Chapter

Evolutionary Epistemology

Anthony O'Hear

in Beyond Evolution

Published in print July 1999 | ISBN: 9780198250043
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191598111 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/0198250045.003.0004
 Evolutionary Epistemology

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There is a distinction between the true—what we ought to believe—and the useful—what would be useful to believe. Our cognitive powers are the product of evolutionary development and natural selection is responsive to what is useful rather than to what is true. This can lead us, for good evolutionary reasons, to err on the side of caution with respect to toxicity of possible foods, e.g.—there can be beneficial false beliefs. Furthermore, Peter Munz has pointed out that idiosyncratic community‐wide false beliefs can have high utility from the point of view of social bonding and integration. Plato, Hayek, and Roger Scruton have also questioned the social value of rationality. As self‐conscious beings, we do seem to be concerned with truth as well as the merely useful. However, it remains open whether the search for truth is long‐term beneficial.

Keywords: evolution; false but valuable beliefs; Hayek; Munz; Plato; truth; utility; value of rationality

Chapter.  14698 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Science

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