An Introduction to Gramsci's Life and Thought

An Introduction to Gramsci's Life and Thought
Frank Rosengarten

Antonio Gramsci was born on January 22, 1891 in Ales in the province of Cagliari in Sardinia. He was the fourth of seven children born to Francesco Gramsci and Giuseppina Marcias. His relationship with his father was never very close, but he had a strong affection and love for his mother, whose resilience, gift for story-telling and pungent humor made a lasting impression on him. Of his six siblings, Antonio enjoyed a mutual interest in literature with his younger sister Teresina, and seems to have always felt a spiritual kinship with his two brothers, Gennaro, the oldest of the Gramsci children, and Carlo, the youngest. Gennaro's early embrace of socialism contributed significantly to Antonio's political development. 

In 1897, Antonio's father was suspended and subsequently arrested and imprisoned for five years for alleged administrative abuses. Shortly thereafter, Giuseppina and her children moved to Ghilarza, where Antonio attended elementary school. Sometime during these years of trial and near poverty, he fell from the arms of a servant, to which his family attributed his hunched back and stunted growth: he was an inch or two short of five feet in height. 

At the age of eleven, after completing elementary school, Antonio worked for two years in the tax office in Ghilarza, in order to help his financially strapped family. Because of the five-year absence of Francesco, these were years of bitter struggle. Nevertheless, he continued to study privately and eventually returned to school, where he was judged to be of superior intelligence, as indicated by excellent grades in all subjects. 

Antonio continued his education, first in Santu Lussurgiu, about ten miles from Ghilarza, then, after graduating from secondary school, at the Dettori Lyceum in Cagliari, where he shared a room with his brother Gennaro, and where he came into contact for the first time with organized sectors of the working class and with radical and socialist politics. But these were also years of privation, during which Antonio was partially dependent on his father for financial support, which came only rarely. In his letters to his family, he accused his father repeatedly of unpardonable procrastination and neglect. His health deteriorated, and some of the nervous symptoms that were to plague him at a later time were already in evidence. 

1911 was an important year in young Gramsci's life. After graduating from the Cagliari lyceum, he applied for and won a scholarship to the University of Turin, an award reserved for needy students from the provinces of the former Kingdom of Sardinia. Among the other young people to compete for this scholarship was Palmiro Togliatti, future general secretary of the Italian Communist Party (PCI) and, with Gramsci and several others, among the most capable leaders of that embattled Party. Antonio enrolled in the Faculty of Letters. At the University he met Angelo Tasca and several of the other men with whom he was to share struggles first in the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) and then, after the split that took place in January 1921, in the PCI. 

At the University, despite years of terrible suffering due to inadequate diet, unheated flats, and constant nervous exhaustion, Antonio took a variety of courses, mainly in the humanities but also in the social sciences and in linguistics, to which he was sufficiently attracted to contemplate academic specialization in that subject. Several of his professors, notably Matteo Bartoli, a linguist, and Umberto Cosmo, a Dante scholar, became personal friends. 

In 1915, despite great promise as an academic scholar, Gramsci became an active member of the PSI, and began a journalistic career that made him among the most feared critical voices in Italy at that time. His column in the Turin edition of Avanti!, and his theatre reviews were widely read and influential. He regularly spoke at workers' study-circles on various topics, such as the novels of Romain Rolland, for whom he felt a certain affinity, the Paris Commune, the French and Italian revolutions and the writings of Karl Marx. It was at this time, as the war dragged on and as Italian intervention became a bloody reality, Gramsci assumed a somewhat ambivalent stance, although his basic position was that the Italian socialists should use intervention as an occasion to turn Italian national sentiment in a revolutionary rather than a chauvinist direction. It was also at this time, in 1917 and 1918, that he began to see the need for integration of political and economic action with cultural work, which took form as a proletarian cultural association in Turin. 

The outbreak of the Bolshevik revolution in October 1917 further stirred his revolutionary ardor, and for the remainder of the war and in the years thereafter Gramsci identified himself closely, although not entirely uncritically, with the methods and aims of the Russian revolutionary leadership and with the cause of socialist transformation throughout the advanced capitalist world. 

In the spring of 1919, Gramsci, together with Angelo Tasca, Umberto Terracini and Togliatti, founded L'Ordine Nuovo: Rassegna Settimanale di Cultura Socialista (The New Order: A Weekly Review of Socialist Culture), which became an influential periodical (on a weekly and later on a bi-monthly publishing schedule) for the following five years among the radical and revolutionary Left in Italy. The review gave much attention to political and literary currents in Europe, the USSR, and the United States. 

For the next few years, Gramsci devoted most of his time to the development of the factory council movement, and to militant journalism, which led in January 1921 to his siding with the Communist minority within the PSI at the Party's Livorno Congress. He became a member of the PCI's central committee, but did not play a leading role until several years later. He was among the most prescient representatives of the Italian Left at the inception of the fascist movement, and on several occasions predicted that unless unified action were taken against the rise of Mussolini's movement, Italian democracy and Italian socialism would both suffer a disastrous defeat. 

The years 1921 to 1926, years "of iron and fire" as he called them, were eventful and productive. They were marked in particular by the year and a half he lived in Moscow as an Italian delegate to the Communist International (May 1922- November 1923), his election to the Chamber of Deputies in April 1924, and his assumption of the position of general secretary of the PCI. His personal life was also filled with significant experiences, the chief one being his meeting with and subsequent marriage to Julka Schucht (1896-1980), a violinist and member of the Russian Communist Party whom he met during his stay in Russia. Antonio and Julka had two sons, Delio (1924-1981), and Giuliano, born in 1926, who lives today in Moscow with his wife. 

On the evening of November 8, 1926, Gramsci was arrested in Rome and, in accordance with a series of "Exceptional Laws" enacted by the fascist-dominated Italian legislature, committed to solitary confinement at the Regina Coeli prison. This began a ten-year odyssey, marked by almost constant physical and psychic pain as a result of a prison experience that culminated, on April 27, 1937, in his death from a cerebral hemorrhage. No doubt the stroke that killed him was but the final outcome of years and years of illnesses that were never properly treated in prison. 

Yet as everyone familiar with the trajectory of Gramsci's life knows, these prison years were also rich with intellectual achievement, as recorded in the Notebooks he kept in his various cells that eventually saw the light after World War II, and as recorded also in the extraordinary letters he wrote from prison to friends and especially to family members, the most important of whom was not his wife Julka but rather a sister-in-law, Tania Schucht. She was the person most intimately and unceasingly involved in his prison life, since she had resided in Rome for many years and was in a position to provide him not only with a regular exchange of thoughts and feelings in letter form but with articles of clothing and with numerous foods and medicines he sorely needed to survive the grinding daily routine of prison life. 

After being sentenced on June 4, 1928, with other Italian Communist leaders, to 20 years, 4 months and 5 days in prison, Gramsci was consigned to a prison in Turi, in the province of Bari, which turned out to be his longest place of detention (June 1928 -- November 1933). Thereafter he was under police guard at a clinic in Formia, from which he was transferred in August 1935, always under guard, to the Quisisana Hospital in Rome. It was there that he spent the last two years of his life. Among the people, in addition to Tania, who helped him either by writing to him or by visiting him when possible, were his mother Giuseppina, who died in 1933, his brother Carlo, his sisters Teresina and Grazietta, and his good friend, the economist Piero Sraffa, who throughout Gramsci's prison ordeal provided a crucial and indispenable service to Gramsci. Sraffa used his personal funds and numerous professional contacts that were necessary in order to obtain the books and periodicals Gramsci needed in prison. Gramsci had a prodigious memory, but it is safe to say that without Sraffa's assistance, and without the intermediary role often played by Tania, the Prison Notebooks as we have them would not have come to fruition. 

Gramsci's intellectual work in prison did not emerge in the light of day until several years after World War II, when the PC began publishing scattered sections of the Notebooks and some of the approximately 500 letters he wrote from prison. By the 1950s, and then with increasing frequency and intensity, his prison writings attracted interest and critical commentary in a host of countries, not only in the West but in the so-called third world as well. Some of his terminology became household words on the left, the most important of which, and the most complex, is the term "hegemony" as he used it in his writings and applied to the twin task of understanding the reasons underlying both the successes and the failures of socialism on a global scale, and of elaborating a feasible program for the realization of a socialist vision within the really existing conditions that prevailed in the world. Among these conditions were the rise and triumph of fascism and the disarray on the left that had ensued as a result of that triumph. Also extremely pertinent, both theoretically and practically, were such terms and phrases as "organic intellectual," "national'popular," and "historical bloc" which, even if not coined by Gramsci, acquired such radically new and original implications in his writing as to constitute effectively new formulations in the realm of political philosophy. 


Theory & Science (2006) : ISSN: 1527-5558


Barbara Hanson 
York University* 

Revised version for Theory and Science . 

* Sociology-Atkinson, York University, 4700 Keele Street, North York, Ontario, M3J 1P3. Phone (416) 736-2100 x20469, Fax (416)350-3876, E-mail “”. Support for this project was received through Atkinson College Research Grants, York University Specific Grants and my visiting appointments at the Institute for Research on Women, Rutgers University, Department of Sociology, Princeton University. Thanks for helpful comments from three anonymous reviewers. 

Critiques of science in social theory are often based on a selective and dated view. In the extreme this has led to creation of the creation of an intellectual “other” that is based on what science is not rather than it is. Greater homogeneity is perceived in this other than actually exists. Basing rejections of science on what social scientists think it is, is an ultimately futile pursuit. This argument appears by looking at philosophy of science focused on the transition from Medieval to Enlightenment times in Europe. In so doing it becomes apparent that science has been a multiplex of epistemological stances, including constructivist and relational philosophies, as far back as classical times. Further, science has increased this diversity and the prominence of constructivist and relational views in the 20 th century. This questions the utility of selective views of science. In so doing it points out that recent critiques of science may be targeting an opposition that is more apparent than real.

It’s time to take another look at history and notions of science from the standpoint of social theory. Critique of science, anti-science, anti-positivism has expanded substantially since the 1960s and remains as a theme in current social analysis. This can be seen in feminism (Harding, 1986b), post modernism (Jones, 2003) (Lemert, 1997), social policy (Greenhalgh, 2003), philosophy (Latour, 1987; Rorty, 1991), literary theory (Poovey, 1998), critical theory (Karakayali, 2004), and sociology (Gartrell & Gartrell, 2002; Mjoset, 2003). A view of classical models of science and the dynamics of transformation from Medeival to Enlightenment Europe holds the potential to provide a more inclusive view of science than may have been considered to date. Key to this consideration is looking more closely at the social and political context of Classical and Medieval times to explain how and why a particular type of science became popular in Europe. 

To this end I propose to move the debate a few centuries earlier to argue that many common understandings of science are undermined by being too selective and insufficiently specific. This may seem contradictory on the surface since I am arguing that critiques are both too narrow and too broad. However, I chose the words deliberately to capture a paradox in stances that attempt to criticize science by taking up just one possible approach while at the same time lumping scientific ideas together that are worth considering separately. This reminds me of the notion of “other” that has come from studies of racialization. Those unlike oneself are seen in narrow terms that are more homogeneous than would be suggested by looking from inside a particular context. These terms tend to emphasize things thought to differentiate the “other” from the definer. This argument is supported by an author who points out problems with portrayals of scientific homogeneity (Pedynowski, 2003). Or, other work that points out problems with the way debates about use of natural science methods in sociology tend to focus on a “subjectivist critique” (Bourdieu, Chamboredon, & Passeron, 1991) . 

Key to a more inclusive view of science is looking at how elements of what is commonly understood to be science such as logic, nomotheism, and positivism arose in reaction to religious politics. This makes it possible to examine the historicism of ideas such as rationality and enlightenment (Brunkhorst, 2000). In so doing it is possible to see that many current views of science are unnecessarily narrow. Critiques that focus on the European Enlightenment often assume that science is directly equivalent to logical nomothetic positivism. Examining each of these three ideas in turn suggests an argument that they arose as a reaction, or antidote, to the religious domination in a particular social historical context. In so doing it is possible to see that the ideas are less polarizing that is often assumed. Indeed, they may be used by the critics of science themselves. 

Nomotheism, logic, and positivism, are often lumped together into a view of science, empiricism, or positivism. An example of this is seen in a recent article that assesses the state of use of positivism in American and British Sociology. Here the authors use a definition of positivism that comes from theory as “general law-like statements relating abstract concepts; nominal and operational definitions of terms; formal language such as logic or mathematics used to express laws; derivation of hypotheses; relations among variables; and statistical analysis” and relies on “observation” (Gartrell et al., 2002: p.640, p.644). This reflects how the idea may be used in current practice as an amalgam of nomotheism, logic, and positivism. 

