PreprintPDF Available

Beyond Essentialist Fallacies: Fine-Tuning Ideology Critique of Appeals to Biological Sex Differences

Preprints and early-stage research may not have been peer reviewed yet.
Beyond Essentialist Fallacies: Fine-Tuning Ideology Critique of Appeals to
Biological Sex Differences
Dr. Rebekka Hufendiek,
A recurring claim made by evolutionary psychologists is that their opponents neglect biological explanations as
such for ideological reasons. I argue in this paper that this is a self-immunizing strategy that avoids serious
engagement with existing critique by exploiting the long history of essentialist fallacies and anti-essentialist
debunking arguments. To argue for this claim, I reconstruct the general form of the essentialist fallacy as well as
the history of anti-essentialist debunking arguments and suggest that they play a central role in the persistence of
the ideological dimension of the nature-nurture debate. Discussing recent work from evolutionary psychology on
how hormones influence female behavior, I show how self-immunizing strategies are used to avoid engagement
with existing critique, while reproducing sexist stereotypes at the same time.
Evolutionary psychology
has been criticized by feminist philosophers of science for both
empirical and methodological inadequacy and for reproducing sexist stereotypes for more than
two decades (e.g. Fausto-Sterling 1992; Dupré 2001; Travis 2003; Fehr 2011; 2012; Weaver
2019). Evolutionary psychologists, for their part, have hardly offered convincing responses to
these critiques, but keep publishing on the assumed evolutionary roots of sex-specific behavior
and cognition (see e.g. Haselton et al. 2005; Buss 2016; Buss and Schmitt 2019). Instead of
engaging with the existing critiques, publications frequently start with a remark assuming that
possible critics have ideological motives and are in denial about biological explanations as such.
Such neglect of the existing critiques of data, methods, and ethical implications is particularly
vexing, because works by evolutionary psychologists are not only discussed within the
academic community, but tend to reach a broad audience, in recent years particularly because
of their prominence within the so-called “intellectual dark web.”
I would like to thank Joshua Crabill, John Duprè, Ivan Gonzalez-Cabrera, Daniel James, Odin Kroeger, Maria
Kronfeldner, Annabelle Lever, Basil Müller, Matthieu Queloz, Jelscha Schmid, Marc Nicolas Sommer, Markus
Wild and the particularly helpful critique of two anonymous referees.
Evolutionary psychology can be narrowly thought of as an approach to the study of the biology of human
nature that seeks to discover and understand the design of the human mind, using insights from evolutionary
biology. In this view, the mind is a set of information-processing machines that were designed by natural
selection to solve adaptive problems faced by our hunter-gatherer ancestors in the Pleistocene (Barkow,
Cosmides, and Tooby 1992). I use the phrase ‘evolutionary psychology’ to refer to this narrow definition (Buller
2005). I focus on research on sex differences, which has been presented to academic as well as popular
In this paper I argue that the current prominence of largely outdated views on sex
differences in human behavior and cognition in popular science books and throughout the
intellectual dark web needs to be analyzed both by feminist philosophy of science as well as by
ideology critique. Ideology critique is needed to analyze the self-immunizing strategies that are
used to avoid serious engagement with existing critique, but also the ways in which the
repetition of essentialist fallacies keeps justifying oppressive structures.
In the first part of the paper, I present a prime example of a recent work from
evolutionary psychology that focuses on sex differences in behavior and cognition due to the
female hormone cycle. This work is presented to a popular audience as a work belonging to
Darwinian feminism, while at the same time reproducing sexist stereotypes, and ignoring
existing feminist critique (Haselton 2018). I suggest that in order to deal with the popularity of
such work that is poorly supported by evidence and methodologically outdated, we first need
to understand the general structure of essentialist fallacies, as well as the history of anti-
essentialist debunking arguments, because they play an important role in the persistence of the
ideological dimension of the nature-nurture debate. This is what I do in the second and third
parts of the paper. In the second part of the paper, I argue that essentialist fallacies exploit folk
essentialist assumptions about modal and normative implications of the claim that a feature is
in some sense natural, and that this is the backbone of the persistence of the ideological
dimension of the nature-nurture debate. In the third part of the paper, I argue that anti-
essentialist debunking arguments trace reifications that are an ideologically effective part of
fallacious essentialist assumptions. I suggest that it requires both philosophy of science and
ideology critique to debunk essentialist fallacies and uncover reifications.
In the fourth part of the paper, I discuss the question of whether there is a grain of truth
in the worry of evolutionary psychologists that people reject biological explanations as such. I
argue that in recent feminist philosophy of science, and even large parts of academic feminist
discussions on gender and sex in general, this tendency is largely absent from the literature.
Evolutionary psychologists are attacking a straw figure. In the final part of the paper, I come
back to some of the central claims of Haselton’s book. While the critique of her methodological
approach is well known already, the way Haselton claims to embrace Darwinian feminism,
attempts to immunize her work from critique, and reproduces sexist stereotypes is what
deserves closer analysis.
1. A Canny Undead: The Popularity of Outdated Views about Sex Differences
Evolutionary psychology has been criticized by feminist philosophers of science for promoting,
overgeneralizing, and essentializing claims about sex differences in human behavior and
cognition (Fausto-Sterling 1992; Dupré 2001; Travis 2003; Fehr 2011; 2012; Weaver 2019).
Critics agree that claims about sex-specific preferences and mating behavior appear to be poorly
supported by evidence and tend to reproduce sexist stereotypes. Recent evidence shows that
many of the basic assumptions of evolutionary psychologists are clearly outdated.
The psychologist Martie Haselton, however, has recently published a popular book
called Hormonal (2018), within which she applies the methods of evolutionary psychology to
explain the “evolutionary rationale” that underlies hormonal influences on female behavior. At
the same time Haselton calls herself a Darwinian feminist: while “hormonal” is still used as a
derogatory attribute for women, she aims to reclaim the expression by revealing the “deep
evolutionary intelligence” that she sees at work in the female hormone cycle. She suggests that
female behavior is in many ways guided by the hormonal cycle and that a better scientific
understanding of how hormones guide behavior will help women to make well-informed
decisions. A central claim recurring throughout the book is that females have an increased
tendency to go “mate shopping” on the fertile days of their menstrual cycle and that they favor
sexual partners with certain phenotypical features for reproductive reasons on these days. The
applied methodological framework and the straightforward claims about how hormones bring
about sex-specific behavior invite the same kind of critique that has been raised by feminist
philosophers of science against evolutionary psychology for more than two decades. Haselton,
however, not only calls herself a feminist but is careful to address skeptical worries from the
Some believe that any biological explanation for a womans behavior will keep her from achieving. The thinking
is that women and men, if they have any hint of a biological foundation, will doom women to girlish stereotypes,
confine them to a maternal role, and smash them up against the glass ceiling. The implication for researchers is
that we should keep information about womens hormones and their behavior on the down low. Its best not to stir
up these stereotypes. (Haselton 2018, 5-6)
It seems startling that Haselton addresses possible opponents as a unified group of people,
whom she supposes to be in denial of biological explanations as such. Are there such people?
see e.g. recent empirical studies that contradict evolutionary psychologists assumptions about mate choice
(Eastwick et al. 2006; Zentner and Mitura 2012), recent work highlighting the role of the environment as a
source of transgenerational stability in sex-linked behavior (Fine, Dupré, and Joel 2017), the general
demonstration that the view of sexual selection applied by evolutionary psychologists is outdated (Fine 2017), or
the general demonstration that the applied view of sex-specific hormones is outdated (Fausto-Sterling 2020).!
And more importantly: is “This is a biological explanation!” the first complaint that comes to
mind when considering the idea that hormones “nudge” females to go “mate shopping” on
certain days of their cycle? Would most people not, first of all, ask, “Really? I thought human
behavior was more complex!” or “Really? What is your evidence?”
