Evolutionary Epistemology

August 3, 2010

by Gene Callahan

“This [is] an objection to evolutionary epistemology in all of its forms—that there is no reason whatever for supposing that the web of belief which has emerged via natural and cultural evolution mirrors nature or tracks reality. It will do so, according to evolutionary theory itself, only in so far as such mirroring or tracking enhances survival chances. There is, in fact, nothing a priori to tell against the possibility that false belief systems may sometimes give their holders a competitive edge in survival stakes, if unreasonable optimism, or false religious or other hopes are useful in sustaining them in adversity.” – John Gray, Liberalisms, 248.

It seems to me that Gray’s point is indisputable: the mere fact that, say, our brains or our scientific enterprises evolved as “spontaneous orders” gives them, contra Hayek, no warrant of epistemological reliability whatsoever. (Gray, in fact, specifically notes Hayek as someone committing the error he is criticizing.) In any case, while thinking about Gray’s passage above, I was struck by an amusing illustration of the principle in question, which I thought I’d share.

Ever since Evans-Pritchard’s famous work Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic Among the Azande demonstrated that the magical belief system of the Azande was internally consistent, it generally has been held forth as an example of the way in which people are able to tenaciously hold to incorrect beliefs, like the Azande’s belief in sorcery. But I would like to put forward an alternative hypothesis that, I suggest, is every bit as compatible with evolutionary epistemology as the common hypothesis—in fact, it explains just why the common hypothesis is common, and why the Azande are stunned at our inability to see the obvious evidence for sorcery.
In my hypothesis, the Azande are absolutely correct — sorcery exists, and is extremely efficacious… for the individual. It truly allows individuals to punish enemies, gain wealth, woo sexual partners, and so on. But, for society as a whole, the unbridled practice of sorcery is extremely destructive. Instead of (mainly) entering into a system of social cooperation based on the division of labor, everyone in a sorcerous society is constantly scheming how to protect themselves against others’ spells and ensure that their own spells remain unblocked and undetected. In a society without sorcery, it is often simple to identify “rights violators” and punish them, but in the Azande’s society, just who done you wrong is veiled in magic.

By a stroke of evolutionary luck, Europeans developed a gene that made them incapable of believing in sorcery (except under very special circumstances described below). As a result, they were able to stop worrying about magic spells and start producing and trading goods like food and clothing much more successfully. (Hmm, is it any coincidence that persecutions for witchcraft, almost unknown in the Middle Ages, suddenly took off with the Renaissance, and continued to the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution? Maybe this purged Western Europe of those who lacked the new gene? But, you protest, this persecution relied on a belief in witchcraft! Ah, that’s easy—it was a transitional period, with the new behavior only incompletely in effect.)

But Europeans had not lost the ability to do sorcery, and, in fact, one form of sorcery has been a key to their success in spreading their way of life across the globe: they continued to believe in and be able to perceive the results of sorcery when the sorcery took a very public form and there was a strong consensus that it would work. They called such sorcery “science and technology.” By limiting themselves to only this type of sorcery, Europeans were able to reduce the socially destructive effects of sorcery largely to a minimum. (In day-to-day life: when an entire society wants to perform destructive sorcery on an entire other society, we get, of course, things like the Holocaust and nuclear weapons.)

Given the social success of this new inability to conceive of the reality of sorcery, it rapidly spread through many other societies. (How? We can think of countless ways: Perhaps genes can spread through sorcery of a sort! Of course, per the above theory, our geneticists would be unable to conceive of this.)

In this view, our belief in the illusory nature of sorcery has not spread because it is true. It is most definitely false, but that is the very secret of its success—in this case, perceiving the truth is highly anti-survival. That we can’t see the overwhelming evidence of the efficacy of sorcery present to the Azande is precisely our advantage. And, of course, to us, as heirs of the Scientific Revolution, the “sorcery-is-real-but-destructive” hypothesis seems quite outlandish and implausible. Which, of course, is just how the hypothesis itself claims we will react to it—if we found it plausible, that would be good evidence that it is false!

And other than citing the implausibility of and lack of evidence for the above theory—both of which are predicted by the theory!—I don’t see how any evolutionary epistemology can dismiss it.

118 Responses to “Evolutionary Epistemology”

  1. John Goes Says:

    Are you familiar with Nicholas Wade’s “The Faith Instinct”? There is evidence that there is indeed a genetic aspect to variations in religiosity between groups.

  2. Roger Koppl Says:

    “Indisputable” is a pretty strong word, Gene. Anyway, I think it is factually incorrect to claim that Hayek says that “the mere fact that . . our brains or our scientific enterprises evolved as ‘spontaneous orders’ gives them” any “warrant of epistemological reliability whatsoever.” Indeed, in an important footnote in The Sensory Order Hayek says, “By saying that there ‘exists’ an ‘objective’ world different from the phenomenal world we are merely stating that it is possible to construct an order or classification of events which is different from that which our senses show us and which enables us to give a more consistent account of the behaviour of the different events in that world’’ (p. 173).

    Thus, the naturally evolved phenomenal order is specifically *not* reliable, at least not *as* reliable as the constructed order we call “science.” Nor is Hayek saying that our belief system in any way (in Gray’s words) “mirrors nature or tracks reality.” What, indeed, would that even mean? As far as I can tell, it is just wrong to impute such a view to Hayek. Do you have textual evidence pointing the other way?

    Popper described himself as a common-sense realist. It seems Hayek is not a common-sense realist. Indeed, I don’t really know what “realist” quite means in this grand context and I think Hayek’s theory of mind puts such notions into doubt. (I like the old joke, “Reality — what a concept!”)


  3. I’ve been reading papers by Brunner and Meltzer. In one of his papers on political theory, Brunner emphasizes the importance of our genetic heritage to innovate and better ourselves.

    I don’t think Hayek was guilty of the naive error Gray seems to attribute to him. If our epistimology had not evolved in a way that enables to apprehend reality, we (or at least the West) could not have had the stunning success in science and technology. Indeed, I take that as the thrust of Gene’s analysis.

  4. Lee Kelly Says:

    Gene, you are joking, right?

    Here is a quote from Hayek’s The Fatal Conceit:

    “The four requirements just listed — that whatever is not scientifically proven, or is not fully understood, or lacks a fully specified purpose, or has some unknown effects, is unreasonable — are particularly well-suited to constructivist rationalism and socialist thought … I wish to concede forthwith that most tenets, institutions, and practicies of traditional morality and of capitalism do not meet the requirements or criteria stated and are — from the perspective of this theory of reason and science — ‘unreasonable’ and ‘unscientific’. Moreover, since, as we have also admitted, those who continue to follow traditional practices do not themselves usually understand how these practices were forced or how they endure, it is hardly surprising that alternative ‘justifications’, so-called, that traditionalists sometimes offer for their practices are often rather naive (and hence have provided fair game to our intellectuals), and have no connection with the real reasons for their success. Many traditionalists do not even bother with justifications that could not be provided anyway (thus allowing intellectuals to denounce them as anti-intellectual or dogmatic), but go on following their practices out of habit or religious faith. Nor is this in any way ‘news’. After all, it was over 250 years ago that Hume observed that ‘the rules of morality are not the conclusions of our reason. Yet Hume’s claim has not sufficed to deter most modern rationalists from continuing to believe — curiously enough quoting Hume in their support — that something not derived from reason must be either nonsense or a matter for arbitrary preference, and accordingly, to continue to demand rational justifications.”

    He clearly understands that evolution, both biological and cultural, will not necessarily select for true beliefs. It is well-established in the evolutionary psychology literature that lying, and believing one’s own lies, may be adaptive in particular circumstances. However, there is a difference between the tacit knowledge evolved systems, i.e. plants, organs, economies, etc., and the subjective beliefs of individuals.

  5. Lee Kelly Says:

    It is also important to appreciate that Hayek was basically a critical rationalist. That it is logically possible for the world to exist in such a way that almost everything we believe is actually false, would not have been a big issue for a radical fallibilist. He would “dismiss” your hypothetical scenario as merely a possible alternative, and not a criticism of his prevailing beliefs.