However, the three elements of nomotheism, logic, and positivism can be usefully separated. To this end, I elaborate each element below Individual understanding in place, it is possible to consider why this particular set of epistemological stances emerged as a triumvirate in a particular social historical context, the European Enlightenment. Each of these stances fit the prevailing beliefs and practices in a place and time where religion, predominantly Christian/Catholic, dominated politics and many aspects of everyday life. 

Nomotheism is an element of epistemology which looks for laws that can be used to explain specific occurrences of observed phenomena. Examples of such laws that have been developed within this epistemology are: gravity, the rate at which objects fall to earth, the point at which water freezes or boils, and people become more liberal in their political attitudes as their levels of education increase. A notion of nomotheism, laws governing the universe, universal law seems a short step from a notion of one god permeating all aspects of the universe. God lives within everyone. Stick a pin in a balloon and it will burst. A notion of cause and effect cast in terms of laws or properties that tapped universal principles was fitting in times that were dominated by a notion of a single omniscient, all powerful God and this God’s universe. 

It may be that simple cause and effect and relationships have been sought throughout time. Indeed the appeal of such explanations may be at the heart of what consumers desire from medical intervention (Hanson, 2001); a magic bullet or pill to cure or prevent illness. However, in various times and contexts there may have been competing modes of explanation such as polytheistic religions that encompassed a wider range of metaphysical entities. Germane to the current argument would be the tendency for more complex notions of phenomena such as the relational theories of Pythagoras to be given less attention during the European Enlightenment. I argue that the social times in which theories emerge shape which theories become famous. For example the insights of Chinese medicine, naturopathy, and acupuncture have taken on popularity in North America relatively recently while the ideas that ground them have history going back farther than classical European scientific ideas. 

Over time various explorations suggested that universal law had to be qualified and contextualized. Water boils at different temperatures at different altitudes. Medication works differently for different people. Birth control education has different effects in different social groups. Universe has become more of a functional concept to refer to like happenings under like conditions, in context. Search for law or laws is seen more as a way to develop ideas that apply to given conditions, contexts, even if it is the sole instance of such conditions. This makes critiques of science or modernity based on singularity (Lemert, 1997) difficult to accept in the full range of sciences. It also calls into question activities within the practice of sociology such as declaring the death of positivism in sociology as reported in a recent article (Gartrell & Gartrell, 2002). Anti-science stances may be on shaky ground where they take an outsider view of science. They critique the singularity or universalism of science without allowing for the contextual variation in the principle of law. Neither do they see their own reliance on a law like critique as problematic. 

Problems with views of science within sociology are implied in Charles Lemert’s examination of how the concept of science has entered into reflexive considerations of the discipline of sociology (1997) . He points out how various critiques of sociology have struggled with whether sociology is, or should be, a science. What is interesting for my argument is the way science, taking the example of natural science, is portrayed by sociologists–as consensus based and progressing (Lemert, 1977: p. 133). This is in sharp contrast to analysis of the natural and physical sciences, such as Lakatos discussing Popper and Kuhn, that chronicles processes that are largely disorganized and seem to be driven by breakdown and competing positions (Lakatos, 1976). This adds to my suggestions that critiques of science in social theory have created a portrait of science from the outside that may not reflect how science is practised by its insiders. 

Logic and rationality are often criticized as arguments for the possibility of, or a need for, value free science. Those who argue for subjectivity and subjectivities reject this notion as the imposition of a dominant ideology in the guise of science. Notable in this vein are feminist critiques of science. To wit, Harding focuses on the ways “scientific rationality has permeated not only the modes of thinking and acting of our public institutions but even the ways we think about the most intimate details of our private lives” (Harding, 1986b : p.16 ). 
Here it is important to remember that in historical context, logic/rationality was offered as an alternative to the reliance on deity to explain cause and effect. It may seen anachronistic today but the transition from Medieval to Enlightenment times in Europe was dominated by modes of inquisition that sought to root out and purge non-believers. This means that in some ways the use of science at the time was a way to get at the “world hidden from the consciousness of science” Harding discusses (Harding, 1986b: p.245). 

This stems from the idea that with the beginnings of European Enlightenment the social position of religious explanation was more equivalent to the social position of science in modern times. This is chronicled by recent analysis of the role of scientific explanation in the 1800s (Poovey, 1998). 

At the genus of the European Enlightenment, science was a form of radical challenge. It looked to everyday experiences in the form of observations, rather than omniscient principles of deity to explain the world. Thus, religious explanation at that time resembled scientific explanation in modern society. Scientific explanation at that time resembled current critique of science, anti-science. Put another way, the European Enlightenment was, in some ways, the postmodernism of its time. 

This suggestion emerges from an argument that the power dimensions in a social historical context may override the content of the ideologies/philosophies. Indeed, if one examines this content, as I do in this article, it becomes apparent that the seeds of radicalism are as marked as the seeds of justifying status quo in European Enlightenment thinking that has come to be identified as science. 

Although logic was a means of purging ideology or values, it was intended to purge a particular ideology--religious inquisition. Science relied on what could be reasoned rather that what could be inferred as metaphysical good or evil. Many have questioned the reliance on rationality as a means of supporting a particular political ideology. However, in context it was intended as a way to break the stranglehold religion had on scholarship, law, and various aspects of everyday life. This posited connection between religion and rationality is supported by analysis of the rise of the modern prison in Denmark and elsewhere in the 18 th and 19 th centuries (Smith, 2004). It ties into the idea that while religion may be formally rejected and rationality seen as an antidote or corrective, religious modes of thinking are still implicit in rationality. 

Nested in the concept of logic is an element of morality, specifically blame. This derives from the mechanistic notion of linear cause and effect as finite and separable. In a mechanism, parts are separable from wholes and can be considered individually. Then they can be added up or put back together to get the machine. Mechanism or separability is necessary to a notion of blame. It is impossible to point the finger at one thing as causal or to blame without first being able to separate that thing from other things. 

Thus, a mechanistic epistemology science can cast blame in the form of cause on one part or parts in deference to the lack of blame or innocence of another part or other parts. This idea was highly amenable to a religious mode that relied on blame. One author points out a similar connection between religion and rationality in the 18 th and 19 th centuries (Smith, 2004). Even though early scientists did not look for religious or deistic cause they still retained a mode of inquiry that searched for cause as a separable phenomena. Because of this, logic can be seen as a means of reaching for cause that implies blame. This notion is paramount in notions of law. Cause and blame are united. Lack of logic, or inability to reason, erases blame. 

In Enlightenment Europe positivism was a move to looking at what can be seen rather than inferred as being of God, the Devil, or what others say. I am reminded of a fortune cookie saying “The eyes believe themselves. The ears believe others”. In Enlightenment times, reliance on what could be seen was an alternative to taking religious inference or the accusations of others as proof. This related to things such as a person being “of the devil” or evidences of devilment in occurrences like plague, death, murder, hurricanes, drought or tides. 

During the later part of the 20 th century positivism has come to be criticized as an argument against subjectivity. This surfaces in arguments that objectivity is a problematic scholarly concept (Kim, 2004). Seeing positivism as a rejection of subjectivity is, however, valid only in a limited sense. Yes, subjective opinions and religious inferences were discounted during the European Enlightenment. However, as science expanded and grew, new kinds of phenomena required the development of inference and subjectivity. One such expansion was the development of probability theory that augmented simple linear models of causality with models of correlation. This became important in the development of theories of genetics and rapidly expanded when its utility for things like market research and voting prediction was discovered. 

In the social sciences there are views of objectivity as a search for inter-subjectivity (Babbie, 1995), consensus on relevant observations, modes of measurement, or cannons of proof. Objectivity is a way for scholars to communicate with one another based on shared symbols. It is necessary to have a common understanding on what a degree is before scholars can see if global warming is more severe on some parts of the planet than others. 

Given this, it may be inappropriate or at least counterproductive to cast modes of inquiry that search for consensus as rejections of subjectivity. Even though the practical search for common language among scholars may be called objectivity when it is performed by scientists, it does not resemble a rejection of subjectivity. Neither does it necessarily deny values or ideology. Thus, critique of science or positivism may be somewhat inappropriate given direct recognition of the actual impossibility of objectivity within the practice and philosophy of the natural, medical, and physical sciences and in logical positivist oriented social science. 

The birth of science as nomothetic logical positivism arose in the period of transition from Medieval to Enlightenment times in Europe. Why did this particular triumvirate of epistemological stances, rather than a host of alternatives, emerge in this particular place and time? Although logical positivism became prominent, it was not the only theory available for refinement. The Greek classics like Plato and Aristotle were one kind of theory that relied on notions of mechanism and universe. Other classics like Pythagoras (Dell, 1980) that relied on the epistemological alternative of relationships were also available but did not get the same attention. 

I argue that this is because the notions of universe and mechanism from Aristotle were more compatible with the monotheistic religion that dominated the social historical context. Although the scientists of the European Enlightenment may have formally rejected religious explanations for the phenomena they studied, they lived in times dominated by religion and many of them were religious figures themselves. They took on modes of doing science that were amenable to familiar styles of thinking and practice even though they rejected the formal content of such practices. 

In the transition from Medieval times in Europe religion dominated most aspects of social life. Science of the time, even though formally stated as an antidote to religion, was cast in a mode of inquiry and explanation that resembled religious practice in several ways. 

Early scientists were trying to replace metaphysical explanation with observation, positivism. They looked for universal laws rather than deistic explanations–bad sanitation rather than God’s will to explain the death of child. However, even though they rejected deistic explanations they practiced science in a monothetic mode. It was a short step from one God to one universe and universal law. Thus, nomotheism, universalism, became the dominant mode of scientific practice in the Enlightenment and its two derivative elements, logic and positivism, came to represent this particular epistemology of science. 

The shift from Medieval times in Europe was a time of questioning of religious domination both politically and in everyday lives. The torturing and killing of non-believers and witches at the hands of religious inquisitions and political bodies was a common occurrence. Books were few and often hidden from popular view. The Greek classics that ultimately provided the intellectual base for nomothetic logical positivism were suppressed, hidden, banned or even destroyed in Europe. However, these ideas were very much alive in the Arab world. When classics like Aristotle and Plato were re-discovered by Europeans they had to be translated from Arabic into Latin before they could be used in Europe (Dampier, 1932). 

In the times of the European Enlightenment, the people who had access to education and the leisure to pursue scholarship were predominantly wealthy, and male. Books and schools were few and expensive. Women were less likely than men to be given schooling or access to books than men. For women, the content of this learning was more often of domestic, as opposed to intellectual, content. Even if educated, women’s lives were dominated by childbearing that was typified by many pregnancies, miscarriages, births, still births, maternal death in labour, and infant deaths. Women spent a large portion of their lives pregnant, sick, caring for and grieving dying children and often dying themselves in the course of child bearing. This role for women was reified by religious doctrine and practice. 

In total the social context in which a logical positivist science arose was prone to defining and supporting scholars of a particular type. Therefore, even though religion was formally rejected in scholarship, it carried a religious cast. Witness the religious figures Thomas Aquinas, Roger Bacon, and Blaise Pascal. Newton, while positing a physical universe, still had a conception of God governing the universe (Dampier, 1932, : p. 93,155, 188, 213). Galileo, even though questioning religious dogma, recanted in fear of the fate of his soul (Coyne, Heller, & Zycinski, 1985). This continued to the times of Gregor Mendel the monk who founded the study of genetics with his bean plants. Religious explanation even colours the philosophy of twentieth century physics. Recall Einstein's famous question about how the universe is set up--"Did God Have a Choice?" Current ethnographic analysis suggests that God is a concept that is alive in scientific practice (Pinch, 2000). The influence of religion in education is seen worldwide with many schools and colleges having their origins in religious education and many maintaining daily religious practices. 

Mechanistic scientific epistemology was also particularly apt for the beginning, development, and proliferation of industrialization. So the common association of mechanism with nomotheism provided a useful mode of scholarly practice to guide the creation of factories to manufacture goods. More recently the shift in terms of how developed economies are driven by information technology and global trade has suggested the revisiting, promoting, or creation of relational scientific epistemology to ground new practices. Cybernetics, quarks, black holes, holism, ecology, are all derived from relational scientific philosophy and have moved from isolated scholarly jargon into popular language in the last twenty five years. 