Things become even more startling when having a closer look at where and how
Haselton’s book has received public attention. Haselton has discussed her book on various
shows and podcasts. Among them a podcast issued by the period tracking app Clue
but also
shows associated with the intellectual dark web such as Making Sense with Sam Harris.
intellectual dark web is a loose association of public figures such as Jordan Peterson, Bret
Weinstein, and Sam Harris (Weiss 2018). These public figures are known for highlighting their
self-proclaimed opposition to mainstream opinion, repeatedly claiming that they have been
excluded from public discourse for being free-thinking minds, and favoring the use of social
media channels such as YouTube and podcasts over established academic venues.
intellectual dark web is said to be ideologically diverse,
but it to has a clear connection to
radical libertarianism and the alt-right movement. Recent reports and evidence furthermore
suggest that users systematically progress towards more extreme content.(Roose 2019; Lewis
2020; Ribeiro et al. 2020)
Several associates of the intellectual dark web have an academic background and see
themselves as supporters of “real science” and free speech – often against the academic
institutions for which they are or were working.
An often repeated claim throughout the
intellectual dark web is that feminism as an agenda aiming for political equality is fine, but that
feminists tend to ignore certain scientific facts about sex and gender differences for ideological
reasons. If one traces the references to “real science,” one finds exactly those works from
The podcast is called Hormonal, as well. It advertises the app as a feminist product “aiming to offer people
with cycles scientific information about their bodies” (
See e.g. Sam Harris’s Making Sense Podcast or Bret Weinstein’s DarkHorse Podcast.
Some even say that it is one of its most remarkable features that it basically is “a coalition of strange
bedfellows,” with not much in common apart from the complaint of being shut out from politically correct
mainstream discourse (Blaine 2019; also The Guardian 2018).
Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying resigned from Evergreen State College after having opposed a “Day of
absence,in which white students were asked to leave campus for the day in 2017. Weinstein now runs a private
homepage with a collection of talks, interviews, and podcasts on which he labels himself “Evolutionary Theorist
// Professor in Exile” ( Jordan Peterson is a professor of psychology at the University
of Toronto. He became famous only after having spoken out against Canada’s Bill C-16 in 2016, which
proposed amending the country’s human-rights act to outlaw discrimination based on gender identity and
expression. Peterson made YouTube videos and went on news shows to advocate for his view (relying on an
inaccurate interpretation of the legal implications of the bill) that the bill risked confining free speech by forcing
people to use alternative gender pronouns (Weiss 2018).
evolutionary psychology that have been extensively criticized on empirical and ethical grounds
by feminist philosophers of science. As Evelyn Fox Keller (2010) has lucidly pointed out, the
most striking feature of the nature-nurture debate is that, although it has been declared dead so
many times, it stubbornly refuses to die. It presents itself as a particularly canny undead, where
authors claim to fight the ideological mainstream with real science, although the science they
refer to has been shown to be biased, misguided, and outdated many times over. But the authors
in question keep receiving a high amount of attention all over the intellectual dark web.
That being said, how does Haselton fit into the picture? I will argue that in embracing
“Darwinian feminism”, while reproducing essentializing claims about sex-specific behavior,
Haselton exemplifies the purported “ideological diversity” of the intellectual dark web, but, at
the same time, shows what is problematic about it. Such “ideological diversity” increases the
need to think about the appropriate tools for discussing the undead remains of the nature-nurture
debate, for they tend to appear in seemingly novel ideological guises and attracted a great share
of public attention.
Sharpening those tools requires a look back into the history of essentialist fallacies and
anti-essentialist debunking arguments. I will look into these in the next two sections, before
proceeding to ask whether there is a grain of truth in Haselton’s suggestion that feminists or
political activists might be in denial about biological explanations as such. Ultimately, I will
suggest that authors like Haselton exploit the history of essentialist fallacies and anti-essentialist
debunking arguments not only to make overgeneralizing claims, but to self-immunize their
works from critique.
2. Essentialism and the Essentialist Fallacy
As mentioned above, the so-called nature-nurture debate, i.e., the dispute over the degree to
which a particular human cognitive or behavioral trait is biologically or socially determined,
has been declared dead and buried many times in recent decades. And, indeed, most of the
current empirical research on the mechanisms that realize cognitive and behavioral features
analyze development, heredity, and evolution in a way that avoids dichotomies of nature versus
nurture, genes versus environment, or biology versus culture.
Part of the reason for the
persistence of the debate is its political and ideological dimension.
It has been the backbone
See e.g. Schaffner (2016) on behavioral genetics, Jablonka and Lamb (2005) and Griffiths (2017) on the role of
epigenetics for development, and Stotz and Griffiths (2018) for a developmentalist approach.
See e.g. Fuss (1989) and Antony (2000) for by-now classic feminist engagements with human nature and
essentialism, and Longino (2013), Kronfeldner (2018), and Hannon & Lewens (2018) for more recent critical
engagements with human nature.
of many reactionary arguments for calling some social arrangement be it slavery or male-
dominated households – “natural” or “in accordance with human nature.”
Reactionary arguments that draw strong conclusions from the fact that human beings
appear to have certain features by nature are familiar from various contexts. They range from
Aristotle’s infamous claim that there are natural slaves who lack a deliberative faculty and thus
need a master to direct them (Politics I.13.1260a12), to arguments raised by scientists in the
19th century claiming that women who aim for a job “struggle against nature” and that giving
women the right to vote was, evolutionarily speaking, retrogressive.
The simplest form of this
line of reasoning that runs through many of these arguments is the following:
From the premise
P1: Subject S possesses feature F by nature.
it is concluded that
C1: Feature F cannot be changed.
C2: Feature F should not be changed.
C3: The possession of feature F is intrinsically beneficial to S.
Some arguments only embrace C1, C2, or C3, and some embrace all three. Inferences from P1
to C2 or C3 are potential cases of a naturalistic fallacy, to the extent that they infer normative
conclusions from a non-normative premise. Inferences from P1 to C1 are assuming the term
‘nature’ to entail strong modal consequences, e.g., regarding the necessity of certain law-like
relations that realize a feature. A slightly subtler version of the argument does not infer anything
Debates about supposed natural inequalities between sexes and races are part and parcel of
the development of social Darwinism in the second half of the nineteenth century. Walter
Bagehot for example speaks about the women’s-rights movement as an attempt to rear “a race
of monstrosities” by a process of “unnatural selection” (Bagehot 1879; for further examples
see Fausto-Sterling 1992; Chapter 1; for a discussion of sexist bias in Darwin’s work see
Richards 1983; 2017; for an overview of Darwinian feminist voices already prevalent in the
19th century, see Brilmeyer 2017).
‘Possession of a feature by nature’ may also be replaced by ‘lack of a feature by nature’. A
slave, according to Aristotle, lacks certain cognitive abilities that they would need to be a
good master. That implies that nothing can or should be changed about the lack of the feature:
trying to teach a slave to be a good master would be a waste of time. It also would not be
beneficial, since it would push the slave to live against their own nature.
from P1 alone but adds a premise that unpacks the essentialist understanding of nature in the
modal or normative direction:
P2: A feature possessed by nature cannot be changed.
P3: A feature possessed by nature should not be changed.
Louise Antony (2000) has labeled P2 the deterministic and P3 the paternalistic premise. Each
spells out a different part of the classical understanding of an essence: first, a feature that is part
of the essence of something cannot be changed (at least not without destroying the entity
possessing the feature or changing it into something different); second, it should not be
changed. For, according to the Aristotelian understanding of a nature of a being, a thing’s nature
is normative in that it defines the standards of its well-being and flourishing. So, preventing a
thing from what it is inclined to do naturally or, for that matter, changing a thing’s natural
features, amounts to obstructing its flourishing or well-being.
Once we have unpacked these essentialist premises, we can see what renders them
problematic: they almost certainly generate an equivocation fallacy, i.e., a fallacy that exploits
an ambiguity. For when we talk about cognitive or behavioral features of humans the claim that
a feature is natural can mean many things, but usually not that it cannot or should not be changed
(Antony 2000). Being natural is often automatically translated into being universally present,
being innate, or having an origin in evolution. But these not only are different things that cannot
be inferred from each other, but are also still ambiguous notions (Griffiths 2002). I will discuss
each of them in turn.
