Open Journal of Philosophy
2012. Vol.2, No.4, 235-243
Published Online November 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 235
The Structure of Explanations and Counter-Explanations of
Fabrizzio Mc Manus
Laboratory of Social Studies of Science, Faculty of Sciences, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México,
Mexico City, Mexico
Received July 27th, 2012; revised A ugust 28th, 2012; accepted Septem b er 1 2th, 2012
The aim of this paper is to revisit an ongoing controversy within the so called “Science Wars”; more spe-
cifically, I will address a particular topic within the “human nature” debate: the ontological and episte-
mological status of homosexuality. I claim that, in this particular chapter of the “Science Wars”, we are
continually left in an explanatory impasse even when more data are collected, more rigorous experimental
techniques are developed, more subtle arguments are offered and more pluralistic narratives are told. My
diagnosis of the source of this impasse leads me to the conclusion that here we are dealing with a struc-
tural problem that cannot be solved with an elaboration of new models and theories that maintain an on-
tology and an epistemology that are no longer suited as an explanans of human nature in general, and
homosexuality in particular. Nevertheless, my analysis of the structural features of the biological explana-
tions and the constructivist counter-explanations also leads me to the belief that, although biologists do
not fully understand the intricacies of subjects, neither constructivists understand the facticity of evolution
and the challenge that it implies. If so, then the subject might be the right target of explanation. And, if so,
constructivists might be right about the uniqueness of human homosexuality as a modern, western phe-
nomenon explainable in terms of subjectivities and identities that mold and are molded by desires and in-
stitutions. But, if they are, evolution is not expendable because now we are facing a most intriguing ques-
tion: How is that we humans became subjects?
Keywords: Homosexuality; Human Nature; Philosophy of the Subject
The aim of this paper is to revisit an ongoing controversy
within the so called “Science Wars”; more specifically, I will
address a particular topic within the “human nature” debate: the
ontological and epistemological status of homosexuality—or,
should I say human homosexuality?
On the one hand, biologists, psychologists and physicians
have attempted to explain homosexuality as a biological phe-
nomenon caused by biological forces. These biological forces
are sometimes catalogued in terms of proximate and ultimate
causes, following in this Mayr’s classical dichotomy (Mayr,
1993); proximate causes can also be subdivided in terms of
internal vs external forces, although this second dichotomy is
problematic and s e l d o m used .
Proximate (internal) causes are usually bio-molecular mecha-
nisms or develop menta l path ways pr esent in specif ic individu als
(Hamer et al., 1993; Hamer, 1995; Hu et al., 1995; LeV ay, 1991;
LeVay & Hamer, 1994; Pillard, 1997; Rahman & Wilson, 2003;
Savic et al., 2005; Savic et al., 2008; Swaab et al., 2001; Yama-
moto et al., 1996); proximate (external) causes are usually en-
vironmental phenomena, such as pollutants or maternal effects,
that act as developmental insults capable of disrupting canalized
developmental pathways that in “normal” circumstances pro-
duce a “normal” trait: an heterosexual sexual orientation (see
chapter 6 at Poiani, 2010). Ultimate causes are, in contrast, evo-
lutionary forces such as sexual selection, group selection, kin
selection or even genetic drift, all of these acting on populations
(Hutchinson, 1959; Kirby, 2003; Muscarella et al., 2001).
But not all biological explanations of homosexuality are al-
ways so dichotomic. In the last twenty years different approxi-
mations to biology in general, and to evolution in particular,
have produced explanations that not only criticize the very
dichotomy of proximate vs ultimate causes—I have in mind
approaches such as Developmental Systems Theory (DST)
(Griffiths & Gray, 1994; Oyama et al., 2001) and Evolutionary
Developmental Bio logy (Evo-Devo)-, bu t also the idea that there
are species-specific mechanisms responsible for making an
individual homosexual. The works of Joan Roughgarden and
Aldo Poiani, alth ough very d ifferent i n their d etails, point to new
explanations that de-essentialize homosexuality as a biological
explanandum by conceiving it as a multiply realizable phe-
nomenon. This leads to new and interesting scenarios in which
cooperation and agency (Roughgarden, 2004, 2009) and be-
havioral and neuronal plasticity (Poiani, 2010) become more
important elements for any biological explanation of homo-
On the other hand, philoso phers, sociologists, anthropologists
and literary critics have resisted these explanations and have
advanced a col lection of what I call counter-explanations (Byne,
1994; DeLamater & Hyde, 1998; Fausto-Sterling, 2000; Roof,
1992; Rosario, 1997). Counter-explanations are not alternative
explanations although there is a myriad of alternative explana-
tions emanating from these disciplines.
Instances of alternative explanations are: 1) the family of
constructivist approaches that encompass psychoanalytical and
psychodynamic explanations (e.g. Dean & Lane, 2001); 2) the
sociological models that focus on social roles an d thick and thin
descriptions of actions and signified traits that constitute gender
(Dickinson et al., 2003; Prieur, 2008); 3) or, even, the Queer
Theory approach centered upon performative speech acts, prac-
tices of embodiment and intercorporeality, and the interaction
between agency and structure in the conformation of modern
subjectiviti es in term s of identit ies (Butler, 1993; Sullivan, 2003 ;
Weiss, 1999).
But these are NOT counter-explanations although they might
contain elements of them. Let me elaborate, th en, this distinct ion
a little further. B iological explan ations hav e produced a universe
of data that in principle are evidence in favor of the biological
nature of homosexuality. These data cannot simply be ignored,
they have to be counter-explained and that is exactly what
counter-explanations do: they explain away these data.
