Speaker Series

Spring 2022

  • Hannah Rubin
  • March 10, 2022
  • Hannah Rubin
  • University of Notre Dame
  • Promoting Diverse Collaborations
  • Philosophers of science and social scientists have argued that diverse perspectives, methods, and background assumptions are critical to the progress of science. One way to achieve such diversity is to ensure that a scientific community is made up of individuals from diverse personal backgrounds. In many scientific disciplines, though, minority groups are underrepresented. In some cases minority members further segregate into sub-fields, thus decreasing the effective diversity of research collabora- tions. In this paper, we employ agent-based, game theoretic models to investigate various types of initiatives aimed at improving the diversity of collaborative groups. This formal framework provides a platform to discuss the potential efficacy of these various proposals. As we point out, though, such proposals may have unintended negative consequences.

  • Roger Cook
  • March 21, 2022
  • Roger Cook
  • University of Missouri
  • What is Special about Language?: A Coevoluionary Perspective
  • Lecture Slides
    Manuscript Draft

  • Language is generally considered the faculty that more than any other sets the human off from all other species, including from other primates, with whom we share many cognitive and social traits. To account for this uniquely human capacity, some (most notably Noam Chomsky) posit a specialized biological system that enables humans to acquire and process language in a generative fashion. My analysis adds to the growing chorus of scholars who reject this idea of an inherited biological system dedicated to language or an innate ability such as a “language instinct.”

    In this talk I pursue two lines of inquiry. First, I analyze how language fits into to the uniquely human pattern of producing technology that alters the environment we inhabit and coevolves with us as our culture advances. In this section, I consider the role language played in the coevolutionary process involving enhanced speech and auditory organs, the expansion and neural reorganization of the brain, and the development of representational thinking. The second section posits a deep-seated, isomorphic relation between the organizing principle at work in living organisms and the one that informs the continuing evolution of language. I will argue that the medium of language is a prosthetic extension (in the sense proposed by Marshall McLuhan) of the organizing life force into the external world of culture. As such, it is the is the quintessential technological innovation that has propelled human evolution.

  • Simon Lohse
  • April 4, 2022
  • Simon Lohse
  • Radboud University
  • Pluralism and epistemic goals: why the social sciences will (probably) not be synthesized by evolutionary theory
  • In this talk, I will discuss Mesoudi et al.’s suggestion to synthesise the social sciences based on a theory of cultural evolution. In view of their proposal, I shall discuss two key questions. (I) Is a theory of cultural evolution a promising candidate to synthesise the social sciences? (II) What is the added value of evolutionary approaches for the social sciences? My aim is to highlight some hitherto underestimated challenges for transformative evolutionary approaches to the social sciences that come into view when one looks at these questions against the backdrop of actual scientific practice in the social sciences.

  • Denis Walsh
  • April 11, 2022
  • Denis Walsh
  • University of Toronto
  • Neo-Aristotelian human nature
  • Recent work in naturalised metaethics has sought to ground an account of human goodness in a conception of human flourishing borrowed from Aristotle. Human flourishing, on this view, consists in the successful pursuit of those faculties and activities that constitute our human nature. For its part, this conception of ‘human nature’ , it is claimed, is wholly natural, contiguous with the more general concept of an organismal nature. Unfortunately, most evolutionary biologists and philosophers of biology contend that this concept of an organismal nature has been thoroughly discredited. It is an atavistic throwback to a pre-evolutionary biology and has rightly been expunged from biology since the inception of the Modern Synthesis theory of evolution. Consequently, we cannot look to contemporary biology to naturalise neo-Aristotelian metaethics. I argue that the consensus view on human/organismal nature is mistaken. Contemporary evolutionary biology actually needs a concept of organismal nature, quite like Aristotle’s, if it is to explain the adaptive fit of organisms to their conditions of existence. Human nature is a specific instance of a generalised Aristotelian organismal nature. It isn’t so much that we need a Neo-Aristotelian concept of human nature; rather we need a Neo-Aristotelian evolutionary biology. With it, we get a naturalised concept of human nature for free.

  • Carol Ward
  • May 2, 2022
  • Carol Ward
  • University of Missouri
  • Reimagining Hominin Origins
  • Hominin origins was borne at least in part from climate change, with a global climate that was cooling and drying, leading to shrinking forests and expanding open lands in eastern Africa. We have long imagined our ancestors emerging from the forests, standing up from all fours, and striding out into the open in search of a new diversity of food sources and lifeways. Our understanding of exactly how this shaped hominin biology and evolution is changing thanks to the steady recovery of more fossil evidence that has been underway over the past several decades. I will review some of the insights inspired by these new fossils that suggest we need to rethink the origin and early evolution of the hominin lineage.