The phylogeny fallacy and the ontogeny fallacy

Biology and Philosophy 28 (4):593-612 (2013)
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In 1990 Robert Lickliter and Thomas Berry identified the phylogeny fallacy, an empirically untenable dichotomy between proximate and evolutionary causation, which locates proximate causes in the decoding of ‘ genetic programs’, and evolutionary causes in the historical events that shaped these programs. More recently, Lickliter and Hunter Honeycutt argued that Evolutionary Psychologists commit this fallacy, and they proposed an alternative research program for evolutionary psychology. For these authors the phylogeny fallacy is the proximate/evolutionary distinction itself, which they argue constitutes a misunderstanding of development, and its role in the evolutionary process. In this article I argue that the phylogeny fallacy should be relocated to an error of reasoning that this causal framework sustains: the conflation of proximate and evolutionary explanation. Having identified this empirically neutral form of the phylogeny fallacy, I identify its mirror image, the ontogeny fallacy. Through the lens of these fallacies I attempt to solve several outstanding problems in the debate that ensued from Lickliter and Honeycutt’s provocative article

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Adam Hochman
Macquarie University


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