In a sense alternative constructivist explanations r equire coun-
ter-explanations for two different reasons. First, counter-ex-
planations question the objectivity and validity of the data-
driven biology by means of a dialectic deconstruction of the
subject-object relationship that seeks to show how cultural bi-
ases are projected upon these data. Second, this dialectic decon-
struction also questions an implicit axiom regarding causation
that informs all biologic al exp lanations; this axiom usually tak es
the form of an implicit commitment towards an ontology of
homosexuality in which homosexual subjects possess homo-
sexual bodies that are a type of causally structured body.
I will elaborate on the details of this axiom later but I would
like to point out that by bringing this axiom into question it is
possible to problematize the very notion of causation that un-
derpins biological explanations and, hence, to offer alternative
explanations that emphasize subjectivity, identity, psychody-
namics and cultural contexts as more relevant elements for any
account that attempts to understand homosexuality.
Nevertheless, counter-explanations and alternative explana-
tions run the risk of dematerializing the homosexual subject or,
at least, to conceive his or her materiality only in terms of sig-
nified bodies nested within networks of practices, actions and
meanings. The risk of course is not only theoretical but also
ethical and po litical. This i s so becaus e resisting bi ological deter-
minism, essentialism or some mild forms of evolutionary ide-
ologies (Marks, 2012) should not take us into an allegiance with
creationism or intelligent design. We are, after all, evolved be-
ings and that is a fact that matters.
And this fact m atters because if, at the end of tim es, a Peircean
community of scientists decides that constructivist alternative
explanations are right, a fundamental question is going to arise:
How an evolved animal became capable of being a subject? A
subject capable of performing speech acts, endorsing identities,
possessing an agency, being molded by a structure, etc.
Surprisingly this question takes us to an old branch of phi-
losophy and a very new branch of biology. As Fernando Vidal
(2006) has shown Anthropology used to be understood, at least
in the XVIII century, as the branch of metaphysics that deals
with the problem of what is to be a human. But now some evo-
lutionary biologists have begun to think about the evolved cog-
nitive and emotional complexity of human beings. A few have
even suggested the necessity of a new approach which has been
labeled as “Evolutionary Social Constructiv ism” (Wi lson, 2005) .
Poiani’s explanations go some steps further in the right direction,
if I might say so, but they are still prone of counter-explanations.
And this should raise a n eyebrow for philosophers of science.
What is going on in this par ticular chap ter of the “ Science Wars”
that continually leaves us in an explanatory impasse even when
more data are collected, more rigorous experimental techniques
are developed, more subtle arguments are offered and more
pluralistic narratives are told. Why biology is still seen by con-
structivists as a form of es sentiali sm eve n aft er bi olog y itself has
fought hard in order to overcome an essentialism of species
(Hull, 1965) and traits (Rieppel, 2005) and has even reinvented
itself as DST and Evo-Devo exemplify. Why constructivist
themselves fail to see this fact that matters: an evolved animal
that became a subject. And why constructivism is still seen by
many biologists as mumbo-jumbo jargon incapable of explain-
ing anything.
My hypothesis, and the main objective of this paper, is to
advance as an answer the possibility that we are dealing here
with a problem that lies outside the data, the techniques and the
particular arguments and lies in the very structure of the expla-
nations and counter-explanations offered so far. Maybe the pro-
blem is structural and cannot be solved with an elaboration of
new models and theories that maintain an ontology and an epis-
temology that are no longer suited as an explanans or counter-
explanans of human nature in general, and homosexuality in
In order to el abo rat e such an ar gu ment this p aper is divide d in
four sections. The first section tackles with some structural
elements present in most biological explanations of homosexu-
ality. The second section, on the other hand, analyzes structural
elements of the counter-explanations. The third section is dedi-
cated to the problem of the evolved subject and should be un-
derstood as an attempt to bridge this explanatory impasse or, at
least, to show why it eventually must be bridged. Finally, the
fourth section presents the conclusions of this paper.
Structural Elements of Biological Explanations
Maybe two of the most famous biological explanation of
homosexuality nowadays are, first, the infamous and hypothe-
sized gene on the q28 section of the X chromo some (Hamer et al.,
1993) and, second, the equally famous and assumed dimorphism
in the third Interstitial Nuclei of the Anterior Hypothalamus
(INAH3) (LeVay, 1991). But biological explanations are much
older than genetics and neurosciences and we could argue that
they actually date back to the XIX century and, even when they
are stated in terms of the modern theory of evolution (the so
called New Synthesis), they date back to the late 1950s (Hut-
chinson, 1959).
So, this background indicates that our domain of interest en-
compasses 150 years in which biology has experienced funda-
mental changes m ore than once. At first sigh t this might t akes us
into the beli ef th at ver y few element s, if an y, can be identified as
conserved structural features constitutive of these explanations.
In this section I will show that, these changes notwithstanding,
there are such elements.
The first element that I would like to consider as a conserved
structural feature has to do with the most basic strategy for
classifying living beings in biology, at least since the XVIII
century: seeking for homologies (or affinities, as they used to be
called prior to th e mid-XIX centu ry). There are m any definitions
of homology and some actually pre-date D arwinis m but the core
of the concept has to do—now—with a similarity among organ-
isms of the same or different species caused and explained by
common descent.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Examples of this way of thinking about homosexuality
abound. For example, Bruce Bagemihl (1999) has compiled an
entire book of cases o f non human homosexuality, transexuality,
intersexualit y and trasvesti sm. Yamamoto and co-work ers (1996)
have tried to use Drosophila as a model organism for finding the
specifics of the bio-molecular mechanism that produces homo-
sexual behaviors not only in flies but maybe also in humans;
Frank Beach (see Fausto-Sterling, 2000) used a very similar
approach with mice ca. 1940s although under a less mechanistic
view of behavior . Even Roughgar den and Poiani s eem to assume
that homosexuality in humans is, in a sense, an instance of the
same kind of exp lanandum as homosexuality in d ifferent species
of birds and mammals.