First, that a feature is “universally present” means that it is present in every individual
and in all cultures. But standard candidates for natural features, such as hair or eye color, can
be genetically polymorphic. Polymorphic features are not universal in the sense of being present
in every individual, but they can be present cross-culturally.
By contrast, that a feature is universal in the sense of being present in all cultures and
all individuals does not necessarily imply that it is natural in the sense of being genetically
determined or the result of biological evolution. Michael Tomasello, for instance, defends the
claim that different human languages include universals in their grammatical structure and that
these universals are cultural-historical products created independently by specific cultural
groups. They are identical not because grammar is genetically determined, but because certain
On the connection between the human essence or nature and living well in Aristotle, see EN1097b221098a4
and e.g. Shields (2007, 316ff) or Nussbaum (1992).
more basic social, cognitive, and vocal-auditory abilities are genetically determined and
because “people all over the world have similar communicative jobs to get done” (Tomasello
2010, 315).
Second, calling a feature “innate” is a vernacular expression that seems to imply that a
feature is present from birth. But calling something innate leaves open whether it is a
dispositional feature that will develop at a later stage in life, as well as whether it is a
monomorphic or polymorphic feature and whether there is evidence for the feature’s being
genetically determined or only for its being insensitive to developmental variation. Paul
Griffiths therefore suggests dropping the notion entirely and rather replace it with more specific
terms (Griffiths 2002).
Finally, that a feature has its origin in evolution is often taken to mean that it is
genetically determined and that it has an adaptive function. Evolution, however, takes place on
several levels of which the genetic level is just one (Jablonka and Lamb 2005). Furthermore, a
feature that results from evolution does not need to be adaptive. A feature might well be
genetically determined without having any adaptive function, or it might have several adaptive
functions in response to several selective pressures (Gould and Lewontin 1979). This is
particularly relevant, because claims about the natural function of a feature are likely to end up
in essentialist fallacies, since they tend to suggest normative implications.
Accordingly, that a feature is “natural” might mean many different things: that it occurs
panculturally, that it is genetically determined (where that might result in monomorphic or
polymorphic traits), that it is an adaptation, that it shows developmental fixity, that it is not
learned, or that it is statistically common or even present in all members of a species. None of
these understandings of being natural automatically implies the stronger essentialist claims that
are expressed in premises P2 and P3 that a trait cannot or should not be changed. They certainly
tell us something about the way in which a feature is fixed or susceptible to change. But where
the respective explanations are correct, that usually puts us in a better position to change the
feature in question. That we think of fertility as largely genetically determined, for example,
does not imply that we think of it as a feature that cannot be changed. Rather it implies that we
think of the ways to influence, manipulate, and change it in different ways than we would if we
took fertility to be largely determined by environmental factors (Haslanger 2012, 211).
Arguments that move from P1 and P2 or P3 to C1, C2, or C3 are therefore highly likely
to commit a specific type of equivocation fallacy: the essentialist fallacy. Equivocations are
informal fallacies that owe their being fallacious to an ambiguous use of a word that reoccurs
in at least one premise and one conclusion, and not to their form or logical structure (Hansen
2020). Furthermore, uncovering an essentialist fallacy is usually a non-trivial hermeneutical
endeavor, since the premises and conclusions do not necessarily include the word ‘nature’. As
we have seen above, claiming that a subject possesses a feature by nature is a particularly
ambiguous form of expression that strongly invites essentialist associations. But the claim that
a feature is, say, universal, innate, hard-wired, or the result of evolution might have the same
effect of inviting further premises and conclusions that imply modal or normative
consequences, because of essentialist background assumptions about nature.
This leaves us with a broad class of potential essentialist fallacies: S commits the
essentialist fallacy iff S ascribes a feature to a subject, where that feature is described as natural
(or innate, hard-wired, evolutionarily acquired, etc.), such that the ambiguity of the
overgeneralized description leads to further deterministic assumptions about difficulties in
changing the feature or to normative worries about restrictions in how we should or should not
change the feature.
Not only is the class of possible essentialist fallacies broad, it is also often hard to decide
whether something is an essentialist fallacy or not. P1 makes an empirical claim about a
feature’s being natural. It might be highly controversial whether and in what sense P1 is true.
But it might also be crystal clear that P1 alone is already fallacious. In this vein Catherine
Hundleby suggests to treat biological reductionism with regard to human cognitive and
behavioral features as a fallacy of presumption, assuming that “any automatic assumption that
a feature has its source in either genetics or in natural selection is fallacious.” (Hundleby 2009).
Not many cases will be crystal clear, however, since not even sociobiologists (except maybe
when using metaphoric hyperbole) will argue that single genes straightforwardly determine
human behavior or that the environment has no influence on behavior and cognition at all.
Treating biological reductionism as a fallacy without a detailed discussion is therefore only an
option for some very obvious cases of inadequate reduction. The less obvious cases oftentimes
need a discussion of whether P1 is empirically adequate or not. Furthermore, what generates
the essentialist fallacy is not P1’s being false alone but rather its overgeneralizing the
description of the feature in a way that leads to wrong conclusions about its deterministic and
normative implications. It is, therefore, not necessarily every claim of the form ‘S possesses the
feature x by nature’ that automatically generates an essentialist fallacy. Whenever the
ambiguous description of what it means to be natural generates fallacious essentialist
assumptions about modal or normative implications, we have a clear case of the essentialist
fallacy in front of us.
As has been remarked before, many arguments from nature gain their force from making
P1 appear to be backed up by science and thereby neutral and uncontroversial, while at the same
time preserving the essentialist flavor of the notion of nature (Antony 2000). The essentialist
fallacy appears to be a die-hard fallacy, partly because of a ubiquitous kind of folk essentialism
(Machery, Lindquist, and Griffiths 2009) and partly because versions of the essentialist fallacy
happen to be the backbone of several politically reactionary agendas. It is part of abandoning
folk essentialism to hold different claims about what is natural apart, since none of them implies
the others. Biological traits change over time, they can be highly sensitive to the environments
they are situated in, and they can often be manipulated in ways that permanently alter them. It
depends on controversial ethical and political views where and how we draw a line that is
supposed to stop us from intervening and manipulating. Folk essentialism has lost its seductive
power in large parts of research on behavioral and cognitive features. This is partly due to a
history of anti-essentialist debunking arguments that I will sketch in the next section.
3. Anti-Essentialist Debunking Arguments and Ideology Critique
We have seen that reactionary arguments often ground their claims in essentialism. As we will
see now, there is also a long tradition of critical engagement with such arguments. These
critiques typically aim to show that certain features, such as being a slave or having a particular
gender, are not part of an essential, unchangeable nature but rather are in some sense the result
of contingent contextual factors (which might be further described as the result of social
construction). This history of debunking arguments can be traced back at least to Rousseau’s
critique of Aristotle’s assumption that there are natural-born slaves:
Aristotle was right; but he took the effect for the cause. Anyone born in slavery is born for
slavery nothing is more certain. Slaves, in their bondage, lose everything, even the desire to
be free. They love their servitude even as the comrades of Ulysses loved their life as brutes. But
if there are slaves by nature, it is only because there has been slavery against nature. (Rousseau
1762/2004, 4)
From the fact that there are people who are born as slaves, it does not follow that there are
natural-born slaves. To be born as a slave means to be assigned a certain social role from birth
onward. People who appear as “natural slaves” are people who adapted well to the social role
that is ascribed to them, not people who differ from their masters due to any inborn faculties.
