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the psychological capacities and dispositions

The domain of the social sciences is the territory on which humanists and natural scientists frequently join battle. (It is also contested territory independently of this opposition: economists and sociologists offer competing accounts of the same phenomena, and of course there are conflicts within economics itself.) If the intertwining of history and ethnography with social thought and social change is appreciated, then the vehemence directed against natural scientific incursions into studies of human psychology and social behavior is more readily comprehensible. Since the conclusions reached in analyses of human behavior will be socially consequential—they may result in actual policies—the evidence for them deserves to be closely scrutinized, just as drugs that may have far-reaching side effects are subjected to the most careful testing.

To declare that there is a “natural unemployment rate” of 6 percent has a wide-ranging social and political impact, and it is entirely reasonable for critics to examine the evidence alleged to support such a declaration. Likewise, the outcry against early ventures in sociobiology was fueled by the perception that, while the claims advanced were sweeping (and sometimes threatening to the aspirations of large groups of people), the support for them was markedly less strong than that routinely demanded for theorizing about, say, insect sociality. In recent decades, proponents of Darwinian approaches to human behavior have been far more methodologically reflective, but the old war cries continue to echo in the contemporary context.