Beyond Biofatalism

Human Nature for an Evolving World

Gillian Barker

Columbia University Press

Beyond Biofatalism

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Pub Date: October 2015

ISBN: 9780231171885

176 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $35.00£27.95

Pub Date: October 2015

ISBN: 9780231540391

176 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $34.99£27.95

Beyond Biofatalism

Human Nature for an Evolving World

Gillian Barker

Columbia University Press

Beyond Biofatalism is a lively and penetrating response to the idea that evolutionary psychology reveals human beings to be incapable of building a more inclusive, cooperative, and egalitarian society. Considering the pressures of climate change, unsustainable population growth, increasing income inequality, and religious extremism, this attitude promises to stifle the creative action we require before we even try to meet these threats.

Beyond Biofatalism provides the perspective we need to understand that better societies are not only possible but actively enabled by human nature. Gillian Barker appreciates the methods and findings of evolutionary psychologists, but she considers their work against a broader background to show human nature is surprisingly open to social change. Like other organisms, we possess an active plasticity that allows us to respond dramatically to certain kinds of environmental variation, and we engage in niche construction, modifying our environment to affect others and ourselves. Barker uses related research in social psychology, developmental biology, ecology, and economics to reinforce this view of evolved human nature, and philosophical exploration to reveal its broader implications. The result is an encouraging foundation on which to build better approaches to social, political, and other institutional changes that could enhance our well-being and chances for survival.
Barker's focus on the conjunction of plasticity and stability, on viewing adaptations as a space of alternatively realizable equilibria between phenotypic distributions and environmental states, is as unique as it is insightful. Bruce Glymour, Kansas State University
Beyond Biofatalism is an indispensable antidote to dangerous complaisance about contemporary social institutions and unwarranted resignation about our powers to improve them, both fostered by a superficial Darwinism. All who are committed to employing Darwin's insights about adaptation to understanding and ameliorating social life need to read this book. Alex Rosenberg, Duke University
Deeply informed, cogently argued, and lucidly written, Beyond Biofatalism offers the most constructive discussion of evolutionary psychology currently available. If the evolutionary understanding of human thought and action is ever to fulfill its promise, it will be through absorbing Gillian Barker's wise counsel. Philip Kitcher, Columbia University
Had you read only popularizers of evolutionary psychology, you might be forgiven for thinking that the message about human potential from evolutionary theory is grim. Gillian Barker, in this succinct and well-written book, shows that specific empirical findings in evolution, social psychology, and behavioral ecology—evolutionary psychology writ large—suggest that human biology, as biology more generally, is open to more varied social futures than is commonly thought Helen Longino, Stanford University
Fascinating philosophical examination of the roots of human behavior. Library Journal
This well-crafted study clearly and concisely reinterprets the nature/nurture and facts/value debates. Choice
An original and provocative book evaluating the potential for evolutionary psychology to guide social policy. . . . Philosophers, please read this book. Metascience
A clear and insightful negotiation... Barker's critical endeavour is of great value for expanding the potential for dialogue between biological theory and political and ethical thought. Contemporary Political Theory
Preface
1. Human Nature and the Limits of Human Possibility
2. The Cost of Change
3. Thinking About Change and Stability in Living Systems
4. Lessons from Development, Ecology, and Evolutionary Biology
5. Human Possibilities
6. Valuing Change
7. Choosing Environments
8. What Is Feasible?
9. Evolutionary Psychology and Human Possibilities
Notes
References
Index

About the Author

Gillian Barker is assistant professor in the Rotman Institute of Philosophy at the University of Western Ontario. She has also taught at Indiana University, Simon Fraser University, and Bucknell University. She is the author, with Philip Kitcher, of Philosophy of Science: A New Introduction, and editor, with Eric Desjardins and Trevor Pearce, of Entangled Life: Organism and Environment in the Biological and Social Sciences.