We can find another locus classicus for this type of anti-essentialist debunking argument
in Karl Marx’s works. Marx criticizes the fact that economists treat economic processes as if
natural laws governed them:
the law of capitalist accumulation, metamorphosed by economists into pretended law of nature,
in reality merely states that the very nature of accumulation excludes every diminution in the
degree of exploitation of labour, and every rise in the price of labour, which could seriously
imperil the continual reproduction, on an ever enlarging scale, of the capitalist relation. (Capital
I, MECW 35, 616)
Economists, according to Marx, create the impression that the growing poverty of the working
class is inevitable since the structure of the market demands that companies produce cheaper
and cheaper products. Similarly, Marx takes it to be characteristic of capitalism that workers
appear to be independent and free to accept or reject contracts with particular employers, while
it is not in their power to choose not to be employed. They objectively depend on wage labor,
and that is a social fact within a particular economic system. What Marx characterizes as an
illusion is that the social fact that workers depend on wage labor within the capitalist system
appears to be comparable to the natural fact that human beings typically must work for their
food. The position of the worker within the economic structure makes it seem as if the
constructed economic relationships were a natural dependence relation (MECW 28, 204ff.,
James, unpublished manuscript).
The underlying structure of Marx’s critique became a basic tool for critical theorists
such as Adorno, who quotes the above passage from Capital and comments on it:
That the assumption of natural laws is not to be taken à la lettre, least of all to be ontologized in the
sense of a however stylized design of so-called humanity, is confirmed by the strongest motive of
Marxist theory of all, that of the abolition of those laws. (Adorno 1983, 347)
Changing social reality will change the “design of humanity” as well. A similar line of
reasoning is prominent in feminist theory. Simone de Beauvoir argues in The Second Sex that
what people take to be the natural essence of womanhood is, in fact, produced by society and
gets reproduced so smoothly because we think of it as involving essential traits of women
(Beauvoir 2011). In a similar vein, MacKinnon claims that “Gender, cross-culturally, was found
to be a learned quality, an acquired characteristic, an assigned status, with qualities that vary
independently of biology and an ideology that attributes them to nature” (MacKinnon 1991,
529). MacKinnon also makes the point that “the more inequality is pervasive, the more it is
simply ‘there.’ And the more real it looks, the more it looks like the truth” (MacKinnon 1991,
The idea that it is part and parcel of oppressive systems to make it seem as if contingent
social orders were natural and the respective debunking arguments can be found in Marxism,
critical theory, and feminism. It also strongly influenced the ideological dimension of the
nature-nurture debate. The concept of reification is central for these views and different forms
of ideology critique. Reification occurs where oppressive social relations are particularly
pervasive and therefore appears unchangeable to us. This appearance tends to further stabilize
the oppressive social system in question. Reification is a side-effect of a smooth functioning
oppressive system, where the smooth functioning generates the illusion that relations resulting
from historically contingent human action or social construction are “natural” and, therefore,
unchangeable (Geuss 1981; Shelby 2003).
Reification is a main reason why certain essentialist fallacies appear to be so seductive.
Within a capitalist system the social fact that workers depend on wage labor appears to be an
inevitable condition of human cooperation. Within patriarchy dominant behavior of men and
submissive behavior of women appears to natural. Tracing and analyzing reifications basically
means to debunk essentialist fallacies. As I will demonstrate in the last section, successfully
tracing the reifications that current popular science on sex differences relies on needs the united
forces of philosophy of science and ideology critique. It needs philosophy of science to evaluate
the quality of the relevant empirical work and to show in what sense a trait is described as
natural in an overgeneralizing and ambiguous way. And it needs ideology critique to unveil the
kind of oppressive structure that is reified, to argue why it is oppressive, how it is the result of
historically grown power-relations and not ‘simply there,’ how it came to appear as natural as
it does, and how this can be exploited for the ideological purpose of maintaining oppressive
4. Is There a Reversed Essentialist Fallacy?
We have seen that anti-essentialist debunking and revealing reifications has a long tradition and
that it is an important part of both feminist philosophy of science and ideology critique. That
does not imply, however, that people reject “biological explanations” as such for ideological
reasons as Haselton suggests. Still, many readers might think that there is some grain of truth
in the claim that part of a politically progressive agenda is a knee-jerk rejection to biological
explanations of human cognitive and behavioral traits. In a paper on feminist engagement with
evolutionary psychology, Carla Fehr reports: “On occasion, when I lecture on evolution and
gender, the response from some feminist scholars is outright hostility that a feminist would even
consider the topic” (Fehr 2012, 67). Is there such a knee-jerk reflex against engagement with
biological explanations of sex differences as such or the topic of gender and evolution?
Assuming that it does indeed exist, how could it be unpacked?
As has been spelled out in the last two sections, the central reason for a possible knee-
jerk rejection of “biological explanationsof cognitive and behavioral traits is the well-
grounded suspicion that ambiguous references to biology are likely to commit an essentialist
fallacy and that essentialist fallacies have often been used to reify oppressive social
relationships. The anti-essentialist debunking arguments presented in the last section do in fact
reject reifying explanations. However, they do not reject claims about a feature’s being e.g.
panculturally present, adaptive, developmentally fixed, or statistically common as such.
Instead, they defend an anti-essentialist agenda on both empirical and political grounds.
Some authors suggest that the review of the works on sex differences up to the present
allows for a well-grounded historical inductive argument showing that theories about cognitive
differences between the sexes so far are a) poorly supported by evidence and b) have for
centuries been used to justify the oppression of women (Fausto-Sterling 1992; Kourany 2010,
5). That suggests that we should be skeptical as to whether future studies will have different
effects. Steve Rose has argued with regard to studies on race and IQ that research on cognitive
differences has often been justified as being helpful in overcoming disadvantages of the
respective group by developing special education programs where in fact the studies practically
always have been used to justify the dominant position of white males. Rose furthermore
suggests that these studies are always biased in the sense that in a non-racist and non-sexist
society it would not occur to people to do these kinds of studies (Rose 2009).
Another argument suggests that research on cognitive differences is practically bound
to be misused in ways that restrict the opportunities of the underrepresented group. Social
scientists point out that it is very difficult to use scientific evidence to convince the public about
issues that are strongly politicized. It is therefore not particularly likely that findings that speak
against differences in cognitive abilities would have significant effects. On the contrary, as long
as there still are some scientists offering whatever kind of evidence in favor of cognitive
differences it is likely that this research will get a disproportionate amount of attention due to
bias (see e.g. Meynell 2012 for discussion of an example). If researchers really find cognitive
differences, there is a disproportionate danger that these results will be abused to justify
discrimination (Kitcher 2001). One possible response to this would be to hold research on
cognitive and behavioral sex differences up to particularly rigorous standards of evidence
(Kitcher 1987). Since we have very little knowledge of the actual historical processes that led
to the evolution of social behavior, this would dismiss most of the research from evolutionary
psychology concerned with sex differences from the start (Fehr 2012, 58). Another possible
response to these problems would be to make research about differences in cognitive abilities
a low research priority for (justified) ethical reasons (Elliott 2017). Accordingly, we can grant
Haselton that a certain kind of research on cognitive and behavioral differences is rejected by
many authors for both scientific and ethical reasons. This, however, is very different from
rejecting biological explanations as such.
Finally, is there a tendency among progressive voices within the nature-nurture debate
to make overgeneralizations and repeat essentialist reifications as part of an anti-essentialist
agenda? Do people reject biological explanations of sex differences as such or find any
engagement with gender and evolution outrageous? If that was the case, we might speak of a
reversed version of the essentialist fallacy. Such a reversed version of the essentialist fallacy
occurs, where 1) S assumes that any form of natural or biological explanation of cognitive or
behavioral features has essentialist implications regarding the modal or normative implications
of a feature’s being natural and therefore 2) S rejects any version of P1 in order to avoid those
modal and normative implications.
We have already seen that biological explanations can be fallacious if they are
implausibly reductionist. Hardly any current biologist would question that genes and the
environment jointly determine the development of the traits of an organism. Even the
explanations offered by Developmental Systems Theory, suggesting that genes are simply one
set of resources that causally contribute to the construction of the organism, obviously count as
biological explanations though they do not have any essentialist implications (Meynell 2008).
Therefore, rejecting biological explanations as such to avoid essentialist implications is
certainly fallacious.