  6. N. Joseph Potts Says:

    Genocide and nuclear fission/fusion resemble sorcery only in that the means for the latter seem cloaked in considerable technological challenge.

    On the other hand, ALLEGATIONS of a genocide that largely fell short of a genocide in reality and the mystical inculcation of non-falsifiable belief in it (and legal sanctions for questioning it) are PRECISELY the sorcery that puts power to the wheels of the Zionism/Israeli juggernaut today.

    As for nuclear holocaust (as it used to be called), there also real sorcery can come into play. The military-industrial-congressional complex made untold tons of hay during the Cold War from promotion of a belief in Soviet nuclear capabilities that greatly exceeded what we now know to be the reality.

  7. Rafe Says:

    This looks more like an ingenious application of evolutionary thinking than a crit of any evolutionary epistemology that you will find in the modern EE adepts like the psychologists Donald Campbell and Piaget, and the philosophers Popper and Toulmin. What is this about a ”warrant of epistemological reliability”? EE provides an alternative to the “justificationist” epistemologies that are concerned with foundations, warrants, certified beliefs, inductive probability and the like.

    Evolutionary epistemology applies the principle of natural selection to scientific theories and to knowledge generally. It is concerned with problem-solving and error elimination under various forms of selective pressure including the tests of logic and empirical evidence. This is a very subversive approach compared with most schools of thought in philosophy which are essentially conservative in their preoccupation with the justification of beliefs or the analysis of linguistic usage and the explication of concepts.

    For an introduction to this genre, check out two collections of readings, one edited by Bartley and Radnitzky,
    http://www.the-rathouse.com/revradbart.html

    The other by Hooker and Hahlweg.
    http://www.the-rathouse.com/shortreviews/IssuesEE.html

    If you want to follow Feyerabend and refer to science and technology “sorcery” that is a loaded definition. It is more helpful to consider the truth or falsehood of particular theories and the efficacy of particular practices. When a tradition of critical thinking develops it become easier (but not necessarily easy) to weed out ideas and practices that do not stand up to various forms of criticism, especially the criticism of practice. That does not preclude the survival of false beliefs, especially if they are harmless or they happen to be useful for some powerful interest group.

    Gene’s application of EE thinking is interesting and thought-provoking, like a contribution to the Hooker and Hahlweg volume by Peter Munz. He suggested that “A nonadaptive falsehood is required in order to act as a foundation charter or catechism for a human society”. The point is that the nonadaptive falsehood (say, a virgin birth) acts as marker for the group, and it is not one that other groups want to own so it has a kind of exclusive use or branding quality. He advanced the startling and counter-intuitive thesis that some institutions and modes of thought survive not by evolving and adapting to changing circumstances but rather by remaining static. It has been noted before that “true believers” who, for example, know that the second coming is due on a particular date, do not abandon their faith when the event fails to happen. Perversely, their faith and solidarity are likely to be reinforced.

  8. Gene Callahan Says:

    “He clearly understands that evolution, both biological and cultural, will not necessarily select for true beliefs.”

    Maybe so, Lee, but the passage you quote has no connection to this declaration of yours.

  9. Gene Callahan Says:

    “Evolutionary epistemology applies the principle of natural selection to scientific theories and to knowledge generally. It is concerned with problem-solving and error elimination under various forms of selective pressure including the tests of logic and empirical evidence.”

    OK, Rafe, but per evolutionary epistemology, why should we have any faith in our ability to follow logic or judge empirical evidence?

  10. Gene Callahan Says:

    “That it is logically possible for the world to exist in such a way that almost everything we believe is actually false, would not have been a big issue for a radical fallibilist.”

    So, there is no evolutionary epistemology!

  11. Gene Callahan Says:

    ‘Thus, the naturally evolved phenomenal order is specifically *not* reliable, at least not *as* reliable as the constructed order we call “science.”’

    What in the world allows you to say this? “Reliable” in what sense? In that it tracks reality? In that it gives us true knowledge of… what? The mere fact that it is consistent says nothing — it could be more consistently way off track.

  12. Current Says:

    There are two different ways of looking at evolution.

    One is the direct way – evolution produces knowledge. This is actual evolutionary epistemology.

    The second view is that in some circumstances evolution suggests knowledge – that it is likely to point in the right direction.

    It’s the first view that suffers from the problem gene describes in the main post. In his last comment he describes the problem with the second view – if evolution is only a guide then what is more fundamental and why?

  13. Roger Koppl Says:

    > “Reliable” in what sense?

    In the sense that our expectations are less likely to be disappointed.

  14. Lee Kelly Says:

    Gene,

    The relevant part of the quote is this:

    Moreover, since, as we have also admitted, those who continue to follow traditional practices do not themselves usually understand how these practices were forced or how they endure, it is hardly surprising that alternative ‘justifications’, so-called, that traditionalists sometimes offer for their practices are often rather naive (and hence have provided fair game to our intellectuals), and have no connection with the real reasons for their success.

    In other words, The tacit knowledge of a moral and cultural system–that which enables it to persevere and propagate–need not be understood by member of the group. The reasons that people give for their “traditional practices” often have “no connection with the real reasons for their success.” Recent work by Peter Leeson on the peculiar superstitions of gypsies provides a good example of this.

    You may retort that Peter Leeson is actually be wrong, and the gypsies “superstitions” actually true. As a mere possibility, you could not doubt maintain this without logical contradiction. But such a demonstration is of little use other than intellectual exercise, since it poses no problem for prevailing traditions and knowledge. The mere fact that we might be wrong is not a problem, since all alternatives might be wrong too. A standard of criticism that does not discriminate among alternatives is no criticism at all.

    Why should we have faith in our ability to follow logic and judge empirical evidence? We shouldn’t! That’s why I, at least, call myself a critical rationalist, and stress the fallibility and limits of reason. Perhaps all these efforts to correct for error and pursue truth are futile, but I don’t believe that, and I have yet to encounter an argument to that effect which amounts to anything more than pointing out the possibility of error.

    Philosophy, logic and reason, will not provide us with any guarantee of reliability. Good philosophy begins, I think, when we stop seeking it.

  15. Lee Kelly Says:

    Clarification.

    I wrote: “Philosophy, logic and reason, will not provide us with any guarantee of reliability.”

    What I am not saying is that nothing is reliable. Something may be reliable, in the sense that it works as expected all or most of the time, even if we have no way of confirming, guaranteeing, or knowing subjectively that it does so.

  16. Rafe Says:

    Gene, I don’t see how faith comes into it, whatever we think about EE we can do our best to use logic and empirical evidence as best we can – that is, the critical way, not the justificationist, inductivist or “faith” or “true belief” way.

    That way we can get on with our practical and theoretical problems and leave matters of faith and belief to the faithful and the believers.

    A nice example of sorcery that survives in modern times and sustains a particular cultural or occupational group is inductive logic, and, more generall, the “true belief” or “justificationist” epistemologies. We would be amused to observe tribes that spend so much time cultivating plots that produce such a small harvest.

    See also Stanislav Andreski “Social Science as Sorcery”.

  17. Roger Koppl Says:

    Gene,

    Could you please provide the textual evidence that Hayek said that our belief system in any way (in Gray’s words) “mirrors nature or tracks reality”?

  18. Rafe Says:

    This is not intended as a reply to Roger, it is just a matter of interest. The “essential and necessary character of the logical structure of the human mind…[which]…is equipped with a set of tools for grasping reality. Man acquired these tools, i.e. the logical structure of his mind, in the course of his evolution from an amoeba to his present state.” (Human Action 34-35).

  19. Gene Callahan Says:

    “Gene, I don’t see how faith comes into it, whatever we think about EE we can do our best to use logic and empirical evidence as best we can”

    But why, if they have no justification, should we use “logic and empirical evidence” rather than, say, “illogic and hunches”?

  20. Gene Callahan Says:

    ‘Could you please provide the textual evidence that Hayek said that our belief system in any way (in Gray’s words) “mirrors nature or tracks reality”?’

