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11 - Popper and the Scepticism of Evolutionary Epistemology, or, What Were Human Beings Made For?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 April 2024

Anthony O'Hear
Affiliation:
University of Buckingham
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Summary

There is a sort of scepticism, or, at least, epistemological pessimism, that is generated by appealing to Darwin’s theory of evolution. The argument is that nature, that is the selective pressures of evolution, has clearly fitted us for certain sorts of learning and mundane understanding, directly beneficial in point of individual survival and chances for reproduction. Very likely then, it is argued, nature has not fitted us for arcane intellectual accomplishments remote from, or quite disconnected from, those ends. So, it is suggested, perhaps we cannot understand, perhaps never will understand, because we are not made to understand, such matters as consciousness, its nature and causes, the origins of life, the beginning of the universe, or astro-physics in its more finalist pretensions. Sometimes, taken with the claim that manifestly we do understand some of these things, the argument becomes a reductio, and its exponents claim that consequently Darwinism must be false, or of only limited application. More commonly, however, in ‘naturalized epistemology’, it is made the vehicle of a claim about the limits of science, limits imposed by the evolutionarily derived frailty of human understanding.

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Karl Popper , pp. 329 - 356
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2024

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