As we have seen with regard to the essentialist fallacy, it occurs not where a biological
explanation is offered, but where an overgeneralized, ambiguous (and potentially false)
description of a feature’s being natural produces fallacious essentialist inferences about the
modal or normative implications of that feature’s being natural. The reversed version of the
fallacy overgeneralizes well-justified anti-essentialist worries to explanations that need not
have essentialist implications.
One might feel tempted to call this reversed fallacy the anti-essentialist fallacy. I prefer to call it the reverse
essentialist fallacy, because I take essentialism to be a misguided view. What makes the reverse essentialist
fallacy a fallacy is the suspicion of essentialism in the wrong place not the false application of anti-essentialist
A second version of this reversed fallacy assumes that any description of a feature as
being the result of learning, or social construction entails that it is by that fact less stable. The
second version of the reversed essentialist fallacy occurs where 1) S assumes that any
description of a feature as socially constructed avoids all kinds of modal or normative
implications, since whatever results from social construction is a) less stable than natural
features, b) can be successfully changed by us, and c) there are no principled reasons not to
change the feature in question, 2) S prefers a social constructivist explanation, because S
automatically assumes a), b), and c) to follow from this. It is, again, not difficult to see, why
such reasoning is fallacious. We have seen that one possible meaning of a trait’s being natural
is that it is developmentally fixed, i.e., that it develops more or less stably under varying
environmental conditions. But it does not follow from the claim that a trait is dependent on
environmental factors that it is in an interesting sense more susceptible to change than a trait
that is developmentally fixed. The two explanations mainly make different suggestions of
where and how we should intervene if we wanted to change the feature in question. Recent
studies suggest that sometimes sex-linked behavior (e.g. in rats) can be stabilized cross-
generationally more effectively through effects from the environment than via assumed
proximal mechanisms of genetical or hormonal sex (Fine, Dupré, and Joel 2017).
Things do not get easier when we assume that the relevant environment is a complex
human social environment. Whether and to what degree complex social mechanisms or systems
are malleable or susceptible to change is a complex question. Theorizing about social
mechanisms suggests that we should expect the construction of social kinds to have both
stability and instability as its result (Mallon 2003, 350, Kroeger forthcoming). We can tell from
experience with economic predictions and interventions, however, that social constructions can
reach a level of complexity that makes prediction and intervention just as difficult as they tend
to be with regard to biological phenomena.
Now we know how possible versions of the reversed essentialist fallacy would look like.
But can they be found in the relevant feminist philosophy of science-literature of recent
decades? There is a complex discussion within feminism about how to spell out the sex/gender
distinction. One prominent complaint raised by recent feminists against the earlier generation
is that by distinguishing sex from gender the authors have reified, naturalized, or essentialized
what sex is. Where this critique is justified, it involves cases of the reversed essentialist fallacy.
Most prominently, Butler argues that cultural conceptions about gender figure in “the very
apparatus of production whereby sexes themselves are established” (Butler 1999, 11). Many
introductions to feminism mention the slogan “biology is destiny” to pin down the essentialist
agenda being criticized (Jenainati 2019). The critique of this slogan is sometimes accompanied
with the implicit assumption that progressive accounts should refrain from biological
explanations of all sorts and put as much explanatory weight on the gender and social-
construction side of the story as possible. But usually, where those worries are made explicit,
they turn out to be justified worries about wrong essentialist assumptions and essentialist
fallacies and not rejections of biological explanations as such.
The vast majority of current feminist debates take it for granted that biological traits are
influenced by social factors. Furthermore, most current feminists do not think of biology as
destiny but rather acknowledge that [w]ith the aid of synthetic hormones, immortal tissue
cultures, and delicate pipettes the very biological processes of human fertility, and even the
sexual form of the body as male and female, became profoundly manipulable(Murphy 2012,
I have thus traced the grain of truth that one might suspect is present in Haselton’s claim
that people reject biological explanations as such, with the following results: there are good
reasons to debunk essentialist fallacies, not for their appeal to biology, but for their fallacious
essentialist implications with potentially harmful consequences. There are also good reasons to
be skeptical about the ethical value of research on cognitive differences between different
groups of humans. Finally, there might here or there be a tendency among anti-essentialists,
certain schools of feminism, or social constructivists to overgeneralize the anti-essentialist
agenda and thereby commit reversed versions of the essentialist fallacy. The relevant
overgeneralizations, however, appear to be a rather rare phenomenon within the current debate
since the vast majority of authors would agree that they rest on outdated views. That leaves us
not exactly where we started, but very close to where we started: it seems that Haselton is
attacking a straw figure: not an entirely fictional creature, but certainly not a charitable portrait
of her most significant opponents either.
5. Mate Shopping and Ideology
Among philosophers of science the Galileo-Defense is known as the claim that while
one is doing excellent science, one is persecuted because of ideology and ignorance (Lloyd
2003). Where theories that rely on insufficient data and outdated methods use the Galileo-
Defense it turns into a strategy of self-immunization. Such self-immunization is omnipresent in
evolutionary psychology and it turned into a powerful tool, particularly when selling essentialist
fallacies with sexist implications to a broader audience.
Here, the Galileo-Defense is used to
sell reactionary ideology as an objective truth that is contested by the opponents for ideological
reasons alone.
Haselton, however, complicates matters even further by both using the Galileo-Defense
and, at the same time, calling herself a Darwinian feminist. That raises the question of how the
strategy of self-immunization relates to her feminist agenda. The label “Darwinian feminism,”
is closely connected to feminist evolutionary biologists like Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, Barbara Smuts,
and Patricia Adair Gowaty who all have addressed androcentric bias in their field as part of
their work (e.g. Smuts 1985; Hrdy 2000). These researchers are unified in their contestation of
the traditional view of natural selection as functioning only through the inheritance of genes
(Gowaty 1997). Apparently in line with this, Haselton points out that we need more research
See e.g. the beginning of Buss’s book The Evolution of Desire: “Many feminists worry that evolutionary
explanations imply an inequality between the sexes ... encourage stereotypes about the sexes, perpetuate the
exclusion of women from power and resources ... For these reasons feminists sometimes reject evolutionary
accounts” (Buss 2003, 17-18). For an explicit discussion of the relation of evolutionary psychology and feminism
that ignores the scientific dimension of feminist critique entirely, see Buss and Schmitt 2011; for a critique of
Buss, see also Fehr 2012.
See also the neuroscientist Baron-Cohen’s work on psychological sex-differences, according to which the male
brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems, while the female brain is predominantly
wired for empathy. Addressing a broader audience, he claims:The 1960s and 70s, whilst socially liberating, also
made an open-minded debate about any possible role of biology contributing to psychological sex differences
impossible. Those who explored the role of biology even whilst acknowledging the importance of culture
found themselves accused of defending an essentialism that perpetuated inequalities between the sexes, and of
oppression. Not a climate in which scientists can ask questions about mechanisms in nature. (Baron-Cohen 2005,
23). Baron-Cohen claims to have detected such mechanisms in the different organization of male and female brains
due to the release of hormones during pregnancy. The so-called brain organization hypothesis has been proven to
be poorly supported by evidence by several authors (see e.g. Jordan-Young 2011; Fine et al. 2015). Baron-Cohen,
however, defends his hypothesis in a popular science book with the title The Essential Difference (in which the
speculative status of the hypothesis is not made particularly clear), and uses the initial poorly established
hypothesis, to draw conclusions about why more men than women study math and physics (Baron-Cohen 2012)
That is a clear case of an essentialist fallacy that makes it seem as if a reified social fact was an essential difference
in nature. His work gets frequently cited in public discussions against gender-mainstreaming within academia. See
e.g. the speech of Harvard’s President in 2005, former Google employee James Darmore’s internal memo. Baron-
Cohen’s ideas seem to be omnipresent (often without being explicitly quoted) in countless texts and podcasts
within the entourage of the intellectual dark web. See e.g. Jordan Peterson’s often repeated claim that women are
‘more agreeable’ and empathetic, which is good when taking care of children but not when wanting to ‘build a
political system’ (
on the female brain and body, since we know far too little about women’s hormones (Haselton
2018, 4-5). The general complaint that Haselton raises here is indeed an old but still important
one: for decades of medical research, males have been the standard model organism on which
many theories have been developed (Longino 1990). Furthermore, the word “hormonal” is still
being used in a dismissive way and is only attributed to women. “Going hormonal,” according
to Haselton, is not about becoming irrational; instead, there is “evolutionary wisdom” to be
found in the way our hormones guide us through life (Haselton 2018, 10). Reclaiming a concept
that picks out assumed female-specific features and has been used in a derogatory way sounds
like a classic feminist move as well. But what is the proffered positive picture of how hormones
guide us through life?