    Yes, sir, Roger. I am in the process of having my dissertation printed, am in the woods with little Internet access, and taking care of three kids right now. But, on your orders, I am dropping everything, driving 100 miles to the nearest university library, and looking this up for you.

  21. Gene Callahan Says:

    “Why should we have faith in our ability to follow logic and judge empirical evidence? We shouldn’t!”

    So why bother trying, or criticising those who don’t do so? Why favor logic and empirical evidence over anything else (reading chicken entrails) whatsoever? Neither Popper nor any Critical Rationalist has ever been able to answer that question on CR terms.

  22. Lee Kelly Says:

    Why favour logical analysis and empirical testing? Because we think that is the best way to eliminate error and pursue truth. Do you think otherwise? Are you interested in developing knowledge and discovering truth? This is what it means to be a rationalist.

    Are you going to find any guarantee, as though from some external, incorrigible authority, that you are on the right path toward your goal, or that it is even achievable? No. Is everyone going to desire the same ends or agree with the same methods? No.

    However, it does not follow from this that you are mistaken or your efforts are futile. Critical rationalists are generally willing to accept this situation. We’re not resting upon a foundation, but suspended in space, and hoping all the while that the fundamental presuppositions of rationalism are not mistaken by their own standards.

    That is where Bartley’s development, pancritical rationalism, stems from. It is a willingness to hold everything, even the basic principles of rationality itself, open to criticism. This does not preclude belief, even strong conviction, but it does reformulate rationality so that it can meet the objections of irrationalists (postmodernists, relativists, etc.)

    The tentative, evolving, and conjectural nature of this type of thinking is off putting to those who want reassurance that they are correct in some manner, or those seeking to eradicate the uneasiness of personal doubt through abstract analysis. Where critical rationalists depart from traditional rationalists is in their repudiation of the traditional goals of philosophical investigation.

  23. Lee Kelly Says:

    By the way, your question implicitly commits the fallacy that I mentioned in my previous post.

    You ask: “Why favor logic and empirical evidence over anything else (reading chicken entrails) whatsoever?”

    Presumably you would not accept an answer that appeals to logic or empirical evidence. I might comment that even if I preferred to seek truth with chicken entrails rather than empirical testing, then I would still be interested in logic insofar as it helps me analyse what entrails entail.

    But, in any case, the spirit of your scpetical objection does not pass the test of a criticism (at least for me). A criterion that rejects everything (or accepts everything) within its domain of application cannot select among alternatives, and thus does not qualify as a criticism of anything in particular, i.e. all possibilities converge on the same point, pass or fail.

  24. Roger Koppl Says:

    Take a valium, Gene. And please play nice.

  25. Rafe Says:

    “Why favor logic and empirical evidence over anything else (reading chicken entrails) whatsoever? Neither Popper nor any Critical Rationalist has ever been able to answer that question on CR terms.”

    Modern science and technology provide a hint to the answer you are looking for.

    Reading Bill Bartley will help as well. When you get access to internet you can find a heap of his stuff on line.

    http://www.the-rathouse.com/writingsonbartley.html

  26. Gene Callahan Says:

    Right, Roger. I was fine with you asking once. But then you asked again, as if I was trotting fast enough to suit you. So, in terms of needing some calming…

  27. Gene Callahan Says:

    “Modern science and technology provide a hint to the answer you are looking for.”

    Rafe, you’re saying we can make an INDUCTIVE INFERENCE from the past success of these ventures to their future success?!

  28. Gene Callahan Says:

    Oh, I meant “wasn’t”, of course.

  29. Gene Callahan Says:

    “Why favour logical analysis and empirical testing? Because we think that is the best way to eliminate error and pursue truth.”

    Lee, do you have some justification for thinking this, or don’t you? If you do, then please drop then “non-justification” business. If you don’t, then why should anyone else pay any mind to the fact you think this is a good way of proceeding? An Azande thinks witchcraft is better. And if neither of you can justify your belief, discussion over.

  30. Gene Callahan Says:

    In any case, as I mentioned above, I have very limited Internet and library access right now. When I read Gray’s comments, they seemed accurate on Hayek to me. I didn’t go digging in the sources, because I wasn’t writing a paper on this and Gray is a pretty good Hayek scholar. Maybe he is wrong and I was wrong to bring Hayek up here — I’ll check when I can. But Hayek was really just an aside in this post — if he doesn’t hold out an evolutionary epistemology, there are many who do. (It was pretty common in my department at LSE, for instance.)

    As far as what Hayek DID think, Roger comments on his theory of mind leave me very puzzled — if Hayek didn’t think we somehow were in contact with reality, then what is the point of introducing the brain as an explanatory item? After all, we don’t even know if there really ARE brains (in this view), so “brain” is just another model — why should it somehow serve as a base model that explains our other models?

  31. Current Says:

    Gene’s criticism here is really a criticism of postmodernism. He’s looking at a philosophy where tradition defines truth.

    The rest of us – and I’d argue that includes Hayek – see tradition as hinting at it. Like it or not there are a whole bunch of problems here. Those of us who see tradition as hinting are really taking a view similar to Hume. Like Hume we need a reason for seeing tradition in that way and a more basic epistemology that we see as more decisive.

    Taking this view though brings It’s own problems. If we take seriously the idea of tradition in science then we really are saying that science is “better” shamanism. We bury the more basic epistemology and make reliance on it indirect.

    It’s like Mises argument about interest which makes originary interest unobservable.

  32. Lee Kelly Says:

    Gene,

    You ask why anyone should “pay any mind”
    to the fact that I think logical analysis and empirical experiment are a good way of proceeding. My answer depends upon their goals: are they interested in discovering truth and falsity, or understanding the empirical world? If not, then no amount of “justification” is going to mean anything to them. Some people do not wish to engage in rational discussion, criticism, and investigation. However, so long as both parties remain willing to consider alternative positions and revise their presuppositions or even goals, rational discussion is always possible.

  33. Roger Koppl Says:

    Gene, I’m getting the idea that you are packing something into the word “epistemology” that I don’t really understand. In some weird sense, we can’t get outside our models. Moreover, it seems that our experience of the world need not be similar to the world, as illustrated by synesthesia. If you push that notion enough, you start to wonder if the concept of “reality” is not itself as dependent upon our cognitive framework as our ideas of color. Maybe “reality” is in us in something like the way color is in us and not out there. But if we are thus unable to transcend our models of “reality” and can only amend them more or less piecemeal, then what good does it do to worry about differences that might exist between our model of the world and how it “really” is? The best we can do is to seek out strategies to amend our models in ways less likely to disappoint our expectations. Science turns out to be pretty good at that one.

  34. Rafe Says:

    Gene, the last resort of the inductivist is the “argument from the lawlike regularities in the world”. That is the belief, or the theory, or the conjecture that there are regularities in the world. It is a metaphysical theory, we could not live without it and we could not do science without it but it has nothing to do with inductive logic, inductive proof, or inductive probability.

    If you stretch the meaning of induction in enough different directions you can make it mean anything you like but that does not justify the efforts of justificationists and inductivists in epistemology.

    What do you think is gained by this effort to prop up the inductive enterprise? What would count as a success in the project? What can you offer the scientist or indeed anyone else that is more helpful than critical rationalism – the advice to use all our resources of imagination, our critical faculties, our reason, deductive logic and testing to solve problems by locating weak points (unsolved problems) and inventing better theories and policies?

  35. Rafe Says:

    Thinking about myths that survive because they are harmless or sustained by powerful interest groups, in the first category I was thinking of things like Santa Claus and the tooth fairy but of course they are also supported by a powerful interest group.

    Forbes has a Rich List of Cartoon Characters but a few years ago they took Santa Claus off the list because they got so much mail that he was not a cartoon character.

  36. Mario Rizzo Says:

    I don’t see any reference to Peter Leeson’s work on the “law and economics of superstition.” One paper is linked below:

    http://www.peterleeson.com/Gypsies.pdf

    I think it is highly relevant.

