Evolution and Epistemological Pessimism

Anthony O'Hear

in Beyond Evolution

Published in print July 1999 | ISBN: 9780198250043
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191598111 | DOI:
 Evolution and Epistemological Pessimism

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Science can show how our beliefs are produced by our interactions with the material world. Explaining how, e.g. we might have experiences of secondary qualities and why such experiences might be useful from an evolutionary standpoint even if, strictly speaking, they have no existence independent of us. Selection, as described in the previous chapter, only ensures that our cognitive abilities will be survival‐promoting rather than truth‐delivering. Science, however, must be responsive to observation and be intelligible to us and observability and intelligibility look like they are also relative to our natures. Science, as van Fraassen, Hacking, and Cartwright point out, also involves the production of artificial phenomena through experiment and involves a degree of idealization. Science, on this account, is a process by which embodied beings explore their world and, in being susceptible to a naturalistic explanation, is no different from our other methods of belief formation. Secondary qualities, given this, are no less real and science no more objective. A naturalistic evolutionary perspective on knowledge while not justifying our basic non‐sceptical epistemic standpoint also does not lead inevitably to scepticism.

Keywords: Cartwright; Hacking; naturalistic epistemology; secondary qualities; science; skepticism; van Fraassen

Chapter.  7742 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Science

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