All scholarship is selective or reductive in the sense that it is not possible to think about, write on, or look at, everything. All analysis is a subset. A view of science as nomothetic logical positivism is one such subset. There are however, many other views of science. I argue that taking one particular view to represent a multiplex of epistemologies oversimplifies and perhaps misrepresents science. The triumvirate of nomothetic logical positivism prospered because it fit the dominant monotheistic religion of the social historical context of the European Enlightenment. Particular ideas work for particular groups in particular places and times. 

The separable notions of nomotheism, logic, and positivism may have been conflated in scholarship about science which surfaced in the second half of the 20 th century. For example you see Karl Popper writing about elements such as “experience by observation” “the problem of induction” and moving from singular to “universal” statements (Popper, 1976: p 89). Or, Quine looks at the way a conception of truth in implicit in conceptions of empiricism (Quine 1976). More recently you see this conflation in an article that investigated the presence of positivism in sociological writing (Gartrell et al., 2002). 

My separation of nomotheism logic and positivism argues against the idea that their conflation is necessary. Natural, medical, and physical scientists don’t all adhere to the notion of science in which social scientists often cast them. Some do. But some don’t. The don’ts have been taking on a greater presence in the past 50 years. Philosophy of science in the natural, medical, and physical sciences may be more pluralist than is often allowed. Constructivist science in terms of an epistemology of inquiry, socially conscious self reflexivity, or an education practice has taken on an increasing presence in the physical and natural sciences (Pinch, 2000). 

Nomotheistic logical positivism science has been challenged within the natural, physical, and medical sciences. The limitations of mechanism and universalism began to show when scientists confronted new kinds of problems like ecology. Or, they looked at old problems like the physical nature of the universe in new ways. Einstein’s theory of relativity was a recognition of the issue of context. Phenomena could be profitably studied in terms of their relationship to one another, rather than as discrete parts of a mechanism. Biofeedback, holism, cybernetics, and ecology recognize not just the importance of context or wholes but subjectivity, and non-linear causality as well. 

Further, there has been recognition within studies of science of the context bound nature of science. Notably Thomas Kuhn pointed out how evidence alone does not drive change in science citing an example where scientists had to “beat nature into line” (Kuhn 1976: p 152). Thus, the belief systems of scientists organize and classify observations. A new theory may be taken seriously even if the data do not fit. 

This does not deny that science and social science methods have at various times been dominated by nomothetic logical positivism and derivative quantitative methods or that these practices have abetted discriminatory practices. As such these practices are well deserving of critical attack. Upon looking through my own personal library for books to include in a book on theory of methods, I came upon one of my own undergraduate methods texts written in 1973. The title of the first chapter "Some Men Call it Science" jumped out at me (Forcese & Richer, 1973). This told me two things: how common implicit sexist practices were at that time and how oblivious I was to such practices 25 years ago. It reminded me of how women of my generation may take for granted the great strides made by second wave feminists in making sexist practices explicit and pushing for inclusiveness (Olesen, 1994) . 

I can see how quantitative methods became a central focus of criticism. Feminists have criticized this particular application of nomothetic, logical, positivism. For example Sandra Harding writes about “liberal political theory and its empiricist epistemology” (Harding, 1986a: p.646). However, there is nothing inherently discriminatory in the epistemology. I argue that it is the politics that determine the application. To wit, feminists have used nomothetic, logical, positivist epistemology such as census data and surveys to justify and enact feminist political agendas like affirmative action, day care programs, and pay equity. Recent work in the area of gender equality shows a strong presence of socalled “positivist” research like surveys and statistics (Brown, 2000,: Charles, Buchman, Halebsky, Powers, & Smith, 2001; Newsome & Dodoo, 2002; Zipp, Prohsaka, & Bemiller, 2004). A recent article, quoted above as an example of the current meaning of positivism, reported on research suggesting that use of positivisim is sociology is still prevalent, more so in the US than in Britain despite formal resistence or rejection in the discipline (Gartrell et al., 2002). 

This suggests that there may be formal rejection of notions of science at the same time that ideas of nomotheism, logic and positivism are in wide use. I think this derives from several factors. Even critics of science are doing their scholarship in a “science like” manner. To wit, there is Eisenstadt’s argument that constructs of modernity are themselves vested in singular notions and stand in contrast to observed development of culturally or context specific modernity. Therefore, it is more appropriate to talk about modernities as a plural (Eisenstadt, 1999). There has been a lack of attention to the religious character of science. Critiques tend to shore up and maintain the positions they oppose, like the two pillars that apply opposing pressure and is so doing hold up a temple. This may be a reflection of the implicit religious character of some scholarly critique. Thesis/antithesis may be a lingering mode of scholarship that has carried into current practice from the times of European Enlightenment. 
What Objectivity Isn’t 

It often seems lost, or at least not fully considered, that conceptions of objectivity came from a focus on positivism–reliance on observation. In the context of the European Enlightenment this meant looking for evidence or data in what could be seen rather than what was intuited as deistic cause. One example of how this principle went into practice is a shift in thinking about health. By looking at places where Plague prospered and comparing them to places where it was absent or limited, early scientists were able to isolate the factors that led to an epidemic--rats, fleas, and humans living in close proximity. Notions of objectivity arose in the sense of finding commonly agreed upon ways to look at and measure in order to compare pieces of information. Before they could see which area has more sewage there needed to be a consensus on what constituted a useful measure of sewage--pound, square meter, or gallon. 

This notion of consensus remains in positivist oriented social science conceptions and is simultaneously a recognition of social construction. Philosophy and study of science is replete with consideration of observation as mediated by social construction, representation, or instrumentation (Bhaskar, 1978; Latour, 1987; Collins, 1998; Myers, 1990; Woolgar & Pawluch, 1985; Law, 1990; Woolgar, 1988). Questions of constructed observation have been readily recognized in the mathematical, physical, and natural sciences. This is seen in the widespread use of double blind randomized clinical trials where neither the researcher nor the subjects know who is getting a test drug and who a placebo. It recognizes that both researcher and subject may have an interest in wanting the drug to work. Such desires may cause people to note or report positive effects of a drug when there is no physical effect, or minimize negative side effects. This is recognized as a way to make sure that only physical effects of a drug are detected. At the same time it recognizes the importance of human processes of belief, imagination, and interpretation that may create actual physical differences. This is often utilized in intervention where elements like visualization and positive mental outlook are part of treatment. It demonstrates the respect medical science has for the power and importance of social construction. 

However, this has often been construed as a definition of objectivity as a reach for value free science or a view of reality as separable from human experience and action (Baudrillard, 1988). But this is not how the question is uniformly approached within science. There is instead a long history of reflexive and political views of science (Weiner, 1950) and discussions of representation and the operational meaning of objectivity as consensus (Babbie, 2001) or inter- subjectivity (Babbie, 1995). So to say science, or positivist views of social science, are necessarily objective or a rejection of social construction is at least too narrow, even arguably wrong. 

Religious Practice 
The emergence of science in the European Enlightenment was about religion. I argue that debates about science are still about religion on two fronts – political/ideological, and practical. Political/ideological religion captures the sense of systems of beliefs systems that are sustained by faith. Practice of religion gets at the ways in which modes of action bear the cast of formal religion such as how the search for moral right and wrong enters into the search for dichotomies or oppositions. Scholarly practice today often implicitly bears the cast of religion on both fronts, even where religion is explicitly rejected. Because of this, debates about science are a distraction that prevents scholars from getting to the core of disagreements. Indeed, when one takes an expansive view of the nature of the positions it may be difficult to discern useful differences. 

Anti-science critiques may even perpetuate the very notions of science they purport to undermine. The presence of an anti position maintains the position. Shusterman points out how the iconoclast depends on convention (Shusterman, 1999). This can be seen as a form of tribalism (Antonio, 2000). This is religious in its character similar to the theological need for a conception of the Devil to keep the idea of God afloat. This is where the importance of Foucault’s work in establishing the idea of practices of power becomes important (Foucault, 1979). It is worthwhile looking at scholarly practices in terms of their ability to establish the positions of the scholars who use them. Critiques of practices of power or relations of ruling (Smith, 1987) move notions of control, oppression, or dominance into the immediate, everyday, and informal aspects of social life. One author points out how a critical attitude such as that expressed by Foucault reflects Enlightenment style thinking (Schaff, 2002). This suggests the possibility of a critique of critique. It may be worthwhile to look at how the practices of scholars themselves become practices of power. 

Attempting to take away the power of science by de-mystifying or pointing out its oppressive nature may move power into the hands of the scholars doing the critique. In a traditional tribal view of power one person or group takes power away and covets it. In scholarship this would translate into oppositions of assumptions, deductions, or observations of competing schools of thought who vie for popularity, grants, students etc. A scholarly practice of diffuse critique that is not formally bound to such traditions creates power by taking upon itself the power to define what constitutes practice, even as it rejects an overarching scholarly practice of definition. Saying that something should not be done is effectively saying what should be done. 

In this vein anti-science critiques are can be looked at self reflexively in terms of the way they maintain the religious nature of the original debates about science. This becomes an opposition that maintains the traditional position, like the opposing columns of a tripod that lead to its stability. Current debates can be seen as arguing for religious forms of explanation, stated as ideology. This removes the need for proof or evidence. In so doing it opens the door to political ideological arguments that need no proof or evidence to prosper. This may be a partial explanation for why anti-science arguments have prospered in social science in the past 50 years. They are co-emergent with growing interest in political issues dominated by marginalization/oppressions. Indeed some authors argue that politics have been moved from the social science to the humanities in the past 40 years (Agger & Luke, 2002). I see this as a reflection of critique against sciences, social and otherwise, that has found a comfortable home in the humanities. 

Thus, anti-science can be seen as a return to ideological justification whether explicitly stated or not. Contradictions arise when such modes of inquiry try to move back into proof or evidence. This means explanations arise that have ultimate freedom and flexibility. Proof has been formally discounted, a rejected positivist principle. Scholarship is ideological speculation, abstraction, and construction. These practices are ultimately tied to the ideological beliefs of the scholar doing the analysis (Anderson, 2002). 

An anti-science argument works best when arguing against something rather than for something. It takes energy from negativity about other things. This makes it difficult to criticize since it is not building a stance of its own. This is where the ability to control scholarship and academic practices arises. It’s the ultimate politic, one that is pure politic with no need to be effective except as a means of justifying itself. This makes it an ideological practice without any formal definition as such. 

Thus, the practices of anti-science transcend the classic limitations of traditional assumptive based social theories like conflict, consensus, and constructivism by having no assumptions, inherent nature, characteristics, or derived ideas. They float around and outside as critiques of everything but can’t be pinned down when others try to criticize them. 

In this sense it can be seen to parallel the social practice of constructing others as a means of reifying the position of the people who define or critique. Just as with the creation of social difference, this is often based on what things aren’t rather than what they are. When the category of other is looked at from within, the basis for the creation of difference disappears. Once this is done it is possible to look at the process which drives a desire to define other as the topic of interest. I argue that this is the case with anti-science debates. When we look at the origins of debates about science in the transition from Medieval to Enlightenment times, it is difficult to discern any difference between current anti-science debates and the pro-science debates that fueled the emergence of science. Its still about religion while the actual practices of sciences have moved on. 

In the context of current debates about science and anti-science, it is worthwhile to step back and see if the basic premises of these debates hold. I have argued above that the debate was and is about religion–ideological legitimization for scholarship. Specific scientific philosophies all bear elements of ideology. This is recognized within science and positivist oriented social science. It is witnessed in arguments that scientific prestige depends on its fit with political interests ( Moore, 1996). One author suggests that sociology may have had a more confrontational relationship with science than other social science disciplines (Heuveline, 2004). I suspect this may have something to do with the explicitly political character of sociology, a character that has expanded in the last 50 years. 

Perhaps is it time to transcend the science/anti-science argument. Once you look expansively and historically at science the basis for argument disappears. Originally a debate about religion, it is currently an implicit debate about the legitimacy of ideology as justification. This creates a space to examine how scholars go about their work and justify their positions. 

This type of analysis may have begun. To wit, it surfaces in work that offers a critique of science and offers the alternative of an “antirepresentationalist account” “which does not view knowledge as a matter of getting reality right, but rather as a matter of acquiring habits of action for coping with reality” (Rorty, 1991: p.1). Notable in this idea is that there is a focus on everyday practices combined with reliance on a notion of reality. In so doing, the critique falls in on itself when it relies on a notion of reality. It also opens the door to look at the process of science as a process relevant in itself that should not be overly focused on the content of ideology that is put out formally. 