But these authors are not alone. Evolutionary explanations
also assume that homosexuality in humans is an instance of a
type of phenomena that encompasses several taxa and so should
be explained i n simil ar terms acro ss all of th em, no twithstanding
if these terms invoke kin selection, group selection or other
evolutionary forces.
And historically speaking XIX century biology was not very
different (see Rosario, 1997 and the rest of the papers in the
book). Most sexologists invoked pseudo-Haeckelian explana-
tions of homosexuality that involved phylogenetic atavisms or
degenerations th at led into more primitive behavio rs; hence, they
assumed that homosexuality was comparable to other animal
behaviors. Legal medicine, even in the XX century, still con-
tinued to use that framework as can be shown with the para-
digmatic case of the spanish endocrinologist Gregorio Marañon
(1960; see also Ferla, 2004).
What is common to all of these explanations is what I have
previously named “an empiricism regarding sex and gender
categories” (Mc Manus, 2010, in press) that basically implies a
commitment towards a westernized and modern view of sexu-
ality in which variables such as 1) sex; 2) gender; 3) sexual
orientation—understood in terms of the gender of the intended
object of desire; 4) stereotyped physical appearances and 5)
stereotyped behaviors are considered sufficient to describe all
forms of what we, in the West , call “s exuality”; at the sam e time,
it implies a rejection of the relevance that the phenomenological
dimensions in which these categories are actually lived and
experienced by human beings might possess.
This implies a co mmitment towards the universality—cultur al
as well as interspecific—of these variables not only in terms of
their mutual independence but also in terms of their capacity to
generate a theoretical multi-space in which every animal sexual
behavior can be mapped—as the book of Bagemihl perfectly
In other words, what these explanations have in common is
the idea that sexuality corresponds to a family of traits in which
sexual orientation can be conceived as a particular trait ho-
mologous among different animals and with different character
states that correspond to what we in the West call “homosexu-
ality”, “heterosexuality” and “bisexuality” (this corresponds to
what I hav e la beled as models o f taxonomic identity [Mc Manus,
These similarities, as all homologies, could then be under-
stood as structural similarities in the organization of the arche-
types of organisms (Baupläne) and so similarities due to com-
mon descent. This will make homosexuality a trait comparable
with classical instances of homologies such as the arms of hu-
mans and apes, the wings of insects and the gills of crustaceans,
the seeds of coniferous and flowering plants, etc.
Nevertheless, the concept of homology is not an easy one to
grasp. This is so because the conc ept of the archet ype flourishe d
in the german tradition of biology and, as it is well known, this
tradition was deeply influenced by Kant. But already in the XIX
century biologists abandoned a strictly kantian epistemology
re-tooling in the way the very concept of homology.
I will sidestep the many intr icacies of th e concept as well as its
history but I would like to point out that archetypes are not
entirely dead in biology. The discovery of the Hox genes in a
sense revitali zed the idea that there is a sort of archetype codifi ed
in the genome. More recently, Evo-Devo has attempted to ex-
pand this notion by talking about developmental pathways and
phylotypic stages causally responsible of producing form
(Striedter, 2004).
Anyway, the idea of behavioral homologies has its own his-
tory (Hebb, 1953; Rendall & Di Fiore, 2007) and it is quite a
history. On the one hand, the very possibility of talking about
behavioral homologies has been disputed because, for many
scholars, behavior is tantamount to a functional dimension and
so not prone to a structural analysis; on the other hand, for those
who accept the possibility of behavioral homologies, it is still a
matter of controversy if behavioral homologies could exist even
when there are no structural underlying homologies. Again, I
will sidestep these philosophical discussions and I will focus on
the relevant consequences for our own topic.
The relevant aspect, conserved across 150 years of biology,
has to do with the possibility of conceiving sexuality as a family
of traits, in general, and sexual orientation, in particular, as a
type of trait with many instances such as homosexuality, bi-
sexuality and heterosexuality. The feasibility of hypothesizing
that homosexuality might be an instance of a homologous be-
havioral trait helps us to understand several things. First, why we
try to use the very same theory to explain homosexuality in
humans and other animals. Second, why we seek for similar
mechanisms underlying homosexuality across different species.
Third, why many biologists that accept homosexuality as a
multiply realized trait still consider it the same phenomenon
even when it is generated by different causal mechanisms (if, of
course, you accept that behavi oral homologies can occur without
an underlying morphological homology). Fourth, why the work
of anthropologists is so easily discarded when they insist in
showing the cultural differences regarding “sexuality”; this has
to do, I might say in order to clarify the point, with the capacity
of the concept o f homology to make “the same” things that might
appear very “different”.
And this structural feature is by no means privative of the
topic here revisited—explanations of homosexuality—as can be
seen in the work of Paul Griffiths (2011) when he claims that
human nature is variable but all v ariations can b e accommodated
within the framework of homology. This, in a sense, prohibits
any new and cultura lly speci fic traits because all variat ion would
be an instance of a rather general kind.
If we follow this argument the very concept of homology
might allow biologists to conclude that no human behavior is
truly unique be cause, even if it does not possess an homologue, it
can at least be thought of as a field homologue of a family of
behaviors that were precursors of our more complex and signi-
fied behaviors—i.e. not homologous to a particular behavior in
non human animals but related to them because this human
behavior developed by modifying and enriching these behav-
iors (Striedter, 2004).
