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Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

Ben Bradley: Blindness and Insight in Darwin's Psychology

7th June 2007, 17:15 to 18:45, Debating Chamber, Palace Green

Professor Ben Bradley, Charles Stuart University, New South Wales

This is part of 'The Darwinian Legacy: Earth, Life and Mind' seminar series

The judgement of history on Darwin’s psychology proves volatile. For many psychologists Darwin is an inspiration. For some, he enrages. For instinct theories he is the ally who gives justification for the “hard-wired” quality which attaches to which ever instinct or faculty you choose to focus. In the hey-day of rat, duck and monkey, and even in William James, there is a rather different more functional here-and-now understanding of experience and biological process. Here the hard-wired fixity of instinct is denied. The new evolutionary psychology we have today alters the picture yet again, as does the hostile reception given to socio-biological ideas in critical corners of social psychology. So, what seeds of blindness and insight gave rise to such a diverse reaction to Darwin’s psychology? Is the attraction that Darwin seems to knock out competing Just-So stories of human species-history as in, for example, the jubilation surrounding Darwin’s ‘disproof’ of the Bible or recent claims about the social origins of the human brain? We must also consider Darwin’s place in scientific discussions of IQ, our young and their development. These examples are used to argue that the acceptability of Darwin’s work to psychologists pivots on their liking for the sublime tale of discovery held out to them by his youthful On the Origin of Species versus the more complex mind-first theory of behaviour to be found in Darwin’s later writings.

Ben Bradley has been Head of Psychology at Charles Sturt University, Australia since 1998. He is currently Visiting Professor at the Open University in the Centre for Citizenship, Identity and Governance. His research interests have been in infancy, community mental health and the representation of time and change in psychology with particular reference to Charles Darwin and William James. His current work is on the psychology of all-infant groups. His book Visions of Infancy: A Critical Introduction to Child Psychology (Polity, 1989) was widely translated. His latest book is Psychology and Experience (Cambridge University Press, 2005).

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