A look at the inference engine underlying ‘evolutionary epistemology’ accounts of the production of heuristics

In Dirk Evers, Antje Jackelén, Michael Fuller & Taede A. Smedes (eds.), Is Religion Natural? Studies in Science and Theology, No. 13. ESSSAT Biennial Yearbook 2011-2012. Martin-Luther-Universität (2012)
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This paper evaluates the claim that it is possible to use nature’s variation in conjunction with retention and selection on the one hand, and the absence of ultimate groundedness of hypotheses generated by the human mind as it knows on the other hand, to discard the ascription of ultimate certainty to the rationality of human conjectures in the cognitive realm. This leads to an evaluation of the further assumption that successful hypotheses with specific applications, in other words heuristics, seem to have a firm footing because they were useful in another context. I argue that usefulness evaluated through adaptation misconstrues the search for truth, and that it is possible to generate talk of randomness by neglecting aspects of a system’s insertion into a larger situation. The framing of the problem in terms of the elimination of unfit hypotheses is found to be unsatisfying. It is suggested that theories exist in a dimension where they can be kept alive rather than dying as phenotypes do. The proposal that the subconscious could suggest random variations is found to be a category mistake. A final appeal to phenomenology shows that this proposal is orphan in the history of epistemology, not in virtue of its being a remarkable find, but rather because it is ill-conceived.

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Philippe Gagnon
Université Catholique de Lille


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