The second structural feature I would like to char acterize i s an
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 237
elaboration of what Joseph Rouse (1994, 2002) has identified as
a form of pernicious philosophical naturalism quite common in
cognitive science. He has labeled it as the problem of “the
manifest necessity”. This problem is an heir of Wittgenstein’s
argument of following a rule (Rouse, 2002). However, this
particular v ersion of the problem ar ises when cognit ive scientists
(as third person knowers) seek to analyze norms, actions and
meanings in terms of natural regularities or causes. In other
words, whenever scientists try to ground normativity in causa-
tion -understood as a natural necessity.
Rouse claims, echoing Wittgenstein, that any analysis of nor-
mative phenomena—such as norms, rules, meanings or actions-
designed under these lines will fail to explain these phenomena
in terms of n atural regularit ies. This is so because the sci entist, as
a third person kn ower, faces a finite amount of d ata—thus, his or
her interpretations are epistemically underdetermined by evi-
dence—and, so, is unable to discriminate among a myriad of
possible causal mechanisms capable of producing these data.
For Rouse the only possible solution would be to assume that
regularities manifest themselves—phenomenologically speak-
ing—in such a way that the specific causal mechanism respon-
sible for the observed regularities is transparent to the scientist
as a third person knower. In other words, if we take causation to
be a natural necessary regularity and if we attempt to analyze
normative phenomena in terms of causation (both big if’s), then
the only way to overcome the underdetermination problem is to
suppose that causation manifests itself in such a way that the
third person knower correctly identifies the relevant causal
mechanism responsible for the normatively guided actions that
served as observations1.
Now, what is the relationship between this argument and the
biological explanations of homosexuality? The s econd stru ctural
element is sim ilar to th e previo us argume nt in two respects. Fir st,
usually the scientist, as a third person knower, tries to explicate
the homosexuality of a subject as if this were a behavioral trait.
But the funny thing is that homosexuality is conceived not only
as a behavioral regularity but also as a disposition that norma-
tively guides and sanctions the behavior of the subject; more-
over, as the Kinsey scale illustrates (Fausto-Sterling, 2000; Mc
Manus, 2010), h omosex uality, ev en i f con struct ed a s a b ehavio r,
also has phenomenological dimensions like arousal, desire and
fantasy. So, the first sim ilarit y lie s in t he fa ct t hat h omosexualit y
is described at the same time as a normative phenomenon that
possess phenomenological dimensions, on the one hand , and as a
disposition responsible for the observed sexual and emotional
behavior, on the other. In other words, homosexuality as a nor-
mative phenomenon is grounded in causation2.
Indeed, this ambivalence in the very ontology of what is ho-
mosexuality is fundamental for biological explanations because
homophobia tends to preclude homosexual behavior in many
cultures and because there are situations in which “situational
homosexuality” is observed (e.g. prisons). Nevertheless, neither
the lack of homosexual behavior in a subject counts as evidence
against the hypothesis that he or she might be homosexual nor
the behavior, when observed, verifies that he or she is actually
This is so because the idea of a silent and dormant dis po s it io n
helps to establish the supposed universality and transculturality
of homosexuality. If this were a motto, it would be more or less
like the following statement: “homosexuals are everywhere but
they might not be visible in some cultures”. In opposition, the
plasticity of behavior aligns itself with the homology-laden
reading that makes “the same” things that are “different” be-
cause, if homosexual and heterosexual subjects can act as het-
erosexual or homosexual subjects—respectivel y—then b ehavior
is plastic enough to be molded by cultural dimensions.
Second, “the manifest necessity” problem has also a related
sibling in this fie ld. We can see th is when we ana lyz e the w a y in
which biological explanations of homosexuality connect causa-
tion with normativity. In Rouse’s example the problem of the
manifest nece ssity was a problem for the researcher because he
or she did not have a direct access to the phenomenology of the
norms and any attempt to characterize the norms in herme-
neutical terms would imply a rejection of the very spirit of
naturalism. But biological explanations of homosexuality usu-
ally employ subjects that manifest their sexual orientation to the
researcher and so the previous problem is bypassed. This allows
the identification of a possible causal mechanism that can be
taken as the discovery of the natural necessity that manifests
itself with transparency into the consciousness of the homo-
sexual subject.
Let us illustrate this with an exampl e. Simon LeVa y and Dean
Hamer (1994) combined their findings in order to offer a more
robust causal narrative capable of explaining how genetic dif-
ferences could produce a homosexual behavior. They basically
endorsed the hypothesis that the genes in Xq28 might be re-
sponsible for the morphology of INAH3 and—through an argu-
ment mediated by homology which invoked the regulatory
dimensions of INAH3 in the sexual behavior of mice—they
claimed that this almost insignificant brain modification would
produce a feminized behavior in males and, thus, it would make
them homosexuals. Of course, these men would not be aware of
the underlying morphology—the causative part of the story—
but nonetheless it would modify their behavior by structuring in
a feminized way their patterns of desire, arousal and sexual fan-
tasy and so, eventually, their behavior. Hence, causation mani-
fest itself transparently into the consciousness of the first person
and so grounds a normative disposition.
1Wittgenstein’s and Rouse’s arguments are much more complex but I will
sidestep a full exposition of them because this will not contribute to the
general argument of the paper. If interested, the reader should review the
problems associated to reglism and regularism as strategies that attempt to
characterize norms in terms of regularities and how they lead to an infinite
regress (I recommend reading the paper of King Dávalos, 2008, and some
other contributions collected at Esteban & Martínez , 2008).
