For decades, evolutionary psychologists have offered explanations for complex human behaviors. These efforts are typically plagued by methodological problems, including unfalsifiability, reasoning by analogy, and endogeneity. Dominic Johnson and Monica Duffy Toft's evolutionary explanation for the unique place of territory in human conflict stumbles on these same grounds.1 Johnson and Toft argue that humans—perhaps all vertebrates—have evolved a propensity for territoriality, incurring higher costs and fighting harder for land as compared with other sources of conflict. Their claims suffer from four problems, however. First, their understanding of evolution is imprecise and problematic, employing what is known as the “adaptationist fallacy” in lieu of clearly specifying a causal, biological mechanism. Second, they fail to sharply distinguish their account from plausible nonbiological alternatives. Third, they invite significant endogeneity problems by crossing the species barrier and traversing multiple levels of analysis. Fourth, they neglect cutting-edge research pointing to the limits of biological...
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January 01 2015
Correspondence: Evolution and Territorial Conflict
Dominic D.P. Johnson,
Raymond Kuo is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Albany, State University of New York.
Dominic D.P. Johnson
Dominic D.P. Johnson is Alistair Buchan Professor of International Relations in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford.
Monica Duffy Toft
Monica Toft is Professor of Government and Public Policy in the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford.
Online Issn: 1531-4804
Print Issn: 0162-2889
© 2015 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
International Security (2015) 39 (3): 190–201.
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Raymond Kuo, Dominic D.P. Johnson, Monica Duffy Toft; Correspondence: Evolution and Territorial Conflict. International Security 2015; 39 (3): 190–201. doi: https://doi.org/10.1162/ISEC_c_00180
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