Evolutionary epistemology: What phenotype is selected and which genotype evolves?

Biology and Philosophy 8 (2):153-172 (1993)
In 1941/42 Konrad Lorenz suggested that Kant's transcendental categories ofa priori knowledge could be given an empirical interpretation in Darwinian material evolutionary terms: a priori propositional knowledge was an organ subject to natural selection for adaptation to its specific environments. D. Campbell extended the conception, and termed evolution a process of knowledge. The philosophical problem of what knowledge is became a descriptive one of how knowledge developed, the normative semantic questions have been sidestepped, as if the descriptive insights would automatically resolve them. This came at a time when the traditional concept of knowledge as universally true, justified beliefs had been challenged by subjectivist, intercommunicative coherence frameworks. Much of the literature on evolutionary epistemology claimed that knowledge in general, and science as its epitome in particular, evolved along lines analogous to organic biological evolution. I refer here only to the view of knowledge as an extension of material biological evolution. These theories of evolutionary epistemology, contrary to the relativist notions of naturalized epistemology, adopted strict realist positions.Although there is no contention with the claim that biological evolution provided the raw material and the constraints for human knowledge, cognition is not knowledge and knowledge is not constrained by it beyond some trivial truisms. The view that sees evolution as a knowledge/cognition process is coercing a loosely defined term into the status of a phenotypic trait on which selection could act. This disregards the intricate many-to-many relationship between correlates of knowledge and biological capacities. But even if we grant the correlates of knowledge the status of selectable traits, the heritability of alternative phenotypes would be low and unpredictable due to the high, open-ended environmental malleability of such complex characters in the course of development. Such concepts are therefore biologically inconsequential.
Keywords Lorenz  evolutionary epistemology  naturalism
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DOI 10.1007/BF00850480
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