Is a Non-evolutionary Psychology Possible?

Daniel Nettle*, Thom Scott-Phillips

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


The last 30 years has seen the emergence of a self-styled ‘evolutionary’ paradigm within psychology (henceforth, EP). EP is often presented and critiqued as a distinctive, contentious paradigm, to be contrasted with other accounts of human psychology. However, little attention has been paid to the sense in which those other accounts are not also evolutionary. We outline the core commitments of canonical EP. These are, from least distinctive to most: mechanism, interactionism, functionalism, adaptationism, and functional specialization. We argue that the minimal requirement for an approach to psychology to qualify as evolutionary in an important sense is functionalism. This is because the notion of functional design in organismal structures presupposes a history of evolution by natural selection. On this criterion, we argue, most, perhaps all of psychology qualifies as evolutionary, either implicitly or explicitly. We review several approaches that are typically contrasted with EP, showing that these are all evolutionary too by our criteria. We suggest that the EP/non-EP dichotomy be retired. However, though all psychology is evolutionary, psychologists do not always need to foreground evolution in their research, just as is true for biologists. At the same time, more space for evolution does not mean any less space for environment, context, culture, meaning or agency.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEvolutionary Thinking Across Disciplines
Subtitle of host publicationProblems and Perspectives in Generalized Darwinism
EditorsAgathe du Crest, Martina Valković, André Ariew, Hugh Desmond, Philippe Huneman, Thomas A. C. Reydon
Place of PublicationCham, Switzerland
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9783031333583
ISBN (Print)9783031333576
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jun 2023
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameSynthese Library
ISSN (Print)0166-6991
ISSN (Electronic)2542-8292

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