New book Darwin’s Psychology illuminates evolution

5 MAY 2021

New book Darwin’s Psychology illuminates evolution

A new book by a Charles Sturt University academic throws light on the method and thinking of evolutionary theorist Charles Darwin.

  • Darwin’s Psychology – The Theatre of Agency is the first book to comprehensively examine what Darwin wrote about psychological matters
  • The book argues that Darwin’s understanding of evolution and agency has been misunderstood and misrepresented in biology and the social sciences
  • The Charles Sturt University author says that for Darwin, evolution does not explain everything about human action

A new book by a Charles Sturt University academic throws light on the method and thinking of evolutionary theorist Charles Darwin.

Darwin’s Psychology: The Theatre of Agency by Emeritus Professor Ben Bradley challenges conventional thinking about Darwin’s conception of the psychological evolution of species.

Professor Bradley is Foundation Professor of Psychology in the Charles Sturt School of Psychology.

His book presents a new Darwin to science, and shows how widely Darwin’s understanding of evolution and agency has been misunderstood and misrepresented in biology and the social sciences.

“Darwin has long been hailed as forefather to behavioural science, especially nowadays, with the growing popularity of evolutionary psychologies,” Professor Bradley said.

“But until now his contribution to the field of psychology has been somewhat understated.

“This is the first book to comprehensively examine the riches of what Darwin himself wrote about psychological matters, and it lights a new way forward for those who want to build psychology on the foundation of evolutionary biology.

“The book unearths a Darwin new to contemporary science, whose first concern is the agency of organisms — from which he derives both his psychology and his theory of evolution.”

Professor Bradley said that a deep reading of Darwin’s writings on a range of topics, from climbing plants and babies, blushing and bower-birds, to worms and facial movements, shows that, for Darwin, evolution does not explain everything about human action.

“Group-life and culture are also keys, whether we discuss the dynamics of conscience or the dramas of desire,” he said.

“Thus his treatment of facial actions sets out from the anatomy and physiology of human facial movements, and shows how these gain meanings through their recognition by others.

“A discussion of blushing extends his theory to the way reading the expressions of others rebounds on ourselves — meaning, ‘I care about how I think you read me’.

This dynamic proves central to how Darwin understands sexual desire, the production of conscience and of social standards through group dynamics and the role of culture in human agency.

Darwin’s Psychology: The Theatre of Agency is published by Oxford University Press (October, 2020), and will be launched at a webinar on Friday 7 May. Register to join the Zoom webinar; meeting ID: 869 9342 6021 and passcode: 113248

Hear Professor Bradley interviewed recently about Darwin’s Psychology on ABC Radio National by Robyn Williams on The Science Show.


Media Note:

To arrange interviews with Emeritus Professor Ben Bradley contact Bruce Andrews at Charles Sturt Media on mobile 0418 669 362 or via news@csu.edu.au

Please note: the first printing of the book Darwin's Psychology: The Theatre of Agency omitted the subtitle ( … The Theatre of Agency). The subtitle will be reinstated on the first reprinting.


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