Suppose that X is an evolutionary adaptation. Can one infer, prima facie, that it is good? The consensus in philosophy is that one cannot. Reflecting on Denis Dutton’s The Art Instinct made me reconsider.
Here, in very schematic form, is the argument that cuts against the consensus:
1. Suppose that X is an adaptation to circumstances C. (E.g: the heart is an adaptation to the need for oxygenated blood throughout the body.)
2. From a scientific account that shows why X is an adaptation, we can (usually?) derive a function-attribution of the form: F is a function of X. (E.g.: oxygenation and pumping of blood are functions of the heart.)
3. If F is a function of X, and A is an X that does not perform F, then A is a bad X. (E.g.: a heart that doesn’t pump and oxygenate blood properly is a bad heart.)
Suppose that some human practices are adaptations. Specifically, suppose that art is one. Then by 2 above we may conclude that art has a function. Suppose that work of art A does not perform that function. Then, by 3 above, work of art A is deficient.
Dutton (who does not give the above argument) argues that an evolutionary account of art would be a source of critical norms. The above argument supports him.
I want to emphasize that the conclusion of the above argument is defeasible. It could be argued that art acquires new functions as human culture grows. If so, works that fall short of the evolutionary functions of art may nevertheless be good. My question is whether conclusions drawn from 3 are prima facie correct.
(Interactions with Dutton and Justine Kingsbury prompted this post.)