2The idea that sex-generic categories, including sexual orientation, are nor-
mative has long been defended in Gender Studies and Gay and Lesbian
Studies, at least since Foucault (1977). The phenomenology of these catego-
ries is usually taken as evidence of the normative dimensions of them be-
cause desire, arousal and fantasy not only guide behavior but also sanction
ehavior as enjoyable and pleasurable or disgusting and repelling. When
understood as identities their normative dimensions are even stronger be-
cause the relation of belonging to a group impose a serious burden upon the
At this point we could be tempted to conflate this problem
with an impoverished view of causation. But we should not go
that far. It is true that the previous example seems to accept
without a question a bottom-up approach of how diffe r e nt levels
of organization present in biological beings causally interact.
However, a bottom-up approach to causation does not exhaust
all biological understandings of biological causation, certainly
not in evolution, development or molecular biology (Craver,
2007; Martinez & Moya, 2011). More complex causal stories
can be offered, as can be seen in the proposals of Roughgarden
and Poiani. In the case of Roughgarden (2004), social interac-
tions among different animals of the same sp ecies might pr oduce
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
alterations in behavior that have also morphological and phy-
siological correlates. In the case of Poiani, the interactions
among different levels of organization can also produce altera-
tions in behavior.
But a more complex causal narrative is not tantamount to a
rejection of a pernicious naturalism. All of these models still
assume that th e phen omenologica l dimensions of homosexuality
in humans ar e cau sally produ ced b y underl ying m echan isms and
so that homosexuality in humans, even if richer because of its
meaningfulness, is still a hom ologue of homosex ual behaviors in
non human animals. All of these models still assume that these
causal mechanisms will manifest themselves with transparency
in the consciousness of the subject, making him or her homo-
Of course, the problem of underdetermination is still present
because there is a m yriad of bio logica l mech anism s that could in
principle produce that behavior but, at least, the problem of
bridging causation and normativity seems to be solved. Also
avoided is the problem of an infinite regress present in the
original Wittgensteinian argument.
Curiously, this second structural element can be restated as a
commitment to an ontological view on the causes of homo-
sexuality in wh ich homosexual subj ects have homosexual bodies,
i.e. their bodies are causally structured in a different form than
heterosexual bodies. This does not imply a tension neither with
the multiply realized view because these causal mechanisms
might be different in different species or even organisms, nor
implies a tension with the first structural element because, as I
said before, behaviors can be homologues even if their under-
lying developmental pathways are not (a phenomenon known as
developmental drift). And even if these behaviors were not
homologues, they could still be thought of in terms of evolution
if they happen to be similar solutions to similar problems: i.e.
However, I will go further in this analysis in order to claim
that the first and second conserved elements actually act syner-
gistically. This is so because, if homosexuality, understood as a
normative phenomenon, for example, as an identity or subjec-
tivity, can be grounded in causation, then, the existence of
similar dispositions in non human species (similar up to a point,
of course, because these disposition would most likely not pos-
sess the phenomenological correlates that they have in humans)
might indicate the existence of similar mechanisms in those
species an d , so, w ould all ow u s to th in k it i n te rm s of h omol og y.
And the synergy goes both ways because, if we assume that
sexual orientation is a trait present in human animals and non
human animals, then we, per force, would seek for explanations
that do not invoke elements only present in humans, elements
such as language, meaningful actions, subjectivities, etc.
Structural Elements of Counter-Explanations
For many biolog ists the accus ations of es sentialis m are, to sa y
the less, puzzling. For them, constructivists cannot seriously
believe that modern evolutionary biology resembles classical
Aristotelian or Platonic doctrines of essences. Moreover, mod-
ern biology emphasizes variation and demographic thinking,
boundless and endless changes in morphology, physiology and
behavior—even if we accept t h a t not every point in the morpho-
space can be occupied by living beings.
Evolutionary theory implies that organisms co-evolved with
their environments and, so, that they lack intrinsic properties
because everything—adaptation or constraint—they exhibit is a
relational property; every trait is th e result of previous cycles of
change with modification in an environmen t al context.
But in light of the elements described in the first section of th is
paper we can understand wh y constructivists accuse biologi sts of
essentialism. The idea that, notwithstanding how much change
we detect, a behavior is still the same behavior, in the sense of
being a homologous behavior (or an analogous behavior and so
the same solutio n to a similar si tuation), and tha t it is the r esult of
a causal mechanism that manifest itself in the consciousness of
human subjects, resembles essentialism enough in its trans-
historicity to justify the label. But it does not resemble essen-
tialism enough to be equated with fixism or univocal realizabil-
ity. And this last point is fundamental because classical essen-
tialisms will not admit the identity of essences when there is a
serious possibil ity of endl ess and bou ndless variati on, on the o ne
hand, and a multiplicity of causal pathways capable of producing
the same phenomenon, on the other hand.
I believe this helps to explain, at least partially, why we are
stuck in an explanatory impasse. Biologists fought against es-
sentialism understanding it as species (and traits) fixism and
univocal realizability. Constructivists went a step further and
fought against the trans-historicity implicit in the homologation
of different culturally-laden phenomena that were interpreted as
the same.
But this last point is only one of the structural features of
counter-explanatio ns. There are at least two more elements that I
advanced in the introduction of this paper. Both emerge from a
dialectic decon struction of th e subject-objec t relationship b ut, on
the one hand, one horn of the criticism refers to the limits of
objectivity while, on the other han d, the second hor n refers to t he
implicit axiom of a causally structured homosexual body.