I have argued elsewhere (Hanson, 1999) that the process of fact creation can become the focus of scholarly inquiry. As such the target becomes facticity, how scholars go about trying to establish that an idea is true, real, important, relevant, wise. This is not necessarily tied to notions of one epistemology, theory, philosophy, religion or another. As such it allows an active self reflexive process of scholarship. Germane to the current argument is the possibility for seeing how elements of religiosity enter into scholarship, even in the face of formal rejection of religion. 

In so doing it is possible to see that while the surface of arguments about science have changed since European classical times, the core has not. What may be more important is seeing what purpose the argument serves. Who benefits? I propose we openly debate ideologies rather than an assumed homogenous science. This suggests that there may be common ground between recent critiques of science and a more expansive view of science which looks at a greater historical range. 

Science can be defined broadly as the refinement of theory. This captures several elements of philosophy of science. We can look at the origin of the word science itself derived from the Latin scientia meaning having knowledge. There are also notions of systematic doubting (Dooley, 1995), organization of facts, “systems of thought” (Crombie, 1959, p.1) or an attitude (Egler, 1970, p.1). All of these ideas flesh out a concept of science that is multiplex, fluid, diverse, and growing. Including a notion of theory, without defining any particular kind of theory, allows us to consider that knowledge is a plural rather than singular. This will allow sociology to keep pace with exciting theoretical advances in physical and natural science disciplines such as cybernetic models of causality that could help sociology past chronic limitations with levels (Sawyer, 2001).


Theory & Science (2007) : ISSN: 1527-5558

Female Intrasexual Competition: Toward an Evolutionary Feminist Theory 

Ingo, K.M., Colorado State University-Pueblo
Mize, K.D., Florida Atlantic University
Pratarelli, M.E., Colorado State University-Pueblo

Female intrasexual competition is perceived as a hindrance to feminist goals of equality. This paper argues a modern feminist theory could be consistent with natural selection. The social science feminist framework believes female competition is fostered by a patriarchal power structure benefiting from a division amongst women. Feminists argue that environment plays far greater roles in shaping people than does biology, and thus cultural reform will alleviate this competition. It is an implicit assumption of the hunter-gatherer model that survival is a cooperative venture between partners. Thus, women competing over high status mates and men over a woman’s mate value are simply functional coevolved strategies; they do not impose a value-laden hierarchy. Nature may give the appearance of inequality and injustice between the sexes. However, a cognitively complex brain-mind could reconcile the meaning of coevolved strategies and educate individuals past their perceived ills toward more equitable outcomes with an evolutionary feminist theory. 

Female Intrasexual Competition: Toward an Evolutionary Feminist Theory 
Competition for resources is the foundation of evolutionary theory. It is the force that drives a species to survive ( Darwin, 1859). To compete with others is to behave aggressively, be it directly or indirectly. Direct aggression is most commonly associated with males and indirect aggression with females, although either sex is capable of both types. From an evolutionary standpoint, these strategies were the most compatible with solving problems faced in an early hunter-gatherer environment (in which the human mind evolved) rather than modern social environments and in fact, may be detrimental in modern times (Tooby & Cosmides, 2005). That is, the environment of evolutionary adaptation (EEA) is most like that described by anthropologists for hunter-gatherer communities. Males evolved into a directly aggressive role to defend against predators and other males. Females evolved to aggress in ways that ensured them the least amount of physical danger when competing for food and superior mates, while also developing the capacity for direct aggression when protecting their offspring. The EEA is an important consideration in evolutionary psychology because it establishes a context for assessing the efficacy of putative preexisting adaptations in later (current) or future environments. That is, what may have been a successful adaptation to existing environmental pressures in the EEA, may no longer serve their primary purpose or may in fact become counterproductive in a changed environment. In view of tremendous changes in modernity vis-à-vis the EEA, the question of intrasexual competition (for both women as well as men) demands that the behavioral sciences make its best effort to reconcile the two. Nonetheless, because male aggression is so visible and has attracted much attention from social scientists, female aggression and its implications have received comparatively little attention even within feminist theory. 

The Standard Social Science Model (SSSM) contends that aggressive behavior is the result of socialization (Buss, 1999). Essentially, it suggests males are rewarded for aggression while females are discouraged from it. As a result, males tend to be aggressive and females cooperative. It is important to note that while the SSSM does not characterize exactly all the varieties of contemporary feminist perspectives, it continues to capture the essential elements of those that subscribe to the postmodern constructivist paradigm. Vandermassen’s (2005) recent work on this subject dissects the various and most prominent feminist perspectives and identifies those elements in each that allows readers to assess to what degree they fit the classical SSSM. One consistent theme is the almost conspicuous absence of the issue of competition between females. When it is addressed, it is explained as the result of a patriarchal power structure constructed and maintained by men to keep women divided and oppressed. As Wolf (2002) suggests, “Competition between women has been made part of the myth that women will be divided from one another” (p. 14). The purported “myth” is simply an example of the modern denial of a biological human nature (Pinker, 2002; Pratarelli & Mize, 2002), which some fear reduces humans to a collection of animalistic drives. This argument has ancient roots and saw its greatest popularity at the time Charles Darwin published his Origin of Species. This is because of the denialists’ refusal to accept a biological link between humans and nonhumans; not surprisingly, the latter are perceived as lower in kind. Postmodern feminist theory, in particular, exhibits this class of historical reconstruction that fits a political or religious set of presumptions and rejects any hint of biological determinism (McGettigan, 2000). 

By attributing their oppression to solely environmental causes, women are sabotaging their own success as well as feminist goals of equality. Their solutions to their subjugated status are reformation and reconstruction of the current system. They suggest that raising children as androgynous, resisting the media images of what a woman should be, and activism within the political sphere will ultimately lead to equality. While these are all valid suggestions, they do not attempt to understand the root of the problem. The media does bombard women with unrealistic images; children are encouraged to behave in ways considered consistent with their sex; and women do compete with each other in damaging ways yet, focusing on the cultural representations of biological motivations does little to effect change. The position taken in this article is that by understanding why the biological motivations exist and how they combine with environmental factors to generate and shape cultural norms may very well be the first step toward change. Thus, the purpose of this paper is to explore the ways in which women have evolved to compete with each other and how understanding this competition could translate into a more rational and efficacious feminist theory. 

Evidence from Human Evolutionary Psychology 
Contemporary feminists have objected to evolutionary psychology for a number of important reasons worthy of explanation and clarification. They have accused the field of considering everything an adaptation, presenting “just so” stories as fact, and supporting the sociopolitical status quo, etc., ( Campbell, 2002). Regrettably, as Vandermassen (2005), McGettigan, (2000), Pratarelli (in press) and others have intimated, these accusations stem partially from a resistance to examine the state-of-the-art literature and understand its concepts. To be considered a psychological adaptation by the mainstream academic human evolutionary psychology community, a behavior must be documented in at least three different and important ways (Buss, 1999). The behavior in question must be examined (1) historically across extended periods of time, (2) it must be observed in multiple cultural contexts that allow experts to continue testing the hypothesis that the behavior is culturally universal, and (3) it must be seen in at least one other nonhuman species such that it increases fitness and reproductive success (Schmitt & Pilcher, 2004). In keeping with this methodological standard, this article will briefly examine each in later sections. 

A final consideration involves examining at least some of the most frequent or popular issues raised by the detractors of evolutionary explanations in general, and for intrasexual female competition in particular. The “just so” stories accusation is leveled by detractors (cf., Rose, H., & Rose, S. (2000); Panksepp & Panksepp, 2000) who may not have had the opportunity yet to fully consider the theoretical and methodological details of the “new science of the mind” (Buss, 1999). Campbell (2002) captures the essential properties of evolutionary models by saying, 
…evolutionary psychology proceeds by (1) identifying an adaptive problem that proto- humans would have faced in the environment of evolutionary adaptation, (2) developing a description of the module that is suggested to have evolved in response to this problem, including the range of inputs that would have activated it and the impact of its outputs in terms of differential survival and reproductive success, (3) formulating a description of the current environment and a map of correspondence between the ancestral and present conditions that allows specific hypotheses to be generated about the current activating inputs, and (4) undertaking tests of these hypotheses which, where appropriate, allow comparison with alternative (evolutionary or non-evolutionary) accounts. (p.24) 

Evolutionary psychology is not based on speculation; it is backed by sound evidence utilizing the scientific method (Tooby & Cosmides, 2005). It also does not purport that what is natural is necessarily morally right. It does not try nor intend to support and legitimize the sociopolitical status quo. Seeking to understand the biological motivations that underlie certain human behaviors is an attempt to explain the possible origins of these behaviors, not justify them. Many feminists in fact recognize and accept biological predispositions as partial explanations of behavior. This can be inferred by their acceptance in their reactions to the notion of biological predeterminism, which Vandermassen (2005) has termed, “biophobia within feminism” (p. 85). However, the belief that all things natural and biological are therefore right, correct, and good is a product of a heuristic reasoning process called the naturalistic fallacy (Landeweerd, 2004). Feminist scholars who have unknowingly applied the naturalistic fallacy simply misunderstand the implications of biological explanations of behavior. They assume that what is natural is being justified as morally right, good, and thus legitimized. However, these are moral judgments that lack both a theoretical and scientific basis. Infanticide in primate species is a natural occurrence but it is doubtful that a rationalist would consider it right or good, it just is. The flaw in reasoning occurs when one mistakes what is for what we believe ought to be. Kant and Hume both addressed the is versus what ought to be dichotomy philosophically, but Pratarelli (2003) has recently integrated it with the human evolutionary psychology theoretical framework.

Proponents of the SSSM types of feminist models, which still enjoy considerable popularity in nonacademic communities and some proponents even within academic circles, functionally ignore the role of innate drives in the production of behavior and culture, focusing instead only on the effects of environmental triggers assuming that they entirely cause the response. This is the expected position from the social learning theory perspective, which dates back some 40 years (Bandura, 1977), well before both cognitive neuroscience and evolutionary psychology revolutionized psychology’s understanding about the origins of human behavior, including social behavior. Therefore, consistent responses to an environmental demand by a species indicates that “the pattern of response is part of the species’ nature” (Gaulin & McBurney, 2004, p. 4). If the environment is to trigger a response, organisms require an inherited psychological processor to respond in a species-typical manner because “responses are impossible without rules of responding” (p.5). While the more progressive proponents of the SSSM-type perspectives acknowledge that “some traits result from experience and some result from genes,” it is impossible to determine which portion of any given trait can be attributed either to nature or to nurture (p.6). Social scientists argue that the environment shapes traits based upon the limits set by genes. In contrast, evolutionary psychologists contend that this is a mistake. They argue there is compelling evidence that there are inborn rules that delimit an organism’s response to variations in the environment. These “facultative traits” are what were naturally selected for resulting in the interaction of nature and nurture for any given trait (p.8).

Why and How Women Compete 
Both men and women compete intrasexually to obtain a superior mate. Biologically, the purpose of selecting a superior mate is to enhance the likelihood of producing the most viable offspring. What is considered superior varies according to sex and the mating strategy employed (Buss & Schmitt, 1993). Men are statistically more likely than women to pursue a short-term strategy, i.e., they have the capacity and drive to attempt to fertilize as many women as possible with as little commitment or investment as possible. Despite this difference, long-term strategies are common to both sexes. According to Sexual Strategies Theory, “[m] en prefer as long term mates women who are young and physically attractive as indicators of [health and] reproductive value and who are sexually loyal and likely to be faithful as indicators of paternity certainty” while, “[w] omen in long-term contexts…place great value on a man’s ambition, earning capacity, and professional degrees” (Buss & Schmitt, 1993, p. 226). 

To understand why female intrasexual competition is a beneficial adaptation in mate selection, one must first understand the adaptive nature of the sexual division of labor in the EEA. Anthropology tells us males hunted for meat and protected the group from predation so that females were safe to gather food while bearing and raising children who would ensure the future survival of the species. While this characterization might not appeal to a majority of contemporary feminists who would prefer a more equal division of labor, it is important to note that these behaviors coevolved as a function of survival. If an adaptation increases a species’ ability to survive and reproduce, it is passed on to future generations. Because the sexual division of labor practiced by early humans met those criteria, it has perpetuated itself through the genes that express those traits in the X and Y-chromosomes. Female intrasexual competition was a necessity in an environment where survival depended on superior mate selection that led to increased food acquisition for females whose parental investment was far greater than that of males’. Despite the modern human environment, it continues today, on an unconscious instinctual level (Pinker, 2002; Pratarelli, 2003). These motivational instruction sets exist as brain circuits passed on generation-to-generation, much like the ability to breathe or the capacity to acquire symbolic language is passed on one generation to the next.