    It might be helpful to make a distinction between, say, intellectual truth and pragmatic truth. The latter belief produces “good” results — possibly for the individual, possibly for the society/group more generally.

    Depending on the institutional context or framework, the selection mechanism will select for abstract truth (say, in a scientific community)or for pragmatic truth in other contexts.

  37. Lee Kelly Says:

    Well, I referenced “recent work by Peter Leeson on the peculiar superstitions of gypsies” as a “good example” of “tacit knowledge” present in a system — whether cultural, biological, or whatever — “which enables it to persevere and propagate,” but “need not be understood by member of the group.”

  38. Troy Camplin Says:

    I was with Gene right up until the bizarre claim that sorcery is in fact real. Well, that, and the fact that Hayek’s theory in fact says what Gray claims, and not the opposite, as has been pointed out already. My readings of Hayek’s “Sensory Order” certainly support and do not refute Gray.

    But back to Gene’s claim that sorcery is real and that the West genetically selected in the Renaissance against those who had the sorcery gene. In fact, where does one even begin with it? It’s quite a just-so story with no evidence to support it. Not even remotely. Now, if Gene had claimed that there was some psychological element, etc. involved, then I would be on board. But to claim that sorcery is in fact real, and that there is in fact a genetic element to it?

    I do love the fact that Gene shut down any sort of discussion of his claim at the end with the same logic you get from those Marxists who claim that the fact that you can’t see the truth of Marxism is proof of his theory, since you are bourgeoisie, and the bourgeoisie cannot see the truth of Marx. Or those Christians who claim you can’t see the truth of Christianity because Satan is blinding you to it. Very convenient, Gene. Very convenient. Way to shut down any rational discourse.

  39. Greg Ransom Says:

    Gray’s pot shots at Hayek over the last 25 years are not worthy of discussion — they don’t get Hayek right and they are pathetically shallow.

    The argumentsmof evolutionary epistemplogy have almost nothing to do with what Gray writes on the topic –and Gray never gets Hayek’s work right in the area of social selection and evolution.

    Gray’s work simoly isn’t sophisticated and does rise above the level of a freak show cartoon.

  40. Greg Ransom Says:

    Gray’s work simply isn’t sophisticated and doesn’t rise above the level of a freak show cartoon.

  41. Current Says:

    Though I don’t really agree with Gene I think he’s.making a point that must be tackled.

    Suppose your in a debate with a statist. He says that scientific economics has proven that there are huge problems with the free market that must be tackled by huge government intervention. Is it ok to argue against this by citing societal evolution? This is doing something quite different to Leesons gypsy paper, its saying evolution may beat science.

    To do that we must take one of the two views I describe above. A purely evolutionary view or a view grounded in a more fundamental epistemology. Gene shows that the purely evolutionary view could be used to prove anything. But, the other view has problems too. How do we decide when science should be treated as more reliable than evolution and when we should treat evolution as more reliable?

  42. Troy Camplin Says:

    Current,

    There is a bigger problem than that: what we learn about evolution is learned through science. Thus, evolution does not trump science, as what we know about evolution, we learned through science. The difference between the science of evolution and the science Hayek criticized as scientism is that scientistic science is simple science, while evolutionary science is complex science. That is the real dualism, not the one between evolution and science.

    Greg,

    I agree with you on Gray. What I have read by Gray is mostly sad and pathetic. Which doesn’t negate the interesting point he made that Gene pointed out, of course (even poor thinkers can have good insights on occasion), though I agree, as pointed out above, that Gray gets Hayek completely wrong on this point.

  43. Roger Koppl Says:

    Like Troy, I do not understand any idea to the effect that somehow “evolution” trumps “science.” Indeed, I think Current is mixing up different arguments. It is no argument at all to say that “evolution” somehow trumps “scientific economics.” It is perfectly “scientific” to say that evolutionary processes may generate systems with desirable capabilities not currently attainable by top-down planning unaided by evolved structures and processes. BUT, as I think Current may have been suggesting, you gotta actually make the argument; you can’t just invoke evolution as a magic wand to ensure everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds.

    “How do we decide when science should be treated as more reliable than evolution and when we should treat evolution as more reliable?” Isn’t that just a false dichotomy, then?

  44. Rafe Says:

    The parallel between the growth of knowledge and the evolution of species is that both processes advance by a process of conjecture and refutation. Selective processes go to work on new species and new ideas which are generated in all sorts of ways that are not fully understood. Evolution, like science, makes mistakes. Most mutants and most new ideas die at birth. There is no guarrantee that a species will survive, even if it has been successful, because the environment may change. Similarly a theory, even an amazingly good theory like Newton’s can be refuted or replaced by new evidence or a better theory. It still has instrumental value of course, within its limits.

    One of the saddest stories in evolution is the musk ox. Greg Ransom has a paper which describes the musk ox defence tactic of forming a circle to beat off predators (like the wagons). Then men with rifles appeared. Even if they only wantd one beast to eat, they had to kill many of them, maybe the whole herd, as they resolutely held their circle.

    A big difference between biology and science is that when we establish a tradition of critical thinking and cognate institutions to promote it (journals and conferences etc) we can have a critical discussion (a meta discussion?) about the selective process itself and hope to streamline the process of getting the best out of new ideas and getting rid of bad ones. Not an easy process, as Roger can probably tell you on the basis of his work in forensics.

  45. Rafe Says:

    Another point about insight and witchcraft. The Azande could survive with ideas which we regard as weird, just provided that their traditional way of life had enough successful practices to keep them alive. Bear in mind that all cultures have practices that other people or later generations are going to regard as weird. Inductive logic is one of my favorites and Keynesianism is another).

    But practices that are perfomed without insight may not work, like the cargo cults in the Pacific islands. During the war the islanders saw people making airstrips in the jungle and then cargo arrived from the sky. So later they carved out strips as well, with little huts and a tower with wires attached etc in the hope that more cargo would arrive.

    “Scientism” and historicism can be depicted as the cargo cult mentality in science, where rituals are performed that imitate the practives that are supposed to deliver scientific cargo, but they lack insight into the real drivers in the growth of knowledge.

  46. Troy Camplin Says:

    Exactly. There are plenty of beliefs which may contribute to social bonding and so are adaptive. Sorcery is one such. But when such beliefs and behaviors become maladaptive — say, as the culture complexifies — then we should not be surprised to see such beliefs become increasingly marginalized. Cultural evolution is more than sufficient to explain the disappearance of beliefs which those in more complex societies may consider strange — though their own ancestors may have engaged in such practices themselves.

  47. Roger Koppl Says:

    Troy,

    I don’t see why we should think that dysfunctional beliefs cannot survive cultural evolution. Some maladaptive dietary laws, for example, have survived and seem unlikely to disappear. (The Gigerenzer and Selten volume on “The Adapted Toolbox” has examples.) I really don’t see where “cultural evolution” does that much explaining. I think there is such a thing as “cultural evolution” and that we can reason scientifically about it. But I don’t see where it gets you very far to invoke it in highly general ways. In his “Investigations” volume Carl Menger criticized Savigny sharply for his motto “It must grow! It must grow!”

  48. Current Says:

    Troy,

    > There is a bigger problem than that: what
    > we learn about evolution is learned
    > through science. Thus, evolution does not
    > trump science, as what we know about
    > evolution, we learned through science. The
    > difference between the science of
    > evolution and the science Hayek criticized
    > as scientism is that scientistic science
    > is simple science, while evolutionary
    > science is complex science. That is the
    > real dualism, not the one between
    > evolution and science.

    I broadly agree with you here. But, I think the issue still warrants further attention.

    When Mises discusses epistemological dualism it comes about because of the powers of introspection and recognition of conscious human will. If we want to keep that distinction too then what we really have is a three-way epistemological split, not a two-way one.

    And, the edges are still quite fuzzy. What exactly constitutes a “complex” science for our purposes? Its not just something that’s difficult to understand (like physics) or something that has many degrees-of-freedom (like fluid dynamics). What we really mean is something to which evolution applies.

    So, the position we’re really in is that we have to get so far down the path of explaining something in an evolutionary way before we can then reject other ways.

