as to differences in the ways that philosophical assumptions and methods pertain to different politically-valenced values. The final theme running through these papers involves analysis of the philosophical practices and methods that we use to characterize and evaluate scientific practice. This theme is exemplified in papers urging philosophers to integrate epistemic and ethical critiques of evolutionary psychology, as well considering strategies for maximizing the impact of philosophical critique on scientific practice. This session offers an exciting variety of perspectives on values in science and a rich depth of understanding of the ways that values are part of evolutionary biology.

Adaptationism in action: The logic of research questions

Elisabeth Lloyd (Indiana University, United States)

I contrast what I have borrowed from recent philosophers, and call a “methodological adaptationist” approach, to what I’ve dubbed the “evolutionary factors” approach. I argue that these different but equally familiar approaches ask significantly different research questions. In the former, the key research question is: “What is the function of this trait?” while in the latter, the guiding research question is: “what evolutionary factors account for the form and distribution of this trait?” I use a variety of case studies, including mine on the evolution of the female orgasm, to illustrate how the methodological adaptationist approach can lead scientists astray. Biases induced by methodological adaptationism have led biologists to fail to see the byproduct explanation as a distinct positive causal hypothesis, and as one that can have evidence in its favor. They therefore fail to compare the byproduct hypothesis against an adaptive one with regard to the evidence. Perhaps, then, it is past time to take Gould and Lewontin’s advice and reevaluate whether methodological adaptationism is truly as benign as it is commonly assumed, by biologists and philosophers alike, to be.

Evolutionary psychology: A positive project for the logic of research questions

Evan Arnet (Indiana University, United States)

The Logic of Research Questions is an analytic approach being developed by the philosopher Elisabeth Lloyd, which focuses on how the research questions being asked constrain the set of answers that are given serious consideration. Thus far, her focus has been on how an overly restrictive set of research questions a priori screens off answers meriting serious empirical consideration. Extending her project, I emphasize how there is no overarching set of good research questions but rather how appropriate research questions are contingent upon the target of interest and the information already known about it. I focus on evolutionary psychology, maintaining that because of the object of study, namely human behavior, a different set of research questions are motivated than that which guides similar evolutionary behavioral work for non-human animals. This is particularly salient, as if the methods developed for non-human animal behavior are uncritically imported into the human evolutionary behavioral sciences it can lead to a problematic epistemic bias toward adaptive explanations. Drawing from the logic of research questions and the evolutionary psychology literature, I sketch a possible account of what an evolutionary psychology-specific set research of questions might be with the aim of contributing to the development of a rigorous and unbiased evolutionary psychology.

A scientific theory’s purpose: Social values in theory acceptance

Ingo Brigandt (University of Alberta, Canada)

Philosophical accounts of the role of values in science have clearly acknowledged that values, including social and environmental values, may guide the choice of research projects, the gathering of data, and the eventual application of scientific knowledge. As regards the core of science -- the acceptance of theories by evidence -- it has also been argued that social and other values can play a legitimate role, based on either the notion of underdetermination or inductive risk. While both accounts assume that the role of values decreases when the amount of evidence increases, I argue for a stronger role of values in the context of theory acceptance. On this position, social, epistemic, and other values determine a theory’s conditions of adequacy. The latter are standards that can include considerations about what would make a scientific model explanatory, significant, or complete. I illustrate this based on recent theories of human evolution and the social behaviour of primates, arguing that the social value of gender equity informs what counts as a complete theory in this domain, even for a theory of non-human primates. Most philosophical accounts of the role of values, including arguments from underdetermination and from inductive risk, have conceptualized theory acceptance primarily in terms of making inferences from evidence. Beyond this, my approach views a scientific theory as a tool developed for certain intellectual or practical purposes. Such a purpose (in some cases implicating social values) determines not only what investigative methodology is to be used and what kind of data is to be gathered, as prior philosophical accounts on values have recognized. Such a purpose also entails what kind of theory is intended and thus what the theory’s conditions of adequacy are.