Monday, March 26, 2018

Methodological individualism

This term of art came up while reading the literature on evolutionary psychology, particularly from critics of both the selfish gene theory and kin selection. So I looked up the Stanford Encyclopedia article on it. Some criticism uses the microrealization-robustness theory, which sounds more than a bit like multi-level selection.

"Multiple levels of description: The system admits lower and higher levels of description, associated with different level-specific properties (e.g. individual-level properties versus aggregate properties)." And that there are also "multiple realizability of higher-level properties: The system's higher-level properties are determined by its lower-level properties, but can be realized by numerous different configurations of them and hence cannot feasibly be redescribed in terms of lower-level properties."

In the section on fallacies it is noted that "too much emphasis on the action-theoretic perspective, because of its proximity to common sense, can generate false assumptions about what must be going on at the aggregate level." That is, reducing social level analysis to individual behavior. And when combined with an evolutionary perspective we could get this fallacy:

"When theorists treat the 'self-interest' of the individual, defined with respect to his or her preferences, as a stand-in for the 'fitness' of a particular behavior (or phenotype), at either the biological or the cultural level, then assumes that there is some selection mechanism in place, again at either the biological or cultural level, that will weed out forms of behavior that fail to advance the individual's self-interest. The problem is that neither biological nor cultural evolution function in this way. It is an elementary consequence of 'selfish gene' theory that biological evolution does not advance the interests of the agent (the most conspicuous example being inclusive fitness). For similar reasons, cultural evolution benefits the 'meme' rather than the interests of the agent (Stanovich 2004)." 

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