    > BUT, as I think Current may have been
    > suggesting, you gotta actually make the
    > argument; you can’t just invoke evolution
    > as a magic wand to ensure everything is
    > for the best in this best of all possible
    > worlds.

    Yes, exactly. And the argument needs to be fairly sophisticated.

    This is one of the problems with the recent popularity of “The Road to Serfdom”. In that book Hayek doesn’t really use evolution to “wave a magic wand”. But, I don’t think he really provides the full lead-up to the evolutionary viewpoint, he does lots of that elsewhere.

  49. Roger Koppl Says:

    Current, I’m not sure what you mean by “conscious human will,” but he adopted a determinist position of sorts and comes well short of asserting that humans have “free will.” At least in Theory and History it’s like that.

  50. Current Says:

    Roger,

    The point I’m making is that he says we should look at human actions in a different way to nature. Yes, he agrees with determinism, but he doesn’t think that it justifies abandoning praxeological reasoning.

    If we take the same view then we have a three-way split, not a two way split if we also add evolution into the mix.

  51. Roger Koppl Says:

    Ah! Yes, I agree with those remarks.

  52. Troy Camplin Says:

    Roger,

    Being dysfunctional doesn’t mean being maladaptive. What works well in one culture may be dysfunctional in another, and maladaptive in yet another. Do long as a behavior isn’t maladaptive, there’s no reason why it won’t stick around from simple inertia. But if a behavior is truly maladaptive, those who continue to practice it will likely die off before long. Truly maladaptive features do not last long in nature. In a culture they can last longer, or the practitioners can become marginalized into subcultures that separate themselves off from the main culture, or even lash out to try to make their behavior stick around.

    Current,

    Complexity is universally understood as having many degrees of freedom. Newtonian physics is simple. Something can be difficult simply because it is too simple for our complex brains.

  53. Roger Koppl Says:

    “But if a behavior is truly maladaptive, those who continue to practice it will likely die off before long.” This statement is true only if you define “maladaptive” to mean you’re gonna die if you don’t mend your ways. (Of course I’m speaking in shorthand. Each individual will die in any event; we’re talking about cultural systems, etc.) It is true that I was not distinguishing “maladaptive” from “dysfunctional.” What’s the difference?

  54. Troy Camplin Says:

    I meant that the maladaptive behavior will die off, precisely because it makes living in the society in question too costly. Specifically, whatever is gained is either no longer gained, or costs too much to be worth continuing. Which means my statement was poorly worded. Hope this clarifies.

    Now, “dysfunctional” in a social sense is defined as a consequence of a social practice or behavior pattern that undermines the stability of a social system. Thus, it harms the society, not the individual. “Maladaptive” means that one is unsuitably adapted or adapting poorly to a situation, purpose, etc. Thus, it harms the person, and not society.

  55. Roger Koppl Says:

    Okay, Troy, but if you mean by “maladaptive” simply “lowers reproductive fitness” (however defined), then maladaptive behaviors are not necessarily doomed and maladaptive traditions may persist indefinitely. It seems, for example, that monkeys sometimes abuse their infants. That looks maladaptive for all the world, unlike abandonment, which can be adaptive in certain circumstances. Thus, we have Darwinian natural selection tolerating and, indeed, propagating maladaptive behavior.

  56. Gene Callahan Says:

    As I mentioned, I’ve had very limited Internet access lately (as well as library access), but let me briefly sum up my response to the “this gets Hayek wrong” line here:

    1) Gray does supply supporting quotes: check out _Liberalisms_ if you want to see them. IF I had been writing a research paper, I certainly would have taken the time to read the whole context. But, I treat blog posts as trial balloons, and posted accordingly;
    2) I think Gray’s general remarks in _Liberalisms_ are far from “pathetic,” and he once had a reputation as a pretty good Hayek scholar. But so do Roger Koppl and Greg Ransom — if they think Gray was wrong, I certainly will dig further before I formally publish something on this matter. I do believe there is a problem in Hayek in his borrowing of the concept of “rationalism” from Oakeshott while lifting it from the metaphysics that gave it bite for the latter, and I plan a future paper on the topic, but in the meantime, I appreciate Roger’s and Greg’s caveats;
    3) As mentioned before, introducing Hayek was (a perhaps unfortunate) aside to my main point; and
    4) I apologize for not being able to fully participate in the discussion during my brief “net-enabled” moments.

  57. Troy Camplin Says:

    Gene,

    Well, I haven’t read “Liberalisms,” but I have read “Straw Dogs,” and that is what I would consider to be a pathetic work. Which is being nice. I actually consider it to be anti-human and immoral. If you think “Liberalisms” is worth reading, I’ll put it on my short list. A good critic is always worth reading if, for nothing else, the answers you develop clarify your own thinking.

    Roger,

    What we may think are maladaptive may in fact not be. More than that, if the maladaptive behavior is dominant, it is likely to go away; but if it is recessive, then it can never go away. Of course, behaviors are complex and emerge from complex interactions of many genes, so one could imagine that anyone who had XY or YY would be adaptive, but anyone who had XY would be maladaptive (to grossly oversimplify things for the sake of clarity). Further, human culture is such that we try to protect people from the consequences of many of their actions. So many things can perpetuate that might appear maladaptive in anything other than a human cultural setting. And if the cost of the behavior is low, then they’re not likely to go away. You may think that lighting candles can ward off a hurricane, while I don’t, but we will both likely be affected the same way when the hurricane comes. And if I don’t try to burn you at the stake as a witch, you can continue with your practices without much cost (and we all do things that others consider to be a waste of time and money). One of the benefits of a liberal society is precisely that so long as you aren’t doing something dysfunctional, it’s probably not maladaptive — even if it may not be optimal.

  58. Roger Koppl Says:

    “if the maladaptive behavior is dominant, it is likely to go away; but if it is recessive, then it can never go away.”

    Okay, but that statement would seem to deny that “if a behavior is truly maladaptive, those who continue to practice it will likely die off before long.”

  59. Roger Koppl Says:

    Oh, I forgot to say that there is indeed a popular theory that “anyone who had XY would be maladaptive”! 🙂

  60. Rafe Says:

    Straw Dogs is very poor but “Two Faces of Liberalism” makes some excellent points, though complicated by criticisms of liberalism without making clear distinctions between left liberalism and the kind of classical liberalism that is more robust. He seems to think that liberalism demands a “rational consensus on the way to live” and what we need instead is a “modus vivendi” for a multicultural society, that is a set of minimum principles that enable people with different ideas about the “good life” to live side by side. I thought that was what classical liberalism is about.

    This looks like a useful commentary. From an XX person as well!

    http://www.fitz-claridge.com/?q=node/11

  61. Troy Camplin Says:

    The usual caveats apply to any complex system or behavior. In the case of something that is inherited, the laws of genetics says that recessive traits, whatever they may be, can never disappear within a population. However, if it is completely maladaptive, if and when it does reappear, it is likely to be squashed out in

  62. Gene Callahan Says:

    Rafe, rather than answering Gray, her piece looks like it was crafted to supply him with an example.

    “We need only be critical, and judge ideas according to whether they solve problems.”

    Yes, and since there are no foundations, and fallibilism rules, this is mere, naked assertion: WHY do “need” to be critical? WHY should we judge ideas on whether they “solve problems”? What problems should we be solving? The Gulag solved the problem of political dissidence in the USSR, at least for a long time. The cult and rituals of the pagan gods solved the problem of creating civic order in Rome for centuries.

    This is hand-waving avoidance of Gray’s issues.

    “what we need instead is a “modus vivendi” for a multicultural society, that is a set of minimum principles that enable people with different ideas about the “good life” to live side by side. I thought that was what classical liberalism is about…”

    Well, liberalism did arise as a solution to religious warfare. But certainly most of its founders sought to portray it not as the stopgap measure it was, but as “the correct” political system. (Look at Locke, for instance, grabbing at almost anything to get a foundation for liberalism.) And they sensed correctly — once it is admitted there is no foundation, then endorsing liberalism becomes a matter of sheer personal preference. Leo Strauss’s essay “Relativism” is good on this point — there is a funny passage in which he quotes Berlin contending that there needs to be an absolute foundation grounding individual freedom, and then presents a grab-bag of possible “absolute” foundations, including subjective preference, any one of which will do.