In order to acquire superior mates while maintaining the highest degree of personal safety, females evolved an indirect way of aggressing toward one another. “One way women can compete without risking their safety or compromising their lives is through acts that ostracise, stigmatise, and otherwise exclude others [female competitors] from social interaction” (Campbell, 2004, p. 3). Gossip and backstabbing are two common acts practiced by women to effectively eliminate a rival. By casting doubt on the fidelity of rivals, women are able to increase their own chances of acquiring what they believe is a superior long-term mate (Vandermassen, 2005). Prior intimate knowledge of one’s competitor also serves to validate the claims one makes against a rival. 

Common forms of spreading gossip and backstabbing are seen in the emergent behaviors of high-school age adolescent females, although they have been reported in girls as young as 8 years old (Bjorkqvist, Lagerspetz, & Kaukiainen, 1992). The combination of higher levels of maturity and larger social networks allow females to refine their technique over time resulting in more covert and less personally damaging behaviors (Bjorkqvist et al., 1992; Campbell, 2002). Gossip, exclusion, and dirty looks were the three most frequently reported forms of indirect aggression in a self-report study of 15-16 year-old girls conducted by James and Owens (2005). Utilization of these forms of indirect aggression have been found to continue into adulthood (Bjorkqvist, Osterman, & Lagerspetz, 1994). 

Another way that women compete is through physical appearance. Henderson and Anglin (2003) found that women whose facial features men rate as most attractive are also the women with longer life spans. The causal connection may be that pleasant facial features are an indicator of good health. The same causal association is applied universally to selecting unblemished fruits, vegetables, meats, etc., because they are less likely to cause sickness. The longer a woman lives, the more likely she is to be able to continue to care for future generations that carry on the genetic composition of she and her mate. The use of cosmetics as well as face or brow lifts, microdermabrasion, and other anti-aging creams and masks are ways in which a woman can project an enhanced facial appearance, thereby increasing her chances of being viewed as a superior mate. Moreover, since youth is also valued as a sign of reproductive fitness, women can be naturally expected to exhibit a degree of malediction and avoidance or denial of aging. Body shape, as measured by waist-to-hip ratio (WHR), is yet another way in which men evaluate a woman’s mating potential. Buunk and Dijkstra (2005) have in fact argued that, “a low WHR signals health and fertility” (p. 380). Tummy tucks, liposuction, and specialized contour enhancing undergarments are used to project a lower WHR. By presenting the physical attributes considered appealing to the majority of the opposite sex, females are able to enjoy a greater amount of selectivity and attention in mate selection. 

Feminist theory refutes the use of attractiveness by women to compete for mates by citing variations in beauty standards dependent on culture. While definitions of beauty indeed vary by region, the biological motivations that underlie the drive to achieve it in fact meet the criteria of universality. Similarly, in countries where food is abundant, a more slender body may be more appealing because it signifies health, whereas in countries where food is scarce, a more ample body shape is more appealing because it signifies access to resources (Vandermassen, 2005). At their core, cultural differences are just different manifestations of identical biological imperatives necessary for the survival of the species. This is essentially what was meant by Cosmides, Tooby and Barkow (1992) when they proposed that our biology is what makes culture possible in the first place. 

A conspiratorial media and advertising is another way in which feminist theory attempts to cast doubt on an evolutionary explanation of women’s competition via physical appearance. In American media where youth and beauty are valued seemingly above all else, feminism views the pressure as too great and as a result women feel pressured to conform in order to succeed. Feminists attribute the targeting of women’s appearance by advertisers as a profitable way to keep women preoccupied with issues other than equality (Wolf, 2002). Advertising, however, is a supply and demand industry. The increased numbers of beauty products ranging from cosmetics to anti-aging creams are simply a natural reaction of the industry to the increased demands of consumers. Women seek these products in order to become more competitive with one another. Feminists would undoubtedly counter with the assertion that the demand is created by the media’s representation of the ideal woman, not a biological imperative to compete. Although these social factors surely play a role, they do not explain the historical and cross-cultural (i.e., cultural universality) evidence for aggression and competition that can not possibly be the result of advertising (Buss & Shackelford, 1997). Furthermore, Buss and Duntley suggest, “This ignores a plausible suggestion that media messages are products of women’s and men’s evolved psychology that merely exploit the existing mechanisms of media consumers rather than create them” (Campbell, 1999, p.219). As before, cultural variations do not preclude biological drives, they express them. 

Cross Species Evidence 
One of the criteria used in evolutionary psychology to determine whether a behavior is an adaptation is its observation comparatively across other species. Non-human primates are the most commonly utilized due to their genetic proximity to humans. Through the use of field and laboratory studies, researchers have confirmed that female intrasexual competition through indirect aggression occurs in many primate species. In a study conducted in the laboratory using common female marmosets, Saltzman, Schultz-Darken, and Abbott (1996) found that female aggression aimed at another unknown female predicts dominance. This is also especially important among marmosets, a species in which only the dominant female ovulates. As the only ovulating female, the dominant marmoset is able to breed with males assured of paternity. Her offspring are also guaranteed to be cared for not only by herself but by the subordinate females as well. 

In her naturalistic observations of tufted capuchin monkeys, Izar (2003) found that competition between females was highly dependent on the availability of food. Of the aggressive acts observed, “…70% of the episodes were disputes for food and 30% protection of dependent offspring” (p. 83). Due to the limited food resources in the observed monkeys’ habitat, competition for food rather than competition for superior mates appeared to drive the observed intrasexual competition. But the competitive drive exists nonetheless. 

Vervaecke, Stevens, and Van Elsacker (2003) observed captive dominant female bonobos increasing their reproductive success at the expense of subordinate females. By interfering with the ovulations and copulations of the lesser-ranked females, dominants were able to mediate their relative reproductive success. These same females were also viewed harassing and killing the infants of lower ranked, unrelated females thereby securing larger amounts of resources for their own young. 

Evidence for Cultural Universality 
Another important criterion used to determine whether a behavior is an adaptation is its observation across cultures. If a particular behavior or class of behaviors is observed in all cultures, especially in those that may have had no direct contacts where cultural exchange was possible in recorded history, then the motivators must exist as part of the human genotype. This is an area teeming with research opportunities as it is often assumed that second-class status among women exists universally. Few formal studies have been conducted in the United States regarding female competition let alone in other countries. The evidence, however, can be gleaned by surveying countless sociology, psychology and cultural anthropology studies that intimate women compete for mates in the varieties of ways discussed earlier. Yet, the researchers who have explored this area have returned promising results. 

Through the use of ethnographic interviews, surveys, and naturalistic observation, 
Hines and Fry (1994) found that women in Buenos Aires, Argentina also employ more indirect forms of aggression than men. Their use of, “fashion, sex appeal, make-up, [and] hairstyles” to compete with one another are consistent with the strategies employed by women in the United States (p.232). It was also noted that the women of Buenos Aires were very socially aware. It was hypothesized that this increased social awareness may have improved their abilities to compete indirectly through various social networks. If a woman wanted to destroy a rival’s reputation, she need only determine where in the social network she could obtain possibly damaging information. This use of social awareness by women to compete has not yet been fully explored. A recent study of the Tsimane women of Bolivia (Rucas et al., 2006) extends the cross-cultural evidence concerning the use of indirect aggression by women. Further research in this area might reveal other aspects of indirect aggression. While the little research that has been conducted seems to point to the same forms of female competition within other cultures; more research is needed to confirm these results. 

Toward an Evolutionary Feminist Theory 
Through the course of human existence, males and females have co-evolved strategies that increase reproductive success. One of these adaptations is the use of aggression. Because of their increased parental investment, females have evolved to compete with one another using indirect means. These have been documented across-species and the several cultures that have been studied to date. While this strategy has benefited women in many ways, it is still viewed as problematic within feminist theory for the reasons addressed earlier regarding our current understanding of the role of biological predispositions. The denial of possible biological origins of female intrasexual competition thus hinders the ideals of the feminist movement. The tendency of some feminists explanations to attribute the problems within the movement to a patriarchal society is an ineffective way of establishing or justifying equality. Moreover, placing women in the role of victim effectively hinders their ability to effect change and disempowers them. 

Instead, identifying the motivations and predispositions that compel women to compete with other women does not diminish feminism in any way. It does not make or support the assertion that women are, by nature, inferior and powerless to change the current power structure. Contrary to Kimmel’s (2000) fatalistic view that acceptance and understanding of biological origins implies that, “…no amount of political initiative, no amount of social spending, no great policy upheavals will change the relationships between men and women” (p. 22), the progress made by the feminists in the past is evidence that some degree of change is indeed possible. The important question is whether, in general, the postmodern feminist framework is counterproductive because it obviates women’s biological nature. 

Evolutionary theory represents a sound logical and cohesive paradigm wherein the contributions of both sexes are necessary for survival. In modernity, there is little doubt that males are just as capable as females of taking care of children, and females are just as capable as men of providing for a family. As we stated earlier, nature is indifferent to human moral concerns. As long as a species adopts behaviors that increase fitness and reproductive success it does not matter which sex takes which role. If feminists were to look beyond culture to the possible underlying biological motivations that produce them, women would be able to deconstruct the roots of their oppression. By examining our past, feminists can understand the roles that men, society, and themselves have played and continue to play in the competition game. Further examination of these roles can lead to theories and practices that are more likely to result in the further success of the noble feminist goals. As evolutionary biology did for the biological sciences and medicine, a biopsychosocial model, or rather, an evolutionary feminist theory would provide a comprehensive and cohesive interactionist framework for examining female intrasexual competition that, to this point, appears to have hindered reaching the goal of gender parity. 

The work of Chesler (2003) is the beginning of an understanding within feminism of the biological motivations that drive females to compete with one another. In her book, Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman, Chesler cites the extensive research within psychology and anthropology that points to the biological causes of indirect aggression between women. She also provides a possible solution to the problems these adaptations cause within the feminist agenda. She suggests that if women are informed of these drives—thereby understanding the context within which they exist—then they will be better able to cope with the urges they produce. She suggests that women take a hard look at their belief systems and realize that while they are part of the solution to inequality, they are also part of its cause. 

Research has provided compelling evidence for the development and adaptive nature of female intrasexual competition. The use of indirect aggression by women to compete with other women for superior mate selection, which is tied to food acquisition and parental investment, is both beneficial and damaging. While it increases the survival of the species, it also has the capacity to create inequities between the actors who share common species-specific interests. Some of these inequalities between the sexes have been the focus of the feminist movement for many years as it attempts to encourage sociopolitical changes to nurture gender parity. As Vandermassen and others have shown in other areas that concern feminists, the present paper examines the biological bases for intrasexual female competition in order to frame it in a scientifically objective and testable manner. It is our contention that a clear and complete non-constructivist accounting of the innate predispositions that manifest themselves in both individual and institutionalized behavior patterns—as is the case with female intrasexual competition—is a far more rational method of study. Moreover, it is necessary precondition for developing and implementing intervention programs that stand a chance of succeeding where others have struggled in the past. 

The strength and efficacy of women’s biological predisposition to engage in competition over mate selection and its implications cannot be ignored because they both contribute and are part of the patriarchal system evolved in many primates, and especially in the human species. Keeping always in mind that the trap of the naturalistic fallacy threatens to derail theory development, experts need to regularly reexamine their arguments as well as their motives for promoting certain perspectives or political agendas to the exclusion of others. Thus, when we examine behavior patterns such as gossiping, backstabbing, and a focus on physical appearance as characteristics of female intrasexual competition, it is important to keep in mind that raising the biological/innateness argument in no way legitimizes the inequities that they inherently create under normal environmental circumstances. Doing so only serves to perpetuate the patriarchal society that men and women have shared in creating, but for which most agree needs to be adapted to eliminate the conspicuous inequalities apparent in modernity. Although beyond the scope of this paper, future work should continue to focus on reviewing more thoroughly both the strengths and weaknesses of both evolutionary psychology and feminism, how the two may serve to complement each other, and developing a framework for the two to work together toward a modern evolutionary feminist theory. Generating such a theory could provide a starting point from which feminists could (1) begin to understand the biological motivations that drive all cultures to treat women as second-class citizens, and (2) develop a strategic plan to address change more effectively through education aimed at providing women with the tools to recognize and effectively combat the indirect aggression of their female counterparts. After all, there is little dispute today that the single most important variable that impacts such pervasive social ills as poverty, rapid population growth, health and malnutrition (by reducing them) is the education of women (United Nations, 2002). International research in population demographics has shown that education of women always results in a reduction in family size and the improvement in living conditions as women begin to take greater control of their body, their access to resources, and their social climate in general. Given the importance of female intrasexual competition in women’s lives, education that represents it in its proper light in terms of its natural selectivity is one important step toward realizing a new modern feminist theory. 