At this point it might be important to clarify one thing before
getting started. I am the one who reads most counter-explana-
tions as offering a dialectic deconstruction of the subject-object
relationship; the authors I will revisit did not necessarily employ
this terminology. Nonetheless, the idea of framing the counter-
explanations in these terms occurred to me when I read some
criticisms exposed by Donna Haraway (1989) against the pri-
matological research on the supposed heritable nature of intel-
ligence; what I saw in her crit icism was a general feature of s ome
counter-expla nations regarding h u man nature. With this in mind
I will proceed by examining a couple of examples.
Example No. 1: When Simon LeVay claimed that he had
found a dimorphism in the hypothalamus of men Judith Roof
(1992) counter-explained his findings by arguing that he was
projecting onto the data the very dynamics of exclusion and in-
visibility that were definitory of the political vulnerability of
lesbians (and, I will add, other subaltern sexualities). According
to Roof, lesbians were discriminated by men because they were
women and they were also discriminated by heterosexuals be-
cause they were homosexuals but, worse, they were discrimi-
nated by gay men because the latter still exerted a privileged
male-centered view that subordinates and excludes women,
including lesbians.
So, Roof interpreted LeVay’s explanation as an erasure of
lesbianism as an expla nandum because LeVay’s model was only
capable of explaining male homosexuality and was, as a result,
incomplete. Moreover, L eVay’s nat uralization of homosexuality
redeemed gay men but not lesbians as a part of nature; and, as
Roughgarden once said, the right to feel as a part of nature, as
belonging to the natural order, has important psychological
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 239
effects on the Self (2004). Male homosexuals in the work of
LeVay were the result of a naturall y occurring causal m echanism
and, so, could not be conceived as morally vicious but the same
could not be said about lesbians.
Roof offered other arguments against LeVay’s hypothes i s but
the previous one is interesting for the following reason. It ac-
cuses a researcher of inadvertently projecting his cultural biases
onto the data in order to use those data to validate his own
privileged position as a subject, in this case, as a gay man.
Example No. 2: INAH3 is not the only brain region that has
been hypothesized as causally responsible for the generation of
homosexual beh aviors i n humans . The Corpus Callosum (CC) is
another famous brain structure that has been considered a pos-
sible candid ate f or causing behav iors such as homosexuality and
gender identity diso rders. Indeed, this explan ation was criticized
by Anne Fausto-Sterling (2000) in her book Sexing the Body.
Fausto-Sterling offered an elabor ate argum entation a gainst the se
data by showing how the Corpus Callosum was, at the same time,
a mathematical, material and literary object.
For her, it was important t o show that the CC was materia l and
mathematical because both are aspects of scientific objectivity.
Much has been written in philosophy of science about objectiv-
ity (Daston & Galison, 2010; Kuhn, 1977; Longino, 2002) but
now it is more or less widely recognized that this concept en-
compasses several aspects. For example, there is the procedural
side of objectivity connected with the standardized techniques
and mathematical tools that allow us to model natural phenom-
ena by abstracting and extracting them away from their original
contexts of occurrence in order to produce what Latour (1992)
calls immutabl e and combinable mobiles.
These mobiles are an instance of a circling reference (Latour,
1999) that functions as evidence in support of some particular
hypothesis by establishing their accuracy and, so, they exemplify
a different aspect of objectivity: representing nature. But th ey are
also associated with a third aspect of objectivity that grounds an
interpretation of objectivity as inter-subjectivity: the replicabil-
ity of observations. These mobiles result from standardized
procedures that in principle warrant the cancellation of idiosyn-
cratic biases by ensuring that any subject might be able to re-
produce those results.
In my view Fausto-Sterling concentrated so much in these
elements because it is a disservice to criticism to ignore the
methodological intricacies of science as well as its sociological
complexities; t o ac cu se scientists of projecting their biases upon
data without even analyzing their methodologies and the socio-
logical processes of mutual validation is not only risky but also is
the best way to generate a co n u ndrum in which both sides of the
dispute end up with a philosophical deafness hard to overcome.
Nevertheless, Fausto-Sterling understood something that
some philosopher s of sci ence h ave found ha rd to assi milate. The
task of philosophy should not be to serve as an unconditional
defender of science but, on the contrary, to criticize it when it
claims more than it can prove. The other side of her argument
showed that the CC was a literary object because the causal
narrative offered by physicians, biologists and psychologists is
still a narrative that situates within a background the empirical
findings and connects them in order to articulate an integrative
explanation of the phenomenon in question.
In a sense, Fausto-Sterling engaged in an informed criticism
that situated the scope of these results by emphasizing the com-
plex materiality of the CC. On the one hand, the materiality of
the CC is the m ateri alit y of the bo dy and so it is c onnecte d to th e
causal arrangements that underlie behavior . On the oth er hand, i t
is the materiality of evidence; but a piece of evidence is not
tantamount to a piece of the body because the evidence is pro-
duced through a set of standardized techniques and procedures
that translate a tridimensional living body into bidimensional
sections of a corpse or, more correctly, that translate bidimen-
sional sections of a corpse into the inferred structure of a tridi-
mensional living body.
And this process of integrating different sets of evidence and
interpreting them is still prone to cultural and systemic biases
and, in some cases as Fausto-Sterling showed, to blatant meth-
odological err ors. In the particular case of the CC, distinguishing
between the typically male and the typically female morphs of
the CC was controversial not only because there was no stan-
dardized technique for doing it but also because it was done
without specifying clear cut criteria that guided the construction
of this taxonomy. Claiming that sexual orientation or gender
identity resulted from the prese nce of a typically femal e morph
in males or a typically male morph in females was dubious
because the underlying classification was dubious. If this hy-
pothesis was accepted, wrote Fausto-Sterling, was not because
of the merits of the research but because it confirmed a cultural
and systemic bias: gay men and Male to Female Transexuals
(MTF) are just femi nized men and le sbians and Fema le to Male
Transexuals (FTM) are just manly women.