  63. Rafe Says:

    What is the point of your rejoinder? What alternative are you offering to problem solving, error elimination and the use of our critical faculties to form critical preferences? You are demanding foundations? Foundationalism and justificationism have failed. They are logically flawed because they lead to infinite regress. The alternative is not some corrosive form of ralativism, not arbitrary decisions but critical rationalism, the willingness to learn from experience and from other people.

    People of good will are inclined to favour policies that promote peace, freedom and prosperity. We have learned from the failure of many experiments, like the regimes that build gulags, that this is not the way to freedom and prosperity. We have learned that regimes that aim to create heaven on earth, to specify the good life that will make everyone happy and virtuous, do not deliver.
    We have learned that theories that set out to assign numerical values to theories do not deliver.

    No progress depends on rock-solid foundations, just on the willingness to make use of all our faculties for learning – historical studies, cross-cultural studies, imagination, evidence, tradition, logic, regression models, Powerpoint, you name it.

    You are terrified of personal preferences in place of foundations. I am talking about tentative preferences, held open to revision, formed in reasonable and prolonged discussion with other people acording to rule of evidence, rules of debate etc. This calls for appropriate traditions and institutions, and these can be fragile under certain circumstances, especially times of social and economic stress and especially times of war.

    The defence of the traditions and institutions that make for freedom and prosperity can be very hard when large numbers of intellectuals take on board theories which undermine them. Among those corrosive theories I would nominate constructivist rationalism, foundationalism, justificationism, “manifest truth” theories of knowledge.

    And it is likely that false theories of economics have done more damage in the last 200 years than any other factor, though certain kinds of nationalism would go close.

    You talk about Locke, for instance, grabbing at almost anything to get a foundation for liberalism, well we do not need to be stuck with the past errors of liberalism.

  64. Gene Callahan Says:

    “What alternative are you offering to problem solving, error elimination and the use of our critical faculties to form critical preferences?”

    I’m not offering an alternative, because I think these things all… have foundations.

    “You are demanding foundations?”

    No, they’re already there… no need to demand.

    “Foundationalism and justificationism have failed.”

    In post-Cartesian philosophy, yes.

    “They are logically flawed because they lead to infinite regress.”

    In Cartesian rationalism, yes, they do.

    “People of good will are inclined to favour policies that promote peace, freedom and prosperity. We have learned from the failure of many experiments, like the regimes that build gulags, that this is not the way to freedom and prosperity.”

    We’ve made an inductive inference? But Rafe, you and I both know that in Popper’s system, that’s forbidden!

  65. Roger Koppl Says:

    Now, now, Gene, “conjectures,” “abduction,” or whatever you want to call it is not forbidden in Popper’s system. Please play nice.

    Anyway, you seem to be coming from a specific POV that your are keeping under a bushel. Please let your light shine on this blog thread. A good place to start, perhaps, would be to explain how it is that problem solving, error elimination, and the use of our critical faculties “have foundations” that are “already there.” It sounds as if you have something rather specific in mind, but I certainly don’t have any intuitions about what that might be. Perhaps you can understand my perplexity when you seem to be rejecting both “Cartesian rationalism” and “post-Cartesian philosophy.” Back to Aristotle? Up with Strauss? Please let us know.

  66. Gene Callahan Says:

    “Now, now, Gene, “conjectures,” “abduction,” or whatever you want to call it is not forbidden in Popper’s system. Please play nice.”

    OK, Roger, the first time you told me to play nice in this thread you may have had a point — I was a bit snarky in response to what I felt was undue impatience on your part. But this time, you really should take your own advice. “Conjectures” can in no way take the place of induction, in, for instance, allowing Rafe to say something like “We have learned from the failure of many experiments…” That’s induction. That Popper’s system fails to defend the rationality of science at this very point is well-known in the literature; see, for instance, Salmon, Wesley C. (1988) “Rational Prediction,” in The Limitations of Deductivism , pp. 47-60.

    ‘Perhaps you can understand my perplexity when you seem to be rejecting both “Cartesian rationalism” and “post-Cartesian philosophy.”’

    Roger, most “post-Cartesian philosophy” IS “Cartesian rationalism”. That’s one thing I’m rejecting there, not two.

    “Please let your light shine on this blog thread.”

    While I appreciate good snark when I get it as well as when I give it: no thanks. My only goal here is to show what I claimed in my original post. When I write a metaphysical treatise, it will no doubt be several hundred pages, and not an offhand comment in a blog post.

  67. Roger Koppl Says:

    Sure, Gene, if you give “induction” a broad and fuzzy meaning, then Popper himself is something of an inductivist. If you give it a narrow meaning that squeezes out the element of guessing, then he is an anti-inductivist. I don’t think Rafe was under any obligation to go into all that just to have the right to say, “All experience hath shown.”

    On letting your light shine, well, I guess readers of this thread will have to judge whether your refusal is inappropriate or an obvious practical necessity.

  68. Lee Kelly Says:

    Popper doesn’t “forbid” induction, as such. His objections had many facets. Ultimately, induction is simply unnecessary, in Popper’s view, and I agree. The drive to create an inductive logic arose in the context of an empiricism where sense experiences functioned as a foundation of knowledge and justifier of beliefs. When that approach to epistemology is rejected, the problems associated with induction never arise. Of course, this is not to say that people do not generalise, and that such generalisations cannot be represented in some formal expression, but merely that to do so would achieve practically nothing.

  69. Rafe Says:

    Maybe I need to take a valium:)

    It is fun to see a reference to Strauss. Are people aware of the exchange of letters between Strauss and Vogelin re Popper? They used gutter language to describe Popper’s scholarship in The Open Society and one of them boasted that he had used influence behind the scenes in the administration of
    Chicago Uni to block any possibility of Popper getting a position!

  70. Troy Camplin Says:

    Gene’s right about Cartesian reason and post-Cartesianism being the same. I would go further and argue that post-Cartesianism (as it moved into existentialism and then into postmodernism/deconstruction) was simply the logical trajectory of Cartesian rationalism into nihilism. The Scottish tradition does not suffer from such problems.

  71. Greg Ransom Says:

    I stand by my statements about Gray.

    The biggest problem with Hayek is that he wasn’t clear about the difference between selection mechanisms and the general fact of social evolution.

    I’ve show how a selection mechanosm can work in the domain of human phenomena in my Kuhn and selection paper.

    The epistemological questions quickly get deep.

    But this whole domain involves virtuous circles of naturally selected and socially achieved cognitive structures.

    I’d suggest reading Wittegenstein and Darwin and Kuhn and Edelman at the same time — and then tell me there is nothing to “evolutionary epistemplogy”

  72. Gene Callahan Says:

    “I’d suggest reading Wittegenstein and Darwin and Kuhn and Edelman at the same time”

    Should I alternate words or sentences?

    In any case, I never said there is “nothing to” evolutionary epistemology. However, I did give a simple example that shows why we have no warrant to believe any mechanical, evolutionary process will tend to produce true rather than merely useful beliefs.

  73. Gene Callahan Says:

    Right, Troy. And in Gray’s defense he, like Nietzche before him, was at least honest enough to follow that road all the way and admit where it leads.

  74. Gene Callahan Says:

    “It is fun to see a reference to Strauss. Are people aware of the exchange of letters between Strauss and Vogelin re Popper? They used gutter language to describe Popper’s scholarship in The Open Society…”

    Well, it was pretty God awful, wasn’t it? For instance, although he commits a smear job on Hegel, he apparently had never read a single work of hegel’s in its entirety! And are people obliged to help awful scholars to get positions?!

  75. Troy Camplin Says:

    Again, this is just based on “Straw Dogs,” but at least in the case of Nietzsche, after following the road all the way to nihilism, he at least tried to find a way out. Nietzsche’s intent was to take us into the abyss in order to lead us out. Gray seems to revel at being in the abyss.