One of Haselton’s main claims is that hormones nudge females on the fertile days of
their cycle to go “mate shopping”: “the discoveries from my lab suggest that fertile women seek
out the most attractive men - just as it happens among female and male primates, hamsters, and
many species in between” (Haselton 2018, 19-20). This boldly generalizing assumption about
female mating behavior across the species relies on a very particular version of sexual selection
theory that is supposed to bolster the idea of “strategic female sexuality.” Haselton considers
this to be a feminist point as well. She quotes the work of Martha McClintock (1978), who
discovered that the mating behavior of female rats is much more active than was previously
thought by studying it in the wild. McClintock has suggested that this crucial difference has
been overlooked because of stereotypes regarding activity and passivity that biased research
concerned with sex-related stereotypes.
But it is not particularly clear how Haselton wants to relate her own findings to that of
McClintock; in fact, on a closer look, the reference to McClintock seems misleading in an
almost bizarre way. It is certainly true that McClintock stands in a tradition of feminist research
that has unveiled gendered biases that attribute activity to male mating behavior and passivity
to female mating behavior in research up to the present. It is also true that this bias can be traced
back to Darwin’s theory of sexual selection (Richards 2017). Feminist researchers have lucidly
analyzed the reified Victorian gender stereotypes that appeared so natural to Darwin that he
saw them at work all over the animal kingdom: “wherever you look among animals, eagerly
promiscuous males are pursuing females, who peer from behind languidly drooping eyelids to
discern the strongest and handsomest. Does it not sound like the wishfulfillment dream of a
proper Victorian gentleman?” (Hubbard 1979, 55)
Haselton suggests that her findings that women walk more, dress up more, or make
unconscious mating choices which follow an “evolutionary rationale,show that women
actively pursue a strategy in their mating behavior. She appears to believe that this reveals an
active/passive bias in a similar way than McClintock’s findings or Ruth Hubbards’s analysis. I
think this suggestion is misleading for three reasons.
First of all, we usually take human beings to act on decisions rather than an evolutionary
rationale. The finding that human females unconsciously follow an evolutionary rationale, if it
were true, would therefore not reveal an active/passive bias in the way that McClintock’s
findeings did. Second, suppose we grant, for the sake of the argument, that the findings that
women tend to walk more, dress up more and that their voice rise in pitch during the fertile
days of their cycles will be successfully replicated in different settings and cross-culturally
within the next years. Even then, the fact that careful studies need to be done to find some
evidence for a pattern like that at all, is grist to the mill of the standard position within
anthropology that Haselton wants to question. If human males were primarily attracted to
females during ovulation or if females were primarily attracted to a certain type of males during
ovulation then that would most likely be easily seen and demonstrated. What appears instead
to be obvious and eye-catching is that human sexuality is largely decoupled from hormonal
control and that our sexual activity stands out as especially diverse and unproductive (Fine
2017). None of Haselton’s findings are fit to doubt this standard position.
Finally, what generates a whole cascade of essentialist fallacies are not Haselton’s
findings but her straightforward application of Trivers’ version of sexual selection theory to
them (Trivers 1972). Trivers suggests that all over the animal kingdom we see that females
invest more in the production of offspring, since they produce only one egg within a cycle
compared to a huge amount of sperm that the males of most species are able to produce within
the same time. Beyond the production of gametes gestation, lactation, and nurturing also count
as investments. Trivers concludes that the costs of a “poor-quality mating” are significantly
higher for a female than for a male, assuming that males can simply ejaculate and move on.
Accordingly, we should expect females to pick their mates carefully, whereas males would do
best to compete with other males in order to mate with as many females as possible. Trivers
hypotheses indeed enjoyed the status of universal principles for many years and became the
bedrock of evolutionary psychologist’ claims about evolved sex differences in human behavior.
They have, however, been questioned for several reasons in the last decades. When comparing
the behavior of different species it turns out that neither competition nor promiscuity are the
preserve of male reproductive success (Fine 2017). Furthermore, Trivers’ parental investment
theory assumes that the best strategy for males, who face more mating competitors than
females, is to invest more heavily in weaponry, ornaments or other traits that increase their
access to mates, where in fact there is a diverse range of male strategies to be found among
animals that sidestep aggression and armory (see e.g. Kokko and Jennions 2008). Finally, again,
human sexual activity including mating strategies stands out as especially diverse and
Haselton’s straightforward application of Trivers’ principles, however, allows her to
interpret behavior that could just as well be understood as a performance of local gender
stereotypes as the expression of an underlying evolutionary rationale:
He’s aggressive and confident, loud, a bit egoistical, and physically larger than others, but he’s the one.’ Whether
we’re talking about wolves, birds, nonhuman primates, or humans, this is the mate-selection behavior that emerges
across the species over and over again: females at high fertility showing a preference for dominant males. (Haselton
2018, 155)
What generates an essentialist fallacy here is the misleadingly overgeneralized
description of a female preference that is assumed to be present all over the animal kingdom
for adaptive reasons. Haselton suggests throughout the book that women can learn to
understand the way hormones nudge them on the fertile days of their cycle and choose to ‘go
with the flow’ or not. Accordingly, Haselton is not drawing fallacious normative conclusions
from the overgeneralized premise but modal one’s: the sexual desire for dominant men is an
essential part of female nature, we can decide to ignore it, but unlearning it seems like a task
unlikely to accomplish. This is nothing, however, that follows from her data but rather from the
misleading interpretation of the data within a highly controversial theorietical framework.
A closer look at Haselton’s Darwinian feminism reveals that her work is a prime
example of what the ideological diversity that is ascribed to discussions about feminist topics
in the intellectual dark web often looks like: the activist agenda that Haselton references simply
does not apply to the central claim of her work. Obviously, we need to know more about female
hormones to be able to offer certain medical treatments. But even if it were true that human
females on fertile days were busy in finding male partners with particularly symmetrical
features, the medical value of knowing that this is the case remains opaque. At the same time,
the permanent repetition of stereotypes, such as the “trade-off between choosing Mr. Sexy and
choosing Mr. Stable” (Haselton 2018, Chapter 5), as parts of an evolutionary rationale
throughout the book is a clear case of taking reified social facts for essential parts of human
nature. Understanding hormonal nudges, the argument goes, can help women to understand
themselves better and make the right decisions. That would presuppose, however, that the
empirical evidence and the reflection of the applied method would be much better than they
actually are. Instead, Haselton’s revival of outdated theories of sexual selection allows her to
present the reified stereotypes of females desiring dominant males as essential parts of human
nature. This reifying description of sexual preferences is what brings Haselton’s work close to
works prominent among the members of the intellectual dark web.
Finally, Haselton exploits the complex history of anti-essentialist arguments to
immunize her work from both epistemic and moral critique. We have seen that this is a familiar
move to sell essentialist fallacies to a broad audience and one that enjoys particular prominence
among members of the intellectual dark web. Haselton goes one step further, however, in
claiming to pursue a feminist agenda herself and relating her own work to work of feminist
scientists. This move blurs the fact that Haselton is selling stereotypes, while ignoring the
methodological critique that feminist scientists have been raising against such work for decades.
6. Conclusion
I have argued that the frustrating permanence and prominence of largely outdated views on sex
differences in human behavior and cognition needs to be analyzed and criticized both by
feminist philosophy of science as well as by ideology critique.