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions…Intentionality, the Growth of Knowledge, and Cultural Evolution

Theory & Science (2007) : ISSN: 1527-5558

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions…Intentionality, the Growth of Knowledge, and Cultural Evolution: Establishing Evolutionary Reasoning in the Social Sciences

Jon VanWieren, Western Michigan University 

The purpose of this paper is to work toward developing evolutionary reasoning in the social sciences. There are reasons for being critical of bland evolutionary metaphors and simplistic applications of neo-Darwinian methods and conceptual tools to the study of human culture and society. I believe, however, that the arguments on the other side of these criticisms are stronger. There is sufficient grounds and evidence supporting some of the insights from evolutionary epistemology regarding the growth of knowledge. Here I focus on the role of intentionality and cumulative knowledge in driving cultural evolution, as well as some of the implications of a co-evolutionary understanding of human biology and culture. I present this case to the social sciences, particularly areas of science and technology studies, making the argument that the approach of deconstructionism and/or metaphysical constructivism, typical of the field, is incapable of dealing with the realties of the natural world and some of the radical implications of new knowledge across the life sciences. I argue here for a re-naturalized understanding of human beings, culture, and society. 

The social sciences lack a shared theoretical foundation. Today there still seems to be some confusion over the mission and purpose of the social sciences. Are they even sciences, or something closer to arts? Should their goal be to interpret, quantify, liberate, or evaluate? For many, the answer is likely: all of the above. 

Things did not start this way, however, at least not for sociology. Auguste Comte envisioned sociology to be the last science, a science that would incorporate relevant knowledge and findings from across the sciences into a unified whole. It would seem that today this view of sociology, and the social sciences more generally, is not widely shared. Specialization and compartmentalization seem closer to the norm. C.P. Snow’s portrait of the academic world had it split between the sciences and the humanities, with rarely these two seeing eye-to-eye. More recently, there has been the controversy surrounding the “science wars” and the sociobiology uproar. Ullica Segerstråle has documented both of these controversies superbly (2000a, b). Segerstråle’s surveys bring light to the real and continuing debate over the nature of science and its social aspects. 

Here I would like to explore some of these matters. My primary purpose here is to contribute to an argument for evolutionary reasoning in social science. This argument has been around for a while in different forms. When thinking about the earlier forms of evolutionary thought in social science, we often remember Spencer, and the pro and anti phases of evolutionism in anthropology and sociology generally. The thinking and argument here, however, shares little with the more or less transformational evolutionary theories of the past (see Reisman, 2005). Along with a number of others working in this area, those who recognize the variational character of a properly Darwinian theory of evolution, I believe that a theoretical program centered on evolutionary reasoning has much to offer the social sciences through a broadening of our understanding of behavior and culture. 

Here I will be considering three aspects of the evolutionary argument as directed toward the social sciences. There are a few basic premises I’ll be working with here that are already rather well established, while their implications have gone largely unrealized. Taken together, they offer a convincing case for the establishment of a theoretical groundwork based on naturalized realism.

The three aspects of the argument I’ll focus on are these: 1) First, human knowledge has accumulated over history. We can understand the growth of knowledge as both neurobiological and cultural. In fact, it is helpful to understand both of these in order to get at the larger picture. The gist of this first aspect of the argument stems from ideas associated with evolutionary epistemology, as developed by Karl Popper and Donald T. Campbell. Recent neurobiological research supports the basic thrust of evolutionary epistemology (see Edelman, 2006; Wexler, 2006). 2) Second, human beings are conscious intentional agents. Often, this fact is taken to mean that human behavior and decisions stand outside the natural world and are therefore not subject to “natural” understandings. I will argue against this commonly held notion. Here also, intentionality will be shown to be at the basis of the growth of knowledge, and at the foundation of culture. 3) Third, increased knowledge and information lead to social and cultural change. Understanding how knowledge and information accumulate helps to show how culture evolves according to mechanisms of variation and selection, largely based on human decisions (and human minds), but also on hidden-hand mechanisms (see Sterelny, 2006). The driving force of variation within culture is new information and innovation; this is true across the areas of beliefs, ideas, science and technology. Furthermore, if our goal is indeed to better understand culture and human behavior, recognizing the biological basis of culture will allow us to better understand the co-evolutionary process of biological and cultural evolution, existing in tandem. My efforts here are directed toward some of the basic elements of our aptitude toward culture, this in an effort to establish a groundwork for understanding its more developed forms through language, symbols, values, norms, and beliefs. 

It is always a good idea to remind ourselves of the facts, to remind ourselves of what we actually know. 

-John R. Searle.

2.1 Cumulative Knowledge 
Do we know more today than we did in the past- more than we did twenty thousand, two thousand, or twenty years ago? I would guess that many of us would say yes. Others might not be quite as willing to support this matter-of-fact common-sense conjecture. If it is not true, what might be our reasons for rejecting this claim?

It is not entirely uncommon to hear lectures on this topic and a version of Thomas Kuhn’s thesis of scientific revolutions (sometimes in social science departments). According to some, Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) reveals the history of science as a series of irreconcilable “paradigm shifts.” Supporters of this thesis maintain that it is a liberating lesson for all of us in that it shows that no single paradigm of knowledge holds any greater or ultimate hold on truth or reality over any other. This, however, would be an extreme interpretation of Kuhn’s thesis.

Taking the basic thrust of Kuhn’s argument seriously, there is little doubt that knowledge has undergone change over history. Are we to take this to mean that science is somehow a sham? There is debate on whether or not Kuhn’s argument was meant as a wholesale criticism of science itself or a criticism of science from within- one that does not jeopardize scientific practice itself. 

The Kuhnian debate rages on between scientists, philosophers, and within the social sciences and humanities. Some critics of science inspired by Kuhn have abandoned philosophical and evidential arguments altogether in favor of criticisms based on purely social grounds. In some circles the scientific enterprise itself has come under fire as an expression of power, cultural elitism, Western imperialism, male domination, and the privileging of certain political and value-interests. It is perhaps interesting that some of the most fiercely “deconstructionist” narratives of this sort come from within Science and Technology Studies (STS). Robert Merton’s brand of sociology of science has long been replaced by the spirit of Barnes and Bloor’s “strong program in the sociology of scientific knowledge”, incommensurability, and an emphasis political and social interests. The general grounds of argument from critiques of science such as these is that knowledge is shaped by its social context, held captive there within local practices, norms and conventions. For example, Latour and Woolgar emphasized the “actor-network” theory, a theory that scientific work and practice itself drives claims on truth, nature, and facts (see Godfrey-Smith 2003). “Feminist epistemology” goes further, claiming that science is political, a male dominated field serving male institutions of knowledge. The field is characterized by Sismondo (2004) as one that takes a variety of anti-essentialist positions. Radical skeptics hold that no scientific method is capable of translating nature into knowledge. The prime impetus of the field seems to be the pursuit of showing how scientific knowledge is socially constructed, not discovered. Some of these arguments are serious and plausible. Sometimes, authors working in this vein draw upon the works of respectable philosophers such as Wittgenstein, Kuhn, Rorty, Feyerabend, and occasionally the classical skeptical arguments of Hume, Berkeley and Kant (take your pick on the “respectable” ones) in support of what might generally be characterized as relativist, anti-universal, and anti-knowledge approaches to science. What makes some of these positions even more peculiar today, in their most radical form, is the overwhelming success of science and technology in recent times. While such success does not always betoken truth (Kitcher 2001), such success does force us to recognize the power of new discoveries within the sciences to reorganize social life, at the very least.

This state of affairs, evidenced through the science wars and the sociobiology debate, has led some of the more common-sense persuasion to object that STS has abandoned its original mission, as Ziman has (2000a). It has left others to ask if there might be something more unconscious at work with certain domains of the social sciences, such as a Fear of Knowledge (Boghossian, 2006). 

While a simple scientific realism invites jeers (Kitcher 2001), and a healthy does of skepticism is of course a necessary element in science and philosophy, my argument here is that the anti-realist position stands on shaky, fragmenting ground. The positions of “metaphysical constructivism” and/or “ontological nihilism” disregard the evidential grounds upon which the sciences are based, supplanting social grounds at every turn. All of this leaves many within STS and some within the social sciences in support of a position that denies the obvious while turning from reality. 

While these examples may be seen as the polar ends of the scientist-humanist spectrum, in part they represent the divergence of views held within the social sciences. It remains the case that social sciences lack an agreed upon theoretical grounding, and more fundamentally a basic agreement on what stands for knowledge. This seems so across the various quantitative and qualitative methodological approaches. Along with the recognition of multiple truths, we have recognized the need for different criteria of validation. In response, a host of theoretical positions and standpoints have been called upon in defense of ones chosen criteria, or lack of criteria, for validation.

We might trace these developments, in part, back to the anti-Enlightenment response of Vico (1668-1744), this through Edelman (2006) and historian Isaiah Berlin. Vico dampened the spirit of the Enlightenment by contesting that human beings make their own history, and should understand themselves in a way that is different from how they understand external nature. Dilthey (1833-1911) too argued that the study of human beings requires a separate logic. He proposed that disciplines be separated into Geisteswissenschaften (human sciences) and Naturwissenschaften (natural sciences). Dilthey’s hermeneutics holds that human behavior requires interpretation within a historical culture, and that human beings are creatures that will, feel, and think (Edelman, 2006).

With this, we come to the root of the matter. Does human consciousness and free will remove human beings from naturalized understandings? Simply, is human behavior and human culture off limits to theories and methods from natural science? 

In addressing this question, I will later argue that we make an effort to re-think culture. This re-thinking will be one that takes stock of what we know about evolutionary science, human origins, and our brains. Before re-thinking culture, we might first think a bit more about knowledge, and the evolutionary approach to knowledge as developed by Karl Popper and Donald T. Campbell. 

2.2 Incommensurable Paradigms? 
The problem with Kuhn’s thesis on paradigm shifts in science is that they do not occur, at least not in their extreme version- the version most often touted by critics of science. We might start with the glaring fact that Kuhn was not entirely clear when he discussed “paradigm shifts”- which some have pointed out is a term he uses in at least twenty different ways (Mayr, 2004). Also, there is no clear-cut way to distinguish revolutions from “normal science.” Normal science includes a gradation between minor and major theory changes, that is, theory change is part of normal science. Furthermore, as Ernst Mayr points out, Kuhn made no distinction between theory change caused by discoveries and theory changed caused by the development of new concepts, entailing different implications. New discoveries that fit within an established theoretical framework may not have as significant an impact as new conceptualizations. 

On incommensurability, Kuhn has been read as implying that when a new discovery or theory is developed, the old one is replaced. Godfrey-Smith has suggested that in this respect Kuhn was too focused on the case of theoretical physics (2003). In reality, this is far from the case across scientific practice. As Mayr summarizes:
The picture of theory change that Kuhn painted in 1962 was congenial to the essentialist thinking of physicalists. However, it is incompatible with the gradualist thinking of a Darwinian. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Darwinian epistemologists introduced an entirely different conceptualization for theory change in biology, usually referred to as evolutionary epistemology (Mayr, 2004: 167). 

We should not forget that evolutionary ideas had been floating around well before Darwin, and that Darwin’s fundamental contribution was his conceptualization of population thinking and natural selection, concepts supported through his field research. Another point here is that when new discoveries are made or new concepts developed, the earlier knowledge does not simply evaporate into non-existence. It sticks around, in at least one of two ways. If the knowledge is not already a fundamental prerequisite to the new discoveries or theories, which is often the case, then the remaining theories compete based on their ability to correspond with the best of what we know of the external world at the time. 

2.3 Evolutionary Epistemology 
The fact that theories compete, in everyday knowledge and science, is a central aspect of evolutionary epistemology. Here we might identify two aspects of the evolutionary epistemology project. The first is that: 
An evolutionary epistemology would be at minimum an epistemology taking cognizance of and compatible with man’s status as a product of biological and social evolution (Campbell, 1988: 393).

We, the rational among us, know that human beings are a product of biological evolution, but do we take this (rather solid) evidence seriously enough? We are aware of some of the implications here. Over the years our brains have changed, seemingly for the better, with an enlarging of our cognitive capacity (Mayr, 2001). When exactly the major jump in knowledge occurred is a question for us all, and especially for the record of human origins. 