Anyway, both cases exhibit a common structure already an-
ticipated in the introduction. In both situations we find a criti-
cism that deconstructs the supposed validity and objectivity of
the evidence and the causal narrative erected upon it through a
dialectic analysis of the relationship between the subject-the
scientist and the object-the data.
More exactly, in both cases the criticism targets this implicit
dialectic that arises as a consequence of the demands of objec-
tivity upon the researcher. This is so because objectivity is un-
derstood as an ethical and epistemic neutrality in which the
values, goals and expectations of the scientist should be can-
celled in order to avoid any interference. The standardized tech-
niques, the mathematical tools and the replicability and inter-
subjective accessibility of the data should grant the veracity of
the results.
Hence, this produces an inversion of positions in which the
scientist tr ansfers to the data his or her own position as a subject.
And so, the data are in principle “telling us their truth”; they
occupy the s tructu ral pla ce of the subject becaus e they enunciat e
what is the case. But this enunciation is only possible because
the experimental settings stabilized—through standardized pro-
cedures, mathematical models and theoretical interpretations—
the possible outcomes of the experiment. In other words, the
object as a subject tells its truth in the vocabulary of the subject
as an object because the latter transferred not only his or her
position but also made possible the capacity of enunciation of
the former by generating a context free of interference in which
it can tell us its truth in a language we can understand.
Moreover, what is the case and what is the truth is the case
about some human subjects, is th e t ruth o f s ome h uman su bjects.
This makes the subject (the homosexual subject in this instance)
the object of enunciation. As structural positions, the subject
becomes the enunciated object and the object becomes the
enunciating subject.
Sadly, at this point homosexuality is naturalized and the
procedural dimensions of objectivity that broug ht i nto b eing and
kept the stability and immutability of these combinable mobiles
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
are usually taken as a d ispos able la dder. Th e liter a r y dime nsion s
of these mobiles are forgotten and they are reified as causal
mechanisms (Winther, 2006, 2009). Statistical correlations are
read as causal re lations, sociall y constructed taxonomie s are read
as natural kinds and local experimental findings are taken as
robust and trans-historical regularities.
But this is only half of the story. This is so because humans
tend to mold their behaviors and identities according to the
available descriptions of themselves—as Hacking (2001) has
famously claimed by labeling this process a “looping effect of
human kinds”. Th e funny thing about this l ooping effec t is that it
might produce, in some but not all cases, a more stereotyped
behavior. Thus, the subject reclaims a subjectivity apparently
enunciated by the object and, so, the hermeneutical circle fin-
ishes with a subject fully convinced of the naturalness of his or
her subjectivity.
Precisely because of this last point counter-explanations are
usually the first element of constructivist alternative explana-
tions. They counter-explained the data and restored the com-
plexity of the subject and, therefore, advanced the possibility of
searching for a different type of explanation.
Towards a Truly Evolutionary Social
But there is this fact that matters: we evolved. We know we
are subjects and we also know that bacteria are not subjects,
protozoa are not subjects, plants and fungi are not subjects,
sponges are not subjects (sponge Bob notwithstanding), worms
are not subjects and, about apes and some mammals, well, we
are not so sure anymore although for centuries we would have
said that they are not subjects.
And, by subjects, I mean that we are aware of our own envi-
ronment and about ourselves, even of our own awareness of
being aware, but I also mean that we are capable of acting ac-
cording to goals, desires and norm s . We are s ubj ects be caus e we
can be held a ccountable for our actions—we can be ethically and
epistemically responsible and, so, we are not merely responsive,
but we can also be subjected by institutions created by our in-
tentionality, by our capacity to know that the other knows that
we know; hey, we can promise! We are subjects because we are
capable of acting as a collective because we can share—mainly
through language—our goals and means to achieve those goals,
but we are also subjects because we can exert power upon others
through those i nstitutions; we can le t them k now things that w ill
alter their behavior, we can even menace or threaten them
(Habermas, 1999; and Schmitt, 2004, elaborate on some of the
previous points).
This is exactly what allows us to have a world, to have a cul-
ture, because, in Heideggerian terms, the subject is a Dasein, it
does not possess properties but existentiaries as forms of be-
ing-in-the-world (Heidegger, 1927). But, surprisingly, this ap-
parent difference might be the reason for taking evolution more
seriously, as Der rida advanced in The animal tha t Therefore I am
(2008) when he concluded that, even if stones are Weltlos
(without a world) and most animals are Weltarme (poor in
world), evolution is still fundamental because our capacity to be
a Dasein must have evolved from a previous condition of being
poor-in-world. Derrida himself criticized philosophers, specifi-
cally continental philosophers, for ignoring the fact that we
If so, then the subject m ig ht be the right target o f explanation .
Constructivists might be right about the uniqueness of human
homosexuality as a modern, western phenomenon explainable in
terms of subjectivities and identities that mold and are molded
by desires and institutions. But, if they are, evolution is not
expendable because now we are facing a most intriguing ques-
tion: How is that we humans became “evolutionarily” and be-
come “developmentally” subjects?
Such a change in the explanandum is not necessarily disrup-
tive to the research programs of physicians, psychologists and
biologists. After all, as Millikan (1984) has shown in the case of
explanations of a daptations, sometim es we misidentify th e target
of an explanation and attempt to explicate what results to be a
mere consequence of a more interesting and fundamental phe-
nomenon. For example, we might try to explicate why the stru-
cture of our hands is an adaptation for writing but, if we do this,
we have trans-historicized writing and misidentified a more
interesting and fundamental phenomenon: the capacity of our
hands to handle objects with an incredible precision and eye-
hand coordination. Similarly, if homosexuality is explained in
constructivist terms, then the more interesting and fundamental
phenomenon is our capacity to become subjects.