I reconstructed the general form of what I call the essentialist fallacy, an equivocation
fallacy that presupposes that a subject has a feature “by nature” and infers fallacious modal and
normative consequences from the ambiguous understanding of “nature.” I also reconstructed
the history of anti-essentialist debunking arguments. Anti-essentialist debunking arguments
trace essentialist assumptions that take reifications to be “natural” or “simply there.” I suggested
that it requires both philosophy of science and ideology critique to debunk essentialist fallacies
and uncover reifications. In the fourth part of the paper, I discussed the question of whether
there is a grain of truth in the worry of evolutionary psychologists that people reject biological
explanations as such. I argued that in recent feminist philosophy of science literature, and large
parts of academic feminist discussions on gender and sex, this tendency is largely absent.
Evolutionary psychologists are attacking a straw figure to immunize their works from critique.
An example for this is the popular book on female hormones by Martie Haselton. While the
scientific critique of Haselton’s methodology is well known already, what deserves attention in
terms of the underlying ideology is the way Haselton embraces a Darwinian feminist agenda
while at the same time reproducing sexist stereotypes related to outdated theories of sexual
selection and immunizing her work from critique by accusing others of being in denial about
biological explanations as such.
Adorno, Theodor. 1983. Negative Dialectics. New York: Continuum.
Antony, Louise. 2000. “Natures and Norms.” Ethics 111 (1): 8–36.
Bagehot, Walter. 1879. “Biology and Women’s Rights.” Popular Science Monthly 14: 201–
Barkow, Jerome, Leda Cosmides, and John Tooby, eds. 1992. The Adapted Mind:
Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture. New York: Oxford
University Press.
Baron-Cohen, Simon. 2005. “The Essential Difference: The Male and Female Brain.” Phi
Kappa Phi Forum 85: 23–26.
———. 2012. The Essential Difference. London: Penguin.
Beauvoir, Simone de. 2011. The Second Sex. New York: Vintage Books.
Brilmeyer, S. Pearl. 2017. “Darwinian Feminisms.” In Gender: Matter, edited by Stacey
Alaimo, 19–34. Macmillan Interdisciplinary Handbooks. New York: Macmillan.
Buller, David. 2005. Adapting Minds: Evolutionary Psychology and the Persistent Quest for
Human Nature. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.
Buss, David. 2003. The Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating. New York: Basic
———. 2016. The Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating. Revised and Updated
edition. New York: Basic Books.
Buss, David, and David Schmitt. 2019. “Mate Preferences and Their Behavioral
Manifestations.” Annual Review of Psychology 70 (1): 77–110.
Butler, Judith. 1999. Gender Trouble. 2nd Edition. New York: Routledge.
Dupré, John. 2001. Human Nature and the Limits of Science. Oxford: Clarendon Press;
Oxford University Press.
Eastwick, Paul W., Alice H. Eagly, Peter Glick, Mary C. Johannesen-Schmidt, Susan T.
Fiske, Ashley M. B. Blum, Thomas Eckes, et al. 2006. “Is Traditional Gender
Ideology Associated with Sex-Typed Mate Preferences? A Test in Nine Nations.” Sex
Roles 54 (9–10): 603–14.
Elliott, Kevin. 2017. A Tapestry of Values: An Introduction to Values in Science. Oxford;
New York: Oxford University Press.
Fausto-Sterling, Anne. 1992. Myths of Gender: Biological Theories about Women and Men.
2nd ed. New York, NY: BasicBooks.
———. 2020. Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality. Second
edition. New York: Basic Books.
Fehr, Carla. 2011. “Feminist Philosophy of Biology.” In Staford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,
edited by Edward Zalta. Staford.
———. 2012. “Feminist Engagement with Evolutionary Psychology.” Hypatia 27 (1): 50–72.
Fine, Cordelia. 2017. Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science, and Society. New York: W.W.
Norton & Company.
Fine, Cordelia, John Dupré, and Daphna Joel. 2017. “Sex-Linked Behavior: Evolution,
Stability, and Variability.” Trends in Cognitive Sciences 21 (9): 666–73.
Fine, Cordelia, Daphna Joel, Rebecca Jordan-Young, Anelis Kaiser, and Gina Rippon. 2015.
“Why Males Corvettes, Females Volvos, and Scientific Criticism Ideology: A
Response to Equal The Same: Sex Differences in the Human Brain.” Figshare.
Fuss, Diana. 1989. Essentially Speaking: Feminism, Nature and Difference. New York:
Geuss, Raymond. 1981. The Idea of a Critical Theory: Habermas and the Frankfurt School.
Modern European Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Gould, Stephen Jay, and Richard Lewontin. 1979. “The Spandrels of San Marco and the
Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique of the Adaptationist Programme.” Proceedings of
the Royal Society of London. Series B. Biological Sciences 205 (1161): 581–98.
Griffiths, Paul. 2002. “What Is Innateness?” Monist 85 (1): 70–85.
———. 2017. “Genetic, Epigenetic and Exogenetic Information in Development and
Evolution.” Interface Focus 7 (5): 20160152.
Hannon, Elizabeth, and Tim Lewens, eds. 2018. Why We Disagree about Human Nature.
Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hansen, Hans. 2020. “Fallacies.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by
Edward Zalta. <>.
Haselton, Martie. 2018. Hormonal: The Hidden Intelligence of Hormones: How They Drive
Desire, Shape Relationships, Influence Our Choices, and Make Us Wiser. New York:
Little, Brown and Company.
Haselton, Martie, David Buss, Viktor Oubaid, and Alois Angleitner. 2005. “Sex, Lies, and
Strategic Interference: The Psychology of Deception Between the Sexes.” Personality
and Social Psychology Bulletin 31 (1): 3–23.
Haslanger, Sally. 2012. “Social Construction: Myth and Reality.” In Rsisting Reality. Social
Construction and Social Critique, 183–221. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hrdy, Sarah Blaffer. 2000. Mother Nature: Maternal Instincts and How They Shape the
Human Species. New York: Ballantine Books.
Hubbard, Ruth. 1979. “Have Only Men Evolved?” In Discovering Reality. Feminist
Perspectives on Epistemology, MEtaphysics, Methodology, and Philosophy of Science,
edited by Sandra Harding and Merrill Hintikka, 45–69. Dordrecht: D. Reidel
Publiching Company.
Hundleby, Catherine E. 2009. “Fallacy Forward: Situating Fallacy Theory.” Proceedings of
OSSA 9: (CD-Rom).
Jablonka, Eva, and Marion Lamb. 2005. Evolution in Four Dimensions: Genetic, Epigenetic,
Behavioral, and Symbolic Variation in the History of Life. Life and Mind. Cambridge,
Massachusetts: MIT Press.
Jenainati, Cathia, and Jem. 2019. Feminism: A Graphic Guide. London: Icon Books Ltd.
Jordan-Young, Rebecca M. 2011. Brain Storm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences.
Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
Keller, Evelyn Fox. 2010. The Mirage of a Space between Nature and Nurture. Durham, NC:
Duke University Press.
Kitcher, Philip. 1987. Vaulting Ambition: Sociobiology and the Quest for Human Nature.
Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.
———. 2001. Science, Truth, and Democracy. Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Science.
Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Kokko, Hanna, and Michael D. Jennions. 2008. “Parental Investment, Sexual Selection and
Sex Ratios.” Journal of Evolutionary Biology 21 (4): 919–48.
Kourany, Janet. 2010. Philosophy of Science after Feminism. Studies in Feminist Philosophy.
Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.
Kronfeldner, Maria. 2018. What’s Left of Human Nature? A Post-Essentialist, Pluralist, and
Interactive Account of a Contested Concept. Life and Mind: Philosophical Issues in
Biology and Psychology. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.
Lewis, Rebecca. 2020. “‘This Is What the News Won’t Show You’: YouTube Creators and
the Reactionary Politics of Micro-Celebrity.” Television & New Media 21 (2): 201–17.