Neurobiologist Gerald M. Edelman (2006) offers an insightful assessment of brain science and the development of human knowledge. His project starts with what he and others have called “Neural Darwinism.” But if we were to associate Edelman with the “sociobiologists”, as the initial impulse might be, we would be mistaken. Edelman rejects severe reductionism, just as he rejects the primary alternative, Cartesian mind-body dualism. Edelman recalls that is was Ren é Descartes who helped to remove the mind from nature by extracting the mind from the body. Edelman is confident that discoveries about the brain in the past twenty years free us from the body-mind predicament, as well as the trappings of phenomenal subjectivity. Edelman’s science supports an extension of Willard Van Orman Quine’s naturalized epistemology.

In regards to naturalism, Karl Popper too worked in this general direction, holding that there is a connection between natural selection and the emergence of mind (1978). Still, this aspect of Popper’s project has yet to make as serious an impact as it warrants within the social sciences. For the most part, such efforts are still received with hostility and taken as a form of biological reductionism. This seems somewhat peculiar today, given that evolution is a theoretical-scientific framework that most of us accept when it comes to butterflies and finches. But evolution, the argument here is, is also a knowledge process, especially for human beings, as Popper and Campbell have shown ( Campbell, 1988). Popper’s primary contribution to evolutionary epistemology was to recognize that scientific theories go through a selective elimination process. Theories about the world must be tested, and therefore can also be falsified (but not entirely proven according to Popper, who gives full attention to Hume’s problem of induction). 

The history of basic knowledge growth can also be seen as a process of selection and elimination (or retention). Popper’s ideas about conjecture and refutation can well be applied to the trial and error learning of early human beings, whose conjectures about the world around them (I believethat if I eatthis mushroom it might kill me) had a clear survival value. Also, learning and perception are essential aspects of the knowledge process. 
The method of learning by trial and error- of learning from our mistakes- seems to be fundamentally the same whether it is practiced by lower or by higher animals, by chimpanzees or by men of science (Popper; Campbell, 1988: 398). 

For Popper a central problem of all epistemology is the growth of knowledge, the expansions and breakouts from the limits of prior wisdom ( Campbell, 1988). According to Kuhn, and an extreme reading of his thesis, when new knowledge is gained it is a paradigm shift, not an accumulation. Or worse, the shift in beliefs is the result of a socially or politically charged power game, not the growth of actual knowledge. Of course, these things are part of the picture. However, while the practice certainly can be tainted, science as an endeavor is still ultimately a choice, one that depends on the willingness to submit ones beliefs and theories to testing. 

Still, skeptics have good reason to hold that there are problems with a naïve or common-sense approach to everyday and scientific knowledge. If it is true that our present theories are the most plausible, a tautology presents itself. “What are the most plausible theories? They are our present ones.” Also, how can we know that our perceptions aren’t deceiving us (external world skepticism), and how can we know that what we’ve learned from our past or present theories is not mistaken? If we take the problem of perception seriously, direct empiricism is of little value, the thing itself will always escape us. And if we take seriously Putnam’s argument that meanings aren’t just in our heads, but are connected with other external relations (“externalism”), then how are we to get around the claim that all of our knowledge is out there with others or language-dependent, or worse, entirely socially constructed with no universal truth value? 

Searle (1995, 1998) has proposed solutions to some of these problems, in part, through his recognition of “brute” (natural realities) and “institutional” (social realities) facts. Socially constructed facts about the social world are the reality; we have language, money, and other social institutions to show for it. Yet, the external world is real, and exists independent of our thoughts about it. In similar fashion, Godfrey-Smith offers a way around this dilemma, a way that allows for common-sense realism while also allowing for the possibility of unexpected breakouts from past knowledge. Common-sense realism does assume that we can know the world in important ways, while also being responsive to naturalistic science:
Common-sense Realism Naturalized: We all in habit a common reality, which has a structure that exists independently of what people think and say about it, except insofar as reality is comprised of thoughts, theories, and other symbols, and except insofar as reality is dependent on thoughts, theories, and other symbols in ways that might be uncovered by science (2003: 176). 

Naturalized common-sense realism places a degree of faith, a degree of reasoned faith open to testing, in our ability to strive toward and accumulate knowledge through science. In large part, our ability to make discoveries and develop concepts depends on our brains and our cognitive mechanisms- a clear product of natural evolution. Therefore, the two levels of evolutionary epistemology {1-attention on Neural Darwinism or brain-based epistemology, and 2- the metatheory of the development of ideas and scientific theories through conjecture-refutation and falsification}, are clearly interconnected. Finally, while we can be quite sure that present day neurology, Darwinian Theory, and Popperian testing of theories through falsification are not perfect, we can be quite sure that they correspond more closely to external reality as compared with other past and competing theories of the natural world such as Manichaeism, Greek Monism, or Christian Creationism. 

Evolutionary epistemology and naturalized realism are the starting ground in the development of a naturalized social science. Such a social science would take stock of our deep evolutionary history while striving to stay current with new conceptualizations and discoveries in science. 

2.4 Summary of First Argument 
Knowledge grows. Knowledge shares a feedback relationship with information and intentionality. More knowledge, and the ability to access and process this knowledge, means more information and more openings for further intentionality (more choices and decisions to make, see Dennett 2003). More intentionality and information means more access to knowledge. The growth of knowledge stimulates cultural change.


3.1 The Naturalistic Fallacy? 
Yet, even with these theoretical prerequisites in place, a naturalistic social science still faces the “naturalistic fallacy.” The naturalistic fallacy has been used in the past as a sort of blanket objection to attempts to understand culture through nature. The naturalistic fallacy is usually taken to mean that we can’t derive ought from is, related to Hume’s is/ought gap. More formally, it is a logical error in ethics attributed to Moore (see Allhoff, 2003). Usually, the naturalistic fallacy is elicited in response to attempts to explain away behavior as “natural”, and therefore determined or morally/ethically allowable. Apart from ethics (which is an admitted impossibility in a pragmatic or value-orientated social science) what’s the basic lesson we are to learn from the naturalistic fallacy? The lesson seems to be that while human beings are of course animals, human behavior cannot be reduced or subjected to natural explanations. This is because human beings have a choice to behave differently, they have consciousness, intentionality, agency, and are cultural-social animals, not instinctual animals. Therefore, simplistic “natural” explanations of human behavior simply do not apply when it comes to complex social things. This is thought to especially be the case given historical contingency, along with class, race and gender struggles, and all of the other dramas of human life- all of which are the product not of “nature”, but of our own decisions. Having decision-making power removes us in an important way from nature. 

The question of decisions is an interesting one for nature. This matter is an important one in the philosophy of mind, as Sterelny and Griffiths (1999) illustrate.
We generally assume that most adult humans are intentional agents. But when in human development do we come to be agents? Are any other animals agents, and hence deserving of the respect and protection of the law? Is it possible in principle to build agents? (170).

These questions can be asked of our developmental cycle and our evolutionary origins. Intentionality is a matter of mind. Humans have minds. But how did human consciousness evolve? And when did/do human beings gain decision-making agency? 
This is a question that psychologists love to ask. The answer is actually quite simple: from animal consciousness! There is no justification in the widespread assumption that consciousness is a unique human property (Mayr, 2001: 282).

We know our minds are quite different from those of other animals, but how different? The specifics require a look into the known and speculated nature of consciousness and intentionality. 

Generally, we can think of at least two approaches to mind- the philosophy of mind, and the hard science of neurobiology. We can be safe in assuming that most neuroscientists are well aware of the brain’s evolutionary history and the implications for understanding of how our brains work (see Wexler, 2006; and Edelman, 2006). 

In the philosophy of mind, we have available to us biologically based, naturalized understanding of the mind through the efforts of at least two prominent philosophers, John Searle and Daniel Dennett. Earlier, Popper also had a few ideas on the emergence of mind and these matters more generally.

Thinking about the mind, we should start by remembering how we got into the problem in the first place, in part through Descartes’ mind-body split. While Searle and Dennett have debates raging on some of the specifics, they both agree that Cartesian dualism needs to be rejected in favor of an understanding of the mind that has as its basis in biological naturalism and/or Neural Darwinism. 

Searle (1995, 1998, 2004) has provided a clear way around this mind-body problem by pointing out that while we indeed possess first-person qualitative/subjective/phenomenal experiences, ultimately the mind has a biological source, the brain, which our conscious experiences cannot be separated from. 

Intentionality is the special way the mind has of relating us to the world (Searle, 1998). In cognitive science, intentionality is also known as information (2004). Intentionality is often confused with directly observable sorts of direct actions, or direct intent, but is simply aboutness- to have competence about something else in our minds (Dennett, 1996). Conscious states are often intentional. However, not all conscious states are intentional, and not all intentionality is conscious. 

Consciousness and intentionality grant us agency and free will, the underlining cause of social behavior- the reason for our separate status from the rest of the natural world. The question is: Does free will alone separate us from nature? The answer is no. In fact, in a recent article scientists John Conway and Simon Kochen of Princeton University have proposed that even electrons have free will (Seed, 2006). Of course, the agency of electrons and macromolecules is different from ours. Lower-level agents are unaware of the reasons for what they do. While, 
We, in contrast, often know full well what we do. At our best- and at our worst- we human agents can perform intentional actions, after having deliberated consciously about the reasons for and against (Dennett, 1996: 20). 

As Dennett explains, the less developed sort of agency is the “ground from which the seeds of our kind of agency could grow” (21). While Searle and Dennett debate the details here too, Dennett’s notion of adopting the intentional stance clears some of the confusion surrounding mind and behavior. Summarizing,
The intentional stance is the strategy of interpreting the behavior of an entity (person, animal, artifact, whatever) by treating it as if it were a rational agent who governed its “choice” of “action” by a “consideration” of its “beliefs” and “desires” (1996: 27).

Other natural creatures have agency, and therefore agency alone does not remove us from the natural order of things. Yet, our agency is different from other entities because of our ability to perceive, process, evaluate and decide upon a course of action based on our beliefs and desires. Other creatures do some of this, but no where near us, as the most open of open behavioral systems. Therefore we are not separate from nature simply because we possess agency, but we are a special case within nature. 

Higher-order intentionality is an important advance in kinds of minds (Dennett, 1996). There is little question that the human mind represents a higher-order consciousness, as compared to lower-order conscious animals. Higher-order intentionality places us at the extreme end of the open behavioral programs, compared to closed behavior programs (Mayr, 1978). A closed behavior program is one in which little or nothing can be inserted into it through experience, its behavior is innate, typical of lower-order entities. We are open programs. The capacity for intentionality is the basis of cumulative knowledge, as well as culture. As open systems, we have the potential to change our relation to the social world through greater knowledge of the external physical world. However, 
An open program is by no means a tabula rasa; certain types of information are more easily incorporated than others. This is as true for imprinting as for ordinary learning (Mayr, 1978: 698). 

There are other factors influencing these choices as well, some neurological others ideological (Wexler, 2006).Wexler shows that ingrained patterns of belief and behavior can be difficult to shake, and also that internal structures often shape our experience of the external world in accordance with their own forms. 

Important here too is that beliefs and desires are a special case of intentionality for us. As Searle (2004) explains, as intentional states they may on appearance seem similar. But they are different. 
In the case of belief, the intentional state is supposed to represent how things are in the world. The belief is, so to speak, responsible for fitting the world. But in the case of the desire, it is not the aim of the desire to represent how things are but rather how we would like them to be. In the case of the desire it is so to speak, the responsibility of the world to fit the content of the desire (168). 

Our beliefs about the world can be true or false, or without truth value. Our beliefs are responsible for fitting the world. Our beliefs assert: “This is the way the world is.” As far as intentional states go, a true belief would seem to be more valuable to us than a false belief (but not necessarily), and also more valuable to the growth of knowledge. For the knowledge-optimist, knowledge claims based on true beliefs and accurate information will win out over false beliefs over the long haul. However, desires come into play here as well, as we well know. People, through self-interest, often wish to influence which beliefs are held as true or which false. Testing these beliefs through reason, logic, and science generally, is one way to combat this (see Kitcher, 2001; Dennett, 2006). In comparison to belief, desire has what Searle (2004) points out is a world-to-mind direction of fit. We want the world to fit what we have in our minds (something shown in the neurological research, see Wexler, 2006). Desires and intentions are not true or false in the way beliefs are, because their interest is to get external reality to match their content. In regards to the naturalistic fallacy, it is concerned with desire, the way we think the world ought to be. As an ethical consideration it does not address our beliefs about the nature of the world. It is based on value-interests. The naturalistic fallacy, the is/ought gap, addresses desires, and does not directly address beliefs. Therefore, it alone cannot be used as a reason why the social sciences should not learn lessons from external reality. It is important for the social sciences to work toward understanding both the nature of our beliefs and the nature of our desires. Both are entangled within human decisions and behavior- a matter covered in the next section. 