    Along those lines, Nietzsche (and I) would agree with you that we evolved not to produce true rather than merely useful beliefs; however, we also seem to be designed to try to figure the world out. This can lead us to discover what Nietzsche called those truths that weren’t very interesting (aka, facts), but not to the kinds of truths Socrates was after, for example: what is Beauty, Justice, Piety, etc.? These were “aletheia” truths — those brought about by “unforgetting” — and which Milan Kundera, for example, argues the novel is good at unveiling (I would go farther and argue that all art works this way). If we look to the way Socrates/Plato went about investigating these things — and to the way Nietzsche talked about them post-“The Gay Science” — we can see that these kinds of truths have an uncanny resemblance to strange attractors, with the concrete, real-world examples as trajectory points mapping out the attractors. I am convinced, at least, that this is what Nietzsche was getting at with his ideas of the Will to Power and the Eternal Return (for strange attractors and fractals, respectively; he uses the same language for them as we use for those concepts now, suggesting Nietzsche was thinking along those lines without having the contemporary language to express them). This was Nietzsche’s way out of nihilism, and I think, too, that the complex adaptive systems approach to understanding the world is indeed the way out. As Polanyi obseved, with each level of greater complexity, you get greater meaning. the emergence into greater complexity is the way out of nihilism.

  76. Rafe Says:

    The scholarship in The Open Society and its Enemies was goddam awful? I have no opinion on the Hegel chapter because I find Hegel unreadable but do you have a problem with his appraisal of Plato and Marx?

    You have missed the point of the Strauss-Vogelin exchange but that is too far off topic to pursue.

    Boy, you are clutching at an anchor when you turn to Salmon to diss Popper on the logic of induction!

  77. Lee Kelly Says:

    Gene said: “In any case, I never said there is “nothing to” evolutionary epistemology. However, I did give a simple example that shows why we have no warrant to believe any mechanical, evolutionary process will tend to produce true rather than merely useful beliefs.”

    I agree, but we also have no warrant to believe that the “mechanical, evolutionary process” has not actually produced many true beliefs and is capable of more. Since we can have no warrant for either position, it seems the matter cannot turn on the presence of absence of a warrant.

    In any case, I do not believe any evolutionary epistemologists believe they have such a warrant — Hayek included. He may have assumed, in particular contexts, that evolution selects for beliefs that “track reality,” and such an assumption may have been wrong, but if so, the assumption is wrong for being false, not for being without warrant.

  78. Rafe Says:

    A reply to Salmon’s critique of Popper.

    http://www.criticalrationalism.net/2010/04/17/criticism-of-salmon-on-popper/

    Gene if you want to come to grips with Popperism and evolutionary epistemology you need to understand several “turns” by Popper that are not conveyed by the standard commentaries which portray him as an eccentric positivist who substituted falsification for verificatation.

    The the first step can be described as a full-blooded “conjectural turn”, to claim that even our best theories may be rendered problematic by new evidence, new criticisms and new theories. This anticipated the “hermeneutic turn” when appreciation of the theory-dependence of observations became more widespread in the wake of Kuhn and the modern French theorists. Other “turns” include the “objectivist turn” to break with the obsession with the justification of beliefs and instead to focus on the strengths and weaknesses of theories that are stated in a public, inter-subjective or “objective” form. Then there is the “social turn” to examine the function of institutions, traditions, conventions and “rules of the game” in science and society. This has been spelled out by Ian Jarvie. And finally the “metaphysical turn” to recognse the pervasive influence of metaphysical ideas which are the framework assumptions or presuppositions of thought.

    More explanation…

    http://www.the-rathouse.com/Pop-Schol/PopperTurns.html

  79. Gene Callahan Says:

    Brian Leiter: “Popper is more squarely working within philosophical traditions, whatever one may think of his juvenile misreadings of Plato and Hegel and Freud.”

    So, yes, Rafe, he’s pretty bad on Plato as well. Marx I don’t know.

  80. Current Says:

    Troy,

    > Complexity is universally understood as having
    > many degrees of freedom. Newtonian physics is
    > simple. Something can be difficult simply because
    > it is too simple for our complex brains.

    “Degree of freedom” is a dicey concept, it’s more troublesome than physicists imply.

    It’s sometimes considered to be the number of input variables to a problem. It is a set of independent axes in the phase space of the system. So, a particle in space has three coordinates describing it’s location and a momentum vector, giving six degrees of freedom.

    The problem with all this is that it really concerns the number of variables in a *model*. The best example of this is the thermodynamic theory of gases. In that theory there are a vast number of particles that each have the six degrees of freedom I describe above. This is called the micro-state. Dealing with that number of degrees of freedom can’t be done. But through statistical mechanics the problem can be made tractable, and a bridge built between the atomic theory of gases and macro-level thermodynamic experiments. A set of macro aggregate variables such as temperature, pressure, and volume are used, these are explain by particular underlying micro properties.

    So, if you ask a thermodynamic physicist about the properties of a box of gas he will not say that it has a huge number of degrees of freedom, he’ll say it has three of four depending on the problem. It does depend on the problem and this approach can’t solve every problem. It is essentially a type of modeling.

    There is a similar problem to the one I describe above with evolution. You can only know how many degrees of freedom are relevant when you have gone part way to solving the problem.

    The late 19th century Neoclassical economists and Keynesian economists took a lot of inspiration from the success of statistical mechanics. They thought they could apply the same aggregation ideas to economics. This was the line of thinking behind the Edgeworth conjecture.

    We can disagree with the neoclassicals about whether economics as “social physics” is possible. But, it wasn’t a clearly stupid thing to try. But it was something that was never properly justified, the underlying assumptions weren’t well examined. We face a similar problem in that we must carefully justify evolutionary approaches.

    We can’t say that something is evolutionary if it has a great number of degrees of freedom making it intractable to normal approaches. As I said above, take fluid dynamics as an example. We may take evolutionary approaches to solving the problems that arise from it – such as evolutionary approaches to designing aircraft. But, it isn’t an evolutionary problem. It is not complex in the evolutionary sense, or simple like Newtonian or quantum physics is simple.

  81. Rafe Says:

    Good morning Gene.

    You are calling on some big guns. Strauss and now Brian Leiter! But seriously, look where they are coming from.

    Bertrand Russell and Mises agreed with Popper’s take on Plato. The leading British Plato scholar wrote a big detailed critique and conceded that he could not refute Popper’s case on the major issues. After all, Popper learned Greek so he could read the original texts and do his own translations.

    There are some problems with Popper on Marx, mostly too generous and he misread the lessons of the industrial revolution but the bottom line of the critique is sound and devastating, at least Isiah Berlin thought so. Popper read German too (that is just a rejoinder to a young Marxist who once told me that Popper of course did not have access to the German texts which were translated after 1945).

  82. Current Says:

    I find the whole thing with Popper & Plato difficult to understand.

    I’d heard that Popper was wrong about Plato. I asked a friend of mine who has a PhD in philosophy what Plato meant in work about political philosophy. She gave an explanation that was pretty much the same as Popper’s.

  83. Troy Camplin Says:

    Gene,

    Given the state of science when classicl physics was used as the model for the social science, it does make sense. It make no sense to stick with it when we have much better models to work with, though. From what I understand about network theory, chaos theory, bios theory, complex adaptive systems, strange attractors, self-organization, emergence, and evolution, these are much better models with which to work — and they are models which come much closer to an Austrian understanding of the economy. As you observe, evolution (as Darwinism) isn’t really enough — but I would argue that evolution combined with self-organization (as done by Stuart Kauffman) in far-from-equilibrium network systems does the job quite well.

    I get your point about degrees of freedom. I think it’s a good concept, but as you rightly observe, it is and can be a bit tricky. Kauffman suggests rather that we should think in terms of dimensions. The more dimensions something has, the more complex it is. One can also bring up the presence of strange attractors, the system being at the transition between order and chaos, in a far-from-equilibrium state, interactivity of the parts, etc. Not surprisingly, what goes into something being complex is often itself quite complex.