Longino, Helen. 1990. Science as Social Knowledge: Values and Objectivity in Scientific
Inquiry. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
———. 2013. Studying Human Behavior: How Scientists Investigate Aggression and
Sexuality. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Machery, Edouard, Stephan Lindquist, and Paul Griffiths. 2009. “The Vernacular Concept of
Innateness.” Mind & Language 24.
MacKinnon, Catharine A. 1991. Toward a Feminist Theory of the State. Cambridge,
Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
Mallon, Ron. 2003. “Social Construction, Social Roles, and Stability.” In Sozializing
Metaphysics. The Nature of Social Reality, edited by Frederik Schmitt, 327–54.
Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
McClintock, Martha. 1978. “The Role of the Female during Copulation in Wild and Domestic
Norway Rats (Rattus Norvegicus).” Behaviour 67 (1/2): 67–96.
Meynell, Letitia. 2008. “The Power and Promise of Developmental Systems Theory.” Les
Ateliers de l’Ethique: La Revue de CREUM 3 (2): 88–103.
———. 2012. “Evolutionary Psychology, Ethology, and Essentialism (Because What They
Don’t Know Can Hurt Us).” Hypatia 27 (1): 3–27.
Murphy, Michelle. 2012. Seizing the Means of Reproduction: Entanglements of Feminism,
Health, and Technoscience. Experimental Futures. Durham, NC: Duke University
Nussbaum, Martha. 1992. “Human Functioning and Social Justice: In Defense of Aristotelian
Essentialism.” Political Theory 20 (2): 202–46.
Ribeiro, Manoel Horta, Raphael Ottoni, Robert West, Virgílio A. F. Almeida, and Wagner
Meira. 2020. “Auditing Radicalization Pathways on YouTube.” In Proceedings of the
2020 Conference on Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency, 131–41. Barcelona
Spain: ACM.
Richards, Evelleen. 1983. “Darwin and the Descent of Women.” In The Wider Domain of
Evolutionary Thought, edited by David Oldroy and Ian Langham, 57–111. Dordrecht:
D. Reidel Publishing Company.
———. 2017. Darwin and the Making of Sexual Selection. Chicago ; London: The University
of Chicago Press.
Roose, Kevin. 2019. “The Making of a YouTube Radical.” New York Times, June 8, 2019.
Rose, Steven. 2009. “Should Scientists Study Race and IQ? NO: Science and Society Do Not
Benefit.” Nature 457 (7231): 786–88.
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. 2004. The Social Contract. London: Penguin Books.
Schaffner, Kenneth. 2016. Behaving: What’s Genetic, What’s Not, and Why Should We Care?
Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.
Shelby, Tommie. 2003. “Ideology, Racism, and Critical Social Theory.” The Philosophical
Forum 34 (2): 153–88.
Shields, Christopher. 2007. Aristotle. Routledge Philosophers. London ; New York:
Smuts, Barbara B. 1985. Sex and Friendship in Baboons. New York: Aldine Pub. Co.
Stotz, Karola, and Paul Griffiths. 2018. “A Developmental Systems Account of Human
Nature.” In Why We Disagree about Human Nature, edited by Elizabeth Hannon and
Tim Lewens, 58–75. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Tomasello, Michael. 2010. Origins of Human Communication. The Jean Nicod Lectures.
Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.
Travis, Cheryl Brown, ed. 2003. Evolution, Gender, and Rape. Cambridge, Massachusetts:
MIT Press.
Weaver, Sara. 2019. “The Harms of Ignoring the Social Nature of Science.” Synthese 196 (1):
Weiss, Bari. 2018. “Meet the Renegades of the Intellectual Dark Web. An Alliance of
Heretics Is Making an End Run around the Mainstream Conversation. Should We Be
Listening?” The New York Times, May 8, 2018.
Zentner, Marcel, and Klaudia Mitura. 2012. “Stepping Out of the Caveman’s Shadow:
Nations’ Gender Gap Predicts Degree of Sex Differentiation in Mate Preferences.”
Psychological Science 23 (10): 1176–85.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Full-text available
Evolved mate preferences comprise a central causal process in Darwin's theory of sexual selection. Their powerful influences have been documented in all sexually reproducing species, including in sexual strategies in humans. This article reviews the science of human mate preferences and their myriad behavioral manifestations. We discuss sex differences and sex similarities in human sexual psychology, which vary according to short-term and long-term mating contexts. We review context-specific shifts in mating strategy depending on individual, social, and ecological qualities such as mate value, life history strategy, sex ratio, gender economic inequality, and cultural norms. We review the empirical evidence for the impact of mate preferences on actual mating decisions. Mate preferences also dramatically influence tactics of mate attraction, tactics of mate retention, patterns of deception, causes of sexual regret, attraction to cues to sexual exploitability, attraction to cues to fertility, attraction to cues to resources and protection, derogation of competitors, causes of breakups, and patterns of remarriage. We conclude by articulating unresolved issues and offer a future agenda for the science of human mating, including how humans invent novel cultural technologies to better implement ancient sexual strategies and how cultural evolution may be dramatically influencing our evolved mating psychology. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Psychology Volume 70 is January 4, 2019. Please see for revised estimates.
Full-text available
Common understanding of human sex-linked behaviors is that proximal mechanisms of genetic and hormonal sex, ultimately shaped by the differential reproductive challenges of ancestral males and females, act on the brain to transfer sex-linked predispositions across generations. Here, we extend the debate on the role of nature and nurture in the development of traits in the lifetime of an individual, to their role in the cross-generation transfer of traits. Advances in evolutionary theory that posit the environment as a source of trans-generational stability, and new understanding of sex effects on the brain, suggest that the cross-generation stability of sex-linked patterns of behavior are sometimes better explained in terms of inherited socioenvironmental conditions, with biological sex fostering intrageneration variability.
This article explores the implications of micro-celebrity practices employed by political and ideological influencers on YouTube. I take a case study approach, performing a content analysis of the videos from three political YouTubers from January 1, 2017, to April 1, 2018. My analysis reveals that for these influencers, micro-celebrity practices are not only a business strategy but also a political stance that positions them as more credible than mainstream media. All three conflate the mainstream media with “social justice” politics, claiming both are sensationalized and silence dissenting voices. By adopting micro-celebrity practices that stress relatability, authenticity, and accountability, they differentiate themselves from both the mainstream media and progressive politics as they perceive them. Thus, the YouTubers in this study align micro-celebrity practices with a reactionary political standpoint. These findings complicate previous mythologies of Internet celebrity that treat participatory culture as inherently progressive.
This book makes the contemporary philosophical literature on science and values accessible to a wide readership. It focuses on two questions: What are the major ways in which scientific reasoning can be influenced by values? and How can we tell whether those influences are appropriate or not? To address these questions, it examines case studies from a variety of research areas, including climate science, anthropology, chemical risk assessment, ecology, neurobiology, biomedical research, and agriculture. These cases show that the value-free ideal for science is problematic; values have important roles to play in identifying research topics, choosing research questions, determining the aims of inquiry, responding to uncertainty, and deciding how to communicate information. The book argues that values can influence science in these ways without harming scientific objectivity-in fact, making value judgments more explicit actually promotes objectivity. In place of the value-free ideal, the scientific community should strive to meet three conditions for addressing values appropriately: (1) the influences of values should be made transparent; (2) values should reflect ethical and social priorities; and (3) values should be scrutinized via processes of engagement that incorporate multiple stakeholders. The book explores multiple engagement strategies that can help bring values to light and subject them to critical scrutiny.
To understand human nature is to understand the plastic process of human development and the diversity it produces. Drawing on the framework of developmental systems theory and the idea of developmental niche construction, we argue that human nature is not embodied in only one input to development, such as the genome, and that it should not be confined to universal or typical human characteristics. Both similarities and certain classes of differences are explained by a human developmental system that reaches well out into the ‘environment’. We point to a significant overlap between our account and the ‘life history trait cluster’ account of Grant Ramsey. We defend the developmental systems account against the accusation that trying to encompass developmental plasticity and human diversity leads to an unmanageably complex account of human nature.