Papers
on
Evolution
and
Philosophy

Browse online, or download to read at your leisure!

These articles are listed in the order I wrote them, which not only provides a chronicle of my developing ideas, but provides the reader who is new to these ideas with the "softest" entry. Others who are already impressed with evolutionary psychology would probably benefit most by browsing the list of articles and beginning with one that matches their personal interests most closely.


The first two papers were written while I served as editor of the Mensa Bulletin. My success with them ultimately led me to decide on a career in philosophy.

The Article Survival of the Whichest?
Toward an Evolutionary Philosophy for the 21st Century
This article first appeared in the April 1988 issue of the Mensa Bulletin, the magazine of American Mensa, the "high-IQ" society. It was quickly reprinted in Mensa Canada Communications.

"Although I'm not known for hyperbole, I must say that I find little to fault in your entire article. I just wish my own outlook were so articulate. Your mention of metaphysics may change my view on that.... I'd not thought of the subject as being 'our collection of mental models'." --Warren Allen Smith, board member of the Bertrand Russell Society and former book review editor for The Humanist.

The Monograph Evolutionary Foundations for Philosophy
This booklet was prepared for a special two-day "ethics track" at the 1989 Annual Gathering (national convention) of American Mensa, where the author served as a panelist. [If, after reading this, you want your own printed copy, just send $3.00 to: Kent Van Cleave (EFP), RR4 Box 287, Spencer, IN 47460.]


This will be more challenging reading -- both because of its academic style and because of its length. It includes my best account of why humans have been systematically mistaken (for good reason, though) in their conception of value as a subjective matter of judgment. Then there's the claim that a physical property deserves to be called "objective value." Radical! And there's plenty more....

The Thesis The Failure of Gibbard's Norm-Expressivism
A Functionalist Explanation
Allan Gibbard wrote a modern classic of philosophy called Wise Choices, Apt Feelings, in which he attempted to use evolutionary theory to shed some light on the normative practices of humans -- particularly their moral ones. My reaction: right project, wrong approach.

My rebuttal required more space than is usual for a Master's thesis, and was much more ambitious. The extra work, though, was worth it. Not only could I provide the foundations for a naturalized ethics, but I explained along the way why our normal conceptions of value, judgment, and self are quite mistaken -- thanks to Evolution's emphasis of survival and reproduction over truth!


This paper is the best overall account of my own philosophy. It really serves as a companion piece to my Master's thesis; where the thesis is primarily a critique of a view with which I disagree, this paper is primarily about the radical view I'm advancing. Here is real meat for the serious philosopher.

Metaethical Functionalism
An Alternative to Gibbard's Norm-Expressivism
This important paper comes primarily from material that needed to be trimmed from early drafts of my Master's thesis because of its length. But it's no "tag-along" work; instead, it offers a detailed account of some very controversial claims and their justifications. Most importantly, it includes an abstract, metatheoretical analysis of the essential nature of life, objects, and evolution (along with its two well-known components, variation and natural selection). Its crown jewel is the exposition of the concept of valence, which I (immodestly) think provides a major clarification long needed in the philosophy of science.


Here is a piece that offers a bit of a philosophical foundation for the ideas in my thesis. I strongly recommend reading it first. I also recommend it as a good indicator for the reader of whether she will be able to stomach my philosophy. If you can't stand the perspective expressed here, you won't like much of anything I've done.

Metaphysical Functionalism
Evolutionary and Developmental Prerequisites for Philosophy
This paper began life as an appendix to my Master's thesis, but wound up on the cutting room floor. It's a functionalist view of how our ideas, beliefs, and words relate to the physical world -- and how that came to pass through evolution. Every philosopher has a metaphysics before she's out of diapers -- and, all too often, such early core beliefs go unchallenged to one's grave!


The next few papers below were written as I pursued my Master's degree. They range over quite a number of subjects (decision theory, philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, and philosophy of law), and each one (I think) offers a potentially valuable solution to some persistent problem in philosophy.

Newcomb's Problem
This famous puzzle still has philosophers battling over two conflicting solutions. Which side will you take? After you try the problem, see if you agree with my controversial functionalist analysis.

The Demotion of Consciousness: From HOTs to BRRs
Here I rebut David Rosenthal's famous view that consciousness depends on "higher-order thoughts" (HOTs). Developing ideas from Daniel Dennett and Nicholas Humphrey, I argue that consciousness results from basically reflex reverberations (BRRs -- isn't that cute!) in portions of the nervous system. Not for the faint of heart, this paper could turn your world upside-down.

Names -- Not (Just) to Mention Things
Social Indexing, Implicit Mentioning, and Problems of Reference
"A rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet." But would it be a rose, then? If Lois Lane believes that Superman can fly, and Superman is Clark Kent, then doesn't Lois believe that Clark Kent can fly? Names can get us in a world of trouble, and philosophers have been puzzling over troublesome cases for decades. Do names primarily denote -- point something out -- as Russell stressed, or do they equally (or even more importantly) connote -- carry a semantic sense or meaning -- as Frege thought? Enter the debate, and then see if you think I've solved the problem!

Making Sense of Eugenics
Biological and Philosophical Insights for Law and Social Policy
If ever there was a "hot button" for Western Civilization, the concept of eugenics is it. The so-called "Social Darwinism" of the early 20th Century, practiced not only in Germany but in England, the U.S. -- even parts of South America, is looked back upon as a textbook illustration of evil. But it would appear that Mother Nature's own highly successful program of eugenics (after all, just a method of progressive improvement in the fitness of a species) happily produced us! How were her beneficial methods of selection better than the human methods that we despise today? Learn here about the nature of eugenics, its history, its myths, and its possible future. Note to researchers: includes a stellar compilation of references!

This next offering is (so far) the only exclusively political work I've placed on this website. Though I believe the evolutionary themes guiding the development of my philosophy will also ultimately be shown to imply that a libertarian political framework is optimum for humankind, the real arguments await development. This paper will be most useful for those who already distrust government power and are wavering between taking a libertarian position (advocating a government limited to protecting individual rights) or an anarchist position (denying that government can ever be morally legitimate and/or socially or economically useful).

Minarchy: A Functionalist Argument for Limited Government
This is a rather informal, but perhaps ground-breaking look at the conflict between libertarianism and anarchy. The notion of "interminarchic reciprocity" may just be the thing to make libertarianism practical.

Finally, one shouldn't overlook the contents of my "Overview" page (available at any time via its own button on the menu). It includes my most recent writing, and it's a rather gentle approach to this psychologically challenging world view. For a look into the ramifications of my metaphysical functionalism as applied to the various branches of philosophy not covered in my other papers -- a lot of them being developed right now -- this is the place to go.

An Overview of the Philosophy
Designed to be entertaining as well as informative and provocative, this is actually a collection of papers -- a sequence consisting of consecutive parts of the overview itself, but also a number of "detours" into related topics. This is the fastest evolving part of the Evolution and Philosophy website.