Evolutionary debunking arguments, commonsense and scepticism

Synthese 198 (12):11217-11239 (2020)
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Evolutionary debunking arguments seek to infer from the evolutionary origin of human beliefs about a particular domain to the conclusion that those beliefs are unjustified. In this paper I discuss EDAs with respect to our everyday, commonsense beliefs. Those who seriously entertain EDAs for commonsense argue that natural selection does not care about truth, it only cares about fitness, and thus it will equip us with beliefs that are useful rather than true. In recent work Griffiths and Wilkins argue that this is a mistake. Fitness-tracking and truth-tracking are not rival, but rather potentially complementary, hypotheses about the function of our cognitive belief-forming systems. It may be that those systems maximise fitness by tracking the truth. I argue that while they are right about the standard EDAs for commonsense, the threat of evolutionary scepticism remains, because cognitive systems whose function is to track the truth may still be highly unreliable. I propose an alternative, Moorean approach to vindicating our commonsense picture of the world and dispelling the threat of scepticism. Once this has been established, however, we may appeal to evolution to explain the good fit between our cognition and the world. I thus propose that an evolutionary explanatory project ought to replace the troubled evolutionary justificatory project. This ought to be appealing to those such as Griffiths and Wilkins who seek a naturalistic non-sceptical account of our commonsense beliefs and their origins.



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Sandy C. Boucher
University of New England (Australia)

Citations of this work

Conceptual Engineering and Conceptual Extension in Science.Sandy C. Boucher - forthcoming - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy.

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References found in this work

Ontological relativity and other essays.Willard Van Orman Quine (ed.) - 1969 - New York: Columbia University Press.
Warrant and proper function.Alvin Plantinga - 1993 - New York: Oxford University Press.
A confutation of convergent realism.Larry Laudan - 1981 - Philosophy of Science 48 (1):19-49.

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