Philosophical Foundations of Evolutionary Psychology, by August John Hoffman

Inver Hills & Metro State Community Garden
World events today can be discouraging, if not downright dismal. Splashed headlines within media (both traditional and social media) describe human violence, greed and antipathy as though these traits were somehow inevitable events in the course of human evolution. The truth is that human behaviors are a complex function of several variables – some of which have evolved through a long term, natural process (referred to as natural selection) but perhaps more importantly human behaviors are also influenced through environmental forces that can be shaped through our daily interactions with key figures and role models in our lives, such as our own kin and family members, teachers, educators and community leaders. Charles Darwin argued that “Biology is our destiny”, meaning that he felt our genetic constitution (i.e.., DNA) primarily determines human behavior providing humans with little capacity for making rational, free will decisions. But if that is the case, then perhaps we should also be focusing on the more positive traits and aptitudes that humans have displayed through our evolutionary history, including group cooperative behaviors (i.e., community gardens and fruit tree orchards), altruism, and prosocial behaviors.

In my recent text: “Philosophical Foundations of Evolutionary Psychology”, I combine three different processes that address human nature, biology and evolution. In the first argument (Part I), I provide a summary addressing how many of the classic Greek philosophers (i.e., Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and Demosthenes) attempt to describe the basic tenets of human nature, such as the duality of human nature, mind / body distinctions, truth, justice and virtue. Interestingly, many of these classic philosophers agree that all individuals within society are capable of displaying these ideal traits such as truth and virtue, but this process requires an in-depth, introspective self-analysis (i.e., “know thyself”). In other words, human behaviors (antisocial or prosocial) are neither exclusively biologically determined nor “learned” but rather initially discovered and gradually shaped through a process of insight and growth among small groups (clans) of individuals. Society and environmental experiences can help facilitate this process of self-growth and discovery.

On the Origin of Species
Part II of the text explores the influence of these early human schools of thought on the development of modern psychology. The psychological school of thought known as Structuralism begins with the exploration of human behavior from the internal model, exploring how concepts such as physical energy (light, sound, taste and touch) are recognized into states of consciousness from the physical structure of the mind itself. Shortly after Darwin’s publication of On the Origin of Species (1859), the world of psychology (along with other disciplines) was radically influenced in more of a scientific process regarding the explanations of human behaviors as well as the genesis of humans and the world itself. Natural events, genetic variation and “survival of the fittest” became popular areas of research and study with less influence (distraction) of traditional dogma (i.e., religion) in other modern branches of psychology, such as Behaviorism (the explicit study of overt and measurable behavior), Psychoanalysis (the study of the unconscious mind on human behavior), Humanistic psychology (the branch of psychology devoted to understanding human behaviors from a rational and free-will perspective), and Cognitive psychology (the branch of psychology that explores thinking and cognitive processes including memory, decision-making skills and conceptual processes). Most recently, Biopsychology and Evolutionary Psychology are the most current (and popular) disciplines in psychology that explain current or modern human behaviors as an important function of adaptive behaviors from a biological perspective and evolutionary past history. Aggression, for example, may still get many people today in trouble through a variety of different social and professional situations (i.e., verbal altercations over parking spaces, “road rage”, etc.) but at least early on in human evolution aggression served a clear purpose and role in human survival.

The third part of the text explores the complex relationship between the physical structures of communities and society with the development of cooperative behaviors and volunteerism. Humans are in fact social creatures – sometimes this is easy to forget when we become absorbed in our world of social media. Humans have evolved specifically with the need to engage with and inter-personally interact with others – we are genetically “hard wired” to live in an environment where we are predisposed to display a specific set of skills that hold important value to how communities and society can function. When individuals feel displaced, rejected or alienated from their own community they typically respond with frustration and aggression. Violence and aggression are a symptom of a much larger problem that requires communities and societies to evolve and change – providing opportunities for individuals to “connect” and display a vast array of traits and skills that can enhance the quality of living and social capital for all persons.

A note of thanks should go out to all of the staff at the St. Paul campus library. I have seen and experienced first-hand how helpful and courteous the staff is in the library for students and community residents. Many thanks go out to Chris Schafer (Dean), Michelle Filkins, Jennifer DeJonghe, Martha Hardy, Kat Arndt, Owen Hansen and Peter Aldahl. Whether your need is in locating a hard-to-find book, specific formatting information, literature reviews, critiques, monographs, etc., there is always someone in the library to help. Discovering the vast resources in the Metropolitan State Library is like discovering that your world really is at your fingertips.
August Hoffman
April 2015

One thought on “Philosophical Foundations of Evolutionary Psychology, by August John Hoffman

  1. Thanks for the shout out, August, and for all of your support for the library. We look forward to your book’s arrival in the library in December of 2015!


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