E-psycho battles

July 21, 2000

I am dumbfounded Steven Rose has put his name to such a polemical piece on evolutionary psychology.

First, instead of quoting from a real proponent of EP, Rose puts forward his own definition: "EP offers to explain all aspects of human behaviour, and thence culture and society...". Such a claim would indeed be ludicrous, but then I do not know any serious person who has made it.

Second, he resorts to ad hominem attacks, blithely labelling people and their politics without discussing their ideas. And finally he drags in things that have nothing to do with the argument, for example: "Darwinian is a term used to explain the origin of the universe". What has that very doubtful claim got to do with psychology?

Let me quote Matt Ridley, whom Rose mentions as using EP to support his "rightwing authoritarianism", in his The Origins of Virtue (1997): "What makes human beings different is culture. Because of the human practice of passing on traditions, customs, knowledge and beliefs by direct infection from one person to another, there is a whole new kind of evolution going on in human beings - a competition not between genetically different individuals or groups, but between culturally different individuals or groups. One person may thrive at the expense of another not because he has better genes, but because he knows or believes something of practical value."

Now there is much to be discussed in this, but just dismissing Ridley because of his alleged rightwing views is not worthy of a piece in The THES.

John Langrish

Manchester Metropolitan University

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