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.

Falls das inline PDF nicht korrekt dargestellt ist, können Sie das PDF hier herunterladen.

  • Broad, C.D. 1925. The Mind and its Place in Nature. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

  • Chalmers, David. 1996. The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Corabi, Joseph. 2008. Pleasure’s Role in Evolution: A Response to Robinson. Journal of Consciousness Studies 15: 78-86.

  • Corabi, Joseph. 2011. Why the Evolutionary Argument isn’t really an Evolutionary Argument after all. Journal of Consciousness Studies 18: 44-65.

  • Eccles, J. and Popper, K. 1977. The Self and its Brain: An Argument for Interactionism. Berlin: Springer-Verlag.

  • Howson, C. and Urbach, P. 1996. Scientiic Reasoning: The Bayesian Approach, 2 nd edition. Chicago: Open Court.

  • Huxley, Thomas. 1874. On the Hypothesis that Animals are Automata. Reprinted in Collected Essays. London, 1893-94.

  • Jackson, Frank. 1982. Epiphenomenal Qualia. Philosophical Quarterly 32:127-136.

  • James, William. 1890. The Principles of Psychology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

  • Lindahl, B. I. B. 1997. Consciousness and Biological Evolution. The Journal of Theoretical Biology 187: 613-629.

  • Meacham, C. (2008) Sleeping Beauty and the Dynamics of De Se Belief. Philosophical Studies 138: 245-269.

  • Robinson, William. 2003. Epiphenomenalism. In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

  • Robinson, William. 2004. Understanding Phenomenal Consciousness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Robinson, William. 2007. Evolution and Epiphenomenalism. Journal of Consciousness Studies 14: 27-42.

  • Shoemaker, Sydney. 1980. Causality and Properties. In Time and Cause. Edited by Peter Van Inwagen. Dordrecht: Reidel.

  • Spencer, Herbert. 1871. Principles of Psychology. New York.

  • Van Rooijen, Jeroen. 1987. Interactionism and Evolution: A Critique of Popper. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 38: 87-92.

  • Yablo, Stephen. 1992. Mental Causation. Philosophical Review 101: 245-280.


Zeitschrift + Hefte