Cognitive scientists, neurophilosophers and biologists have
already begun research programs that might be able to tackle
some parts of the previous question. Kim Sterelny, for example,
is interested in the evolu tion of ag ency, desires a nd intentional ity
(2001); according to him intentionality arises in epistemically
translucent environment (examples of environments such as
these are social environments or highly heterogeneous environ-
ments) in which there is no singular robust environmental clue
and, so, it is more adaptive to triangulate different and inde-
pendent environmental clues in order to know what are the exact
environmental conditions and how we might proceed in such
scenario. Social environments are an instance of this kind of
scenario because a conflict of interests might arise among dif-
ferent organisms which may lead to cheating. Desires, on the
other hand, evolved in order to help the organism to ponderate
which activities should be a priority.
Sober and Wilson (1998) is anoth er goo d examp le of th is new
trend in biolog y. They ar e intere sted in the evolu tion of socia lity
and normativity. Wilson in particular has advanced the above
cited “Evolutionary social constructivism” but, sadly, he has
framed it in li ght of classical population ge netics (Wilson , 2005).
This is unfortunate because he understands plasticity only in
terms of norms of reactions, i.e. as the capacity of a genotype to
produce different phenotypes in different environments. This
seriously restricts the scope of his proposal because it still im-
plies a commitment with a view on phenotypic traits in which
they are always the expression of an underlying genotype.
In that regard, Poiani is probably the biologist that has better
understood th e challenges pos ed by constructivists. Although his
proposal is prone to counter-explanations because it still tries to
explain homosexuality not as a consequence of being subjects
but as a homologous trait present in humans and nonhuman
animals, it nonetheless emphasizes the plasticity of the brain
without reducing this property into a norm of reaction. For him,
plasticity en compasses the fl exibility of a trait th at is not entirely
canalized either environmentally or genetically. Thus, plasticity
implies cultural evolvability—the capacity of a system to un-
dergo evolution, i.e. to change—because a plastic system—like
the human nervous system—can react towards novel situations
by modifying these situations or by adapting itself into these
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 241
We are certainly at the dawn of these alternative forms of
doing biology. Current research is too much gene-centered but
cognitive sciences might achieve, if they embrace the construc-
tivist challenge , the possib ilit y of representin g hu m an n ature not
as the negation of our cultural complexity but as what grants us
that very cultu ral com plexit y. This wi ll imply a ret hinking of the
very structure of modern explanations of homosexuality and
human nature; rethinking also the constructivist challenge. We
might only hope.
In this paper I revisited an ongoing controversy within the so
called “Science Wars”: the epistemological and ontological
status of homosexuality. I claimed that, in t his particular chapter
of the “Science Wars”, we are continually left in an explanatory
impasse even when more data are collected, more rigorous
experimental techniques are developed, more subtle arguments
are offered and more pluralistic narratives are told.
My diagnosis of the source of this impasse led me to the con-
clusion that here we are dealing with a structural problem that
cannot be solved with an ela borati on of ne w models and theor ies
that maintain an ontology and an epistemology th at are no longer
suited as an explanans of human nature in general, and homo-
sexuality in particular.
In the realm of biological explanations, I pointed out the ex-
istence of two conserved structural features that act synergisti-
cally in order to bl ock an y chance s of a f ecund dialogue betwe en
humanities and biological sciences. First, the conception of
homosexuality in humans as a homologous trait to homosexual
behaviors in other animals, on the one hand, and, second, con-
ceiving homosexuality as a normative phenomenon that none-
theless can be grounded in biological causes that structure the
consciousness of homosexual subjects, on the other.
I also claimed that these conserved structural features, al-
though consistent with an evolutionary thinking, interfere with
the possibility of fully understanding the construct ivist challenge.
This is so because these conserved features offer a trans-his-
torical view on homosexuality that ignores the complexities of
the human subject.
This constructivist challenge has two more attributes. Both
emanate from a criticism that deconstructs the supposed validity
and objectivity of the evidence and the causal narrative erected
upon it through a dialectic analysis of the relationship between
the subject and the object. The ultimate goal of the constructiv-
ists is to restore the complexity of the subject and, therefore,
advance the possibility of searching for a different type of ex-
Nevertheless, my analysis of the structural features of the
biological explanations and the constructivist counter-explana-
tions also led me to the belief that, although biologists do not
fully understand the intricacies of subjects, neither constructiv-
ists understand the fact icity of evolution and the challenge that it
If so, then the subject m ight be the right target of explanation.
And, if so, constructivists might be r ight abou t th e un iquen ess of
human homosexuality as a modern, western phenomenon ex-
plainable in terms of subjectivities and identities that mold and
are molded b y desires and institution s. But, if t hey are, evo lution
is not expendable because now we are facing a most intriguing
question: How is that we humans became subjects?
In my view th e r esolution of thes e te nsions r equir es refr aming
the question in order to abandon the conserved structural ele-
ments that anchor research. Eventually, this should takes us into
a new framew ork in which we can talk of an Evo lutionar y Social
Constructivism in which human nature is not represented any-
more as the negation of our cultural complexity but as what
grants us that very cultural complexity.
I would like to thank Edna Suá rez for her sup port, advices a nd
encouragement. Also, I would like to thank Rasmus Winther for
his support and advices. Finally, I would like to thank the
seminars of Philosophy of Biology at UNAM and UAM-C and
the scholarship provided by DGAPA-UNAM.
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