3.2 Summary of Second Argument
Knowledge accumulates because we are intentional creatures with memory, two prerequisites of culture. Intentionality, entailing awareness, allows us to make decisions based on available perceptual information. Consciousness and intentionality provide us the ability to decide among available options and allow us to acquire knowledge (along with memory- cognitive and cultural). There is a clear value to greater perception, knowledge and the ability to act on our environment, as an open behavioral program. 

Reproduction and mutation ensure that evolutionary change will take place. However, if these were the only effective factors, biological evolution would proceed randomly without adaptive meaning. Natural selection is the mechanism that generates biological adaptation. In cultural evolution, however, there is in addition a second mode of selection, which is the result of the capacity for decision making (Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman, 1981: 10).

In the first two sections, our capacity for decision making was reviewed in light of its biological basis, through intentionality and knowledge. Whereas accounts of culture often have it as that ethereal “superorganic” thing that endows us with our special humanness, I will argue that the usual view has things turned around, that it is our biological aptitude toward intentionality and knowledge growth that allow for culture, and are the driving force behind cultural evolution. 

4.1 What is Culture?
The social sciences have no doubt spent quite some time trying to answer the question of culture. Introductory textbooks often emphasize “norms” and “values” (Giddens et all. 2005), leaving a great deal open to interpretation. Amorphous definitions of culture, there is a case to be made, have led to many of the confusions surrounding its study in the social sciences. Reisman (2005) cites Edward Burnett Tylor’s classic definition of culture as “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom, and any other capability and habits acquired by man as a member of society” (38). 

A familiar way of approaching culture within anthropology and sociology has been to view culture as an organic whole. Culture is seen as an integrated structural whole, connected through a meaningful set of symbols, including foremost a language. Indeed, the trend within the social sciences seems to have been to view culture as a “superorganic” phenomenon (Richerson & Boyd 2006). Moreover, there has been a tendency to view culture as something almost mystical. In relation with their apparent religious and/or metaphysically implied basis, world cultures have often been seen as something sacred and more or less divinely crafted apart from the natural world. I believe it is time to seriously reconsider this view. 

4.2 A Revised View of Culture
Richerson and Boyd (1985, 2006). argue that culture is crucial for understanding human behavior. While this point is quite amenable to the social sciences, the next two are likely not for many. These are that: 1) culture is part of biology, and that culture cannot be understood without 2) population thinking. Richerson and Boyd present a much-needed reclassification of culture. I am in agreement with Richerson and Boyd when they suggest that:
…the most fundamental questions of how humans came to be the kind of animal we are can only be answered by a theory in which culture has its proper role and in which it is intimately intertwined with other aspects of human biology (2006: 4). 

Population thinking is important, as Mayr recognized was one of Darwin’s key contributions to biology. Population thinking is not only attractive because of its origins with Darwin, but because it offers a plausible explanation of the properties of species, including humans- with their special aptitude for culture. Population thinking is at the center of Richerson and Boyd’s theory of culture, which they concisely define below.
Culture is information capable of affecting individuals’ behavior that they acquire from other members of their species through teaching, imitation, and other forms of social transmission (2006: 5; italics theirs)

The difference from the classical definitions here is the focus placed on information; as opposed to something more ethereal or less tangible. “Information is not a metaphorical term needing to be cashed into something else. It is the reality” (Runciman, 2005a: 5). Information entails any kind of mental state, conscious or not, acquired or modified through social learning and affects behavior. Information may also be described as idea, knowledge, belief, value, skill, attitude, and so. The difference from classical definitions becomes even more apparent when we consider an important addition: “most cultural variation is caused by information stored in human brains- information that got into those brains by learning from others” (Richerson and Boyd, 2006: 5).

From this view of culture, individuals’ brains or minds are at the center of scrutiny. We might contrast, for instance, Durkheim’s (1982) contention that social facts differ not only in quality from individual psychologically held facts, but also they have a different substratum, something other than just individual brains or psychology. What exactly this substratum is in Durkheim’s thinking, however, is intangible, and far from certain. 

It is then individuals who have learned different sets of information in the form of skills, values, and beliefs, depending on their cultural history and learning, which may take many forms, individual and social. Culture is the collection of information stored and transmitted by individuals who comprise collections of groups, or populations. “Culture is the form that biology takes” (Searle 1995: 227). 

Understanding culture in this way makes more apparent the connections between evolved human brains, human psychology, and human culture. The point that stems from here is that population thinking makes for an apt link between cultural and genetic evolution. The “superorganic” view of culture, culture as some sort of collective consciousness unto itself, is rejected, with a grounded naturalist one taking its place. 

4.3 Decisions, Nature, and Cultural Evolution
With a revised view of culture presented, the question now becomes how to understand culturalchange? I believe Richerson and Boyd present a convincing case, and in part, a convincing explanation through their model of gene-culture coevolution (or dual inheritance). 

The term that Richerson and Boyd use to identify the informational content of cultures is cultural variant. Cultural variants are not necessarily “memes” (Dawkins’ term). They are not high-fidelity discrete units, cultural variants are not exact “replicators.” 

Cultural variants are passed on in all of the usual ways that social scientists and anthropologists talk about when they talk about socialization and enculturation. The selection of cultural variants is influenced by the forces of cultural evolution. Cultural variants compete, like variations in organisms compete. They are believed to compete in two related ways. They compete for cognitive resources of the learner, and for control of behavior. Cultures are not necessarily tightly structured wholes. 

Just as biological communities rarely exist in a perfect state of equilibrium, neither do human cultural communities. While there are many examples of the remarkable staying power of human culture, such as Anabaptist cultures in the midst of modernization, such examples should not persuade us into thinking of culture as some sort of permanent Platonic form. Culture is mostly information in brains. But the content of this information goes through ebbs and flows in response to changes in available cultural variants, knowledge, and not to mention other large-scale societal, institutional, economic, and environmental changes. 

Different cultural variants compete, even those without any determinable truth-value. For example, which Christian denomination’s version of the Trinity do I believe in? Cultural variants compete amongst one another within the same selective environment. From a population perspective of culture the selective environment is the individual human brain, or mind. Human brains are roughly common, and therefore provide a roughly common environment for cultural variants to compete within. Human brains pick and choose amongst the available pool of cultural variants. But brains do not exist in a vacuum; of course, there are other forces at work. 

According to Richerson and Boyd, these are the “forces of cultural evolution.” These forces are identified as: random forces, including “ cultural mutation” and “ cultural drift”; and there are decision-making forces, including “ guided variation and biased transmission” (2006: 69). Decision-making forces involve those things we often think of when we think of the special character of humanness, involving will, decisions, and choices. We do not tend to think of these things as subject to natural processes or natural selection. This distinction is made by Richerson and Boyd, and others working on cultural evolution.

Here though, I will argue against the idea that natural selection and decisions (in the forms of guided variation and biased transmission- which entail social forces) need to be distinguished on conceptual grounds, leaving decisions free from naturalized understandings. 

We have already covered some of this ground by focusing on the question of intentionality and decision-making in nature. The question of decisions and nature is one we often gloss over. The usual thinking goes something like: “humans make decisions; the rest of nature is purely instinctual, behavioral, or determined.” 

But nature makes decisions too. “I think we have to admit that the universe is creative, or inventive”, noticed Popper (1978). 

What seems clear is that organisms other than human beings have a degree of intentionality and decision making ability. Having intentionality and an ability to make decisions (“do I chase the wildebeest now or wait ‘till later,” decides the lion) does not remove these organisms from “nature” or a naturalistic analysis of their behavior. Neither do we remove from nature the powerful and influential silverback gorilla, who influences many of the decisions of those others who he comes into contact with. Like earlier, I want to suggest that human intentionality itself is not enough to remove human beings and their decisions from what we broadly understand as nature, including its mechanisms and principles. 

Therefore, a properly natural view of culture is not only acceptable, but vital. Decision-making forces, including biased transmission, need not be separated from natural selection or a more broadly conceived view of human beings (and their decisions) as part of “nature.” We have more intentionality than most animals, certainly true. But the matter is one of degree, not kind. As a result; there are no grounds upon with to rest the widely accepted “superorganic” understanding and approach to human culture.  

4.4 Decisions, Innovation, and Co-Evolution (Biology and Culture)
Rogers and Shoemaker (1971) have worked on their well-known characterization of the innovation-decision process in social/cultural change for some time. The importance of knowledge and its relation with decision making is generally well studied within ration-choice theories. However, I do not believe that the full implications of the relationships between knowledge, decisions, innovations, and social/cultural outcomes as a co-evolutionary process between biology and culture is either well understood or well studied within the social sciences more generally. Durham (1991) and Richerson and Boyd (2006) make this case well. Echoing their call, I am not suggesting here that I fully understand the implications yet either. However, the suggestion here is that there is indeed something going on, something that might have us soon re-thinking “human nature”, species, and Aristotle’s long held distinction between natural and artificial beings. Through radical advances in the life sciences and nanotechnology we may be ushering in a new age of natural and artificial kinds (see Lin and Allhoff, 2005; Goertzel and Bugaj, 2006). 

Part of my argument here is that without a naturalized understanding of such things we fundamentally miss the point. What is interesting is that in adopting a natural stance, we open ourselves up to the tremendous importance of culture in shaping nature itself. But if we by-pass nature, as much of social science seems content to do, we fail to realize how important decisions, knowledge and culture are in shaping our world, social and natural. The prospect of nanotechnology forces recognition of this interplay of social decisions and natural outcomes. What is interesting here too is that in adopting the natural stance, we can see along with Ernst Mayr that the emergence of real novelty in the course of evolution should be regarded as a fact (Popper, 1978). 

4.5 Summary of Third Argument
The ability to decide between beliefs, desires, and behaviors through intentionality is the basis of knowledge growth. Earlier, intentionality was likened to information (as is the case in neuroscience). More information means more options and more decisions to make. The argument here is that culture is also a form of information. Culture is the collection of information we decide to go with. It is the information we impose upon ourselves or have imposed upon us by others through learning and/or other forces. Culture is ideational (consisting of ideas, beliefs, values) and behavior. Our behavior does not always correspond with our ingrained or professed culture. As open behavior systems, we can make decisions between alternative ideas, beliefs and behaviors. We can make decisions, informed (by information), or uninformed. But as our experiences, as well as neurological and social psychological research shows, it is easy for beliefs and behaviors to become ingrained, and seem to be the only option available to us. 

There is a serious failure in the social sciences to recognize in a significant way the relational aspects of culture, society, psychology, and nature in the study of society and human behavior. Examining more deeply the implications of culture as information and human cultures and societies as populations will have a significant impact on the traditional separation of the cultural domain from social institutions, and both from innate psychology. All three have a relation back to their foundation in brute evolutionary biology. 

The suggestion that a selectionist approach “anesthetizes” history is untenable. This is because rich and expansive historical accounts matter both to historians and evolutionists. No one is interested in a simple reduction to “biological explanations”, especially in so far as we are dealing with comparative anthropological or sociological research. Further, another objection has been that cultural evolution is committed to some arbitrary criterion of progress. But this point is easily refuted by pointing out that the understanding of maladaption is just as important as adaptation. Runciman (1999, 2005a&b) points out that it is futile to search for law like regularities that hold good through the ages and across the globe, as Marxism was suppose to with the its stages from ancient to feudal to capitalist to communist modes of production. A variational understanding of evolution is interested in mechanisms and contingent outcomes, not law-like regularities.

Obviously there is still much for social and natural science to study here, in fact, the argument is that such an approach substantially opens up the study of culture.

Throughout this paper, I have been arguing that it is time for the social sciences to respond to a naturalist realist approach to culture and cultural evolution. A more accurate picture of culture does not overshadow its biological basis. A more accurate picture of culture represents the relational aspects of culture and biology. Darwinian conceptual tools from evolutionary biology provide a solid theoretical groundwork, conceptual clarity, and useful generalizations when it comes to providing a better understanding of complex human behavior. Important to add here is that this is a unifying approach, one that does not reduce the study of culture to genes. Rather, in many ways it extends the study of culture, showing just how important culture is in human society, and more profoundly, how important culture is in the history of human evolution, and its future direction. 


For example, see documentary film Who Killed the Electric Car.

While major debates between Duhem-Quine’s coherentism and Popper’s ideas on falsification exist.

Mathematical formulism, as borrowed from population genetics, game theory, and economics, is also an important aspect of Richerson and Boyd’s work (2006: p. 95).