How can Human Beings Transgress their Biologically Based Views?

South African Journal of Philosophy 31 (4):707-735 (2012)
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Empirical evidence from developmental psychology and anthropology points out that the human mind is predisposed to conceptualize the world in particular, species-specific ways. These cognitive predispositions lead to universal human commonsense views, often referred to as folk theories. Nevertheless, humans can transgress these views – i.e. they can contradict them with alternative descriptions, they perceive as more accurate – as exemplified in modern sciences. In this paper, I enquire about the cognitive faculties underlying such transgressions. I claim that there are three faculties enabling us to part with these universal commonsense views of the world imposed by our nature. The first is our ability to represent representations – i.e. to form metarepresentations. The second is our ability to produce alternative representations both by explaining a familiar subject matter in terms of the principles governing different conceptual domains than the one that we are predisposed to apply to the subject matter and by directing our mind to new subject matters (for which we have no predisposed conceptual grasp), understanding them in terms of familiar domains. The third, finally, is our ability to give these representations an epistemic orientation. Key words: Human cognition, Domain-specific knowledge systems, Cognitive predispositions, Folk theories, Cognitive flexibility, Human – nonhuman distinction

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Michael Vlerick
Tilburg University


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