The Misuse and Failure of the Evolutionary Argument

Joseph Corabi 1
  • 1 Saint Joseph’s University,


The evolutionary argument is an argument against epiphenomenalism, designed to show that some mind-body theory that allows for the efficacy of qualia is true. First developed by Herbert Spencer and William James, the argument has gone through numerous incarnations and it has been criticized in a number of different ways. Yet many have found the criticisms of the argument in the literature unconvincing. Bearing this in mind, I examine two primary issues: first, whether the alleged insights employed in traditional versions of the argument have been correctly and consistently applied, and second, whether the alleged insights can withstand critical scrutiny. With respect to the first issue, I conclude that the proponents of the argument have tended to grossly oversimplify the considerations involved, incorrectly supposing that the evolutionary argument is properly conceived as a non-specific argument for the disjunction of physicalism and interactionist dualism and against epiphenomenalism. With respect to the second issue, I offer a new criticism that decisively refutes all arguments along the lines of the one I present. Finally, I draw positive lessons about the use of empirical considerations in debates over the mind-body problem.

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