  84. Rafe Says:

    Thanks Current, did she actually know about Popper? Joe Agassi in the course of documenting examples of anti-Popper bias referred to a large and scholarly paper on some refined point of Platonic exegesis where the author came out clearly on Popper’s side of the argument but did not actually say that she agreed with him. It was clear to Agassi,either from the content or footnotes that she was familiar with Popper’s texts.

    Another Plato scholar published a plethora of criticisms which Popper refuted in a lengthy Appendix to a later edition of the OSE. The author reprinted his book some years later without changing his text or making mention of Popper’s rejoinder.

    You need to understand what a revered figure Plato was in conservative circles. Indeed Popper revered him as the greatest philosopher, but he took issue with some of his ideas. Popper also pointed out how many translations and commentaries on Plato more or less idealised him and covered up some of the more disturbing aspects of his thoughts.

    By incredible good fortune there is a condensed version of The Open Society and its Enemies on line.

    http://www.the-rathouse.com/OpenSocietyOnLIne/AATheProjectwithIndex.html

  85. Greg Ransom Says:

    This I’d suggest is an obvious part of our background understanding _before_ we begin seriously thinking about evolutionary epistemology.

    And you if fact didn’t provide much of a reiterative selection mechanism of any systematic sort.

    “I did give a simple example that shows why we have no warrant to believe any mechanical, evolutionary process will tend to produce true rather than merely useful beliefs.”

  86. Greg Ransom Says:

    The first and most important step of “evolutionary epistemology” is to reject the “justified true belief” model and the deductive justification model of “science” and knowledge inherited in the philosophical tradition since Euclid and Aristotle.

    This is were Wittgenstein, Popper, Kuhn, Bartley and Hayek are all on the same side, and all part of a new tradition.

    Mises is to Neurath (and Lange and Lerner, etc) and the god’s eye view deductive model inspired view of economic order as Wittgestein is to Carnap (and Russell and Mill and Aristotle and Plato) and the god’s eye view deductive model inspired model of language and knowledge.

  87. Greg Ransom Says:

    I can’t imagine an “evolutionary epistemology” that would be much interested in this problem.

    Gene writes:

    “we have no warrant to believe any mechanical, evolutionary process will tend to produce true rather than merely useful beliefs.”

  88. Gene Callahan Says:

    “I can’t imagine an “evolutionary epistemology” that would be much interested in this problem [of the truth of theories].”

    Well, Greg, color me equally stumped, because I can’t imagine an intellectual not being interested in the truth of his/her theories!

  89. Gene Callahan Says:

    “his is were Wittgenstein, Popper, Kuhn, Bartley and Hayek are all on the same side, and all part of a new tradition.”

    Ah, Greg, as you depict this view it’s not new — the people who held it were called “Sophists” when Socrates and Plato defeated them last time around. But old errors never really die.

  90. Gene Callahan Says:

    “Gene,

    Given the state of science when classicl physics was used as the model for the social science, it does make sense. ”

    Troy, that weren’t me writin’ that!

  91. Gene Callahan Says:

    “I asked a friend of mine who has a PhD in philosophy what Plato meant in work about political philosophy. She gave an explanation that was pretty much the same as Popper’s.”

    Well, if she was not a specialist in Plato, the fact she has a PhD in philosophy has about as much relevance as if you asked your plumber what he thought about The Republic. You could have a PhD in philosophy from LSE and never have opened a single book by Plato. (When I mentioned this to a Welsh punk rocker I met in a pub, he remarked, “Well, that’s some shite philosophy program, then!”)

  92. Gene Callahan Says:

    “This I’d suggest is an obvious part of our background understanding _before_ we begin seriously thinking about evolutionary epistemology.”

    Yes. And in my example, the fact that it is an obvious part of our background understanding is a “trick” evolution has “pulled” on us.

    “And you if fact didn’t provide much of a reiterative selection mechanism of any systematic sort.”

    It’s only the fact that evolution doesn’t “want” you to see the truth of my example that makes you think there is a need for ” a reiterative selection mechanism.”

  93. Rafe Says:

    Gene, do you know if your Welsh punk rocker read the Republic and Popper’s critique? If not a person could say that his opinion is on a par with Current’s plumber.

    More to the point, you can probably get higher degrees in many topics and not open a relevant book by Popper. What is your opinion on the standard feed in philosophy of science courses, along the lines that Popper’s “fallsificationism” is a failed effort to provide an alternative to positivism, an interestsing but out of date stepping stone along the road to something more progressive like Lakatos, Kuhn, Feyerabend, the sociology of science or the Bayesians?

  94. Troy Camplin Says:

    Argh! You’re right, Gene, that was Current! Not used to other people responding to me.🙂

  95. Kenneth Hopf Says:

    Gene,

    “Well, Greg, color me equally stumped, because I can’t imagine an intellectual not being interested in the truth of his/her theories!”

    I quite agree that truth is a matter of paramount importance. I think that Popper thought so too. What truth has to do with justification or warrant is the real mystery here, in part because none of its defenders have ever given a cogent account of it. You seem to think that you have some, and that the proponents of evolutionary epistemology ought to have more than they do. Perhaps you can tell us exactly how to obtain this elusive tonic so that we may obtain some in the future should the need arise — though I admit I have yet to encounter a situation where the attempt to find unadorned truth did not seem sufficient. On the other hand, if you really think your criticism is unjustified or warrantless, you may like to join us. After all, Austrian economics really deserves a sensible epistemology.


  96. Evolutionary Epistemology

    August 3, 2010

    by Gene Callahan

    “This [is] an objection to evolutionary epistemology in all of its forms—that there is no reason whatever for supposing that the web of belief which has emerged via natural and cultural evolution mirrors nature or tracks reality.

    .

    McD: Giving reasons for things is held to be folly by CR. We cannot back up an assumption as a valid argument yieds only an assumption. Ditto correct observation & a mere assumption hardly backs anytyhing up.

    That our senses relate to reality is a good assumption. It looks true to me.

    Gene: It will do so, according to evolutionary theory itself, only in so far as such mirroring or tracking enhances survival chances. There is, in fact, nothing a priori to tell against the possibility that false belief systems may sometimes give their holders a competitive edge in survival stakes, if unreasonable optimism, or false religious or other hopes are useful in sustaining them in adversity.” – John Gray, Liberalisms, 248.

    .

    McD: Gray lacks the wit to realise that religion is merely a consumer good. But then he seems to be aiming to become a master of misplaced analogy. His many books are full of them. He confused pessimism with realism.

    .

    Gene: It seems to me that Gray’s point is indisputable: the mere fact that, say, our brains or our scientific enterprises evolved as “spontaneous orders” gives them, contra Hayek, no warrant of epistemological reliability whatsoever.

    .

    McD: Contra Hayek? Where does Hayek contradict that, Gene?

    Hayek is a bit of a silly Romantic but he does not think that progress means truth, indeed, Romance opposes the Enlightenment on progress. It is the sort of thing that does not fit Hayek’s outlook at all.

    .

    Gene: (Gray, in fact, specifically notes Hayek as someone committing the error he is criticizing.)

    .

    McD: John Gray is all too often utterly inept.

    .

    Gene: In any case, while thinking about Gray’s passage above, I was struck by an amusing illustration of the principle in question, which I thought I’d share.

    Ever since Evans-Pritchard’s famous work Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic Among the Azande demonstrated that the magical belief system of the Azande was internally consistent, it generally has been held forth as an example of the way in which people are able to tenaciously hold to incorrect beliefs, like the Azande’s belief in sorcery. But I would like to put forward an alternative hypothesis that, I suggest, is every bit as compatible with evolutionary epistemology as the common hypothesis—in fact, it explains just why the common hypothesis is common, and why the Azande are stunned at our inability to see the obvious evidence for sorcery.

    In my hypothesis, the Azande are absolutely correct — sorcery exists, and is extremely efficacious… for the individual. It truly allows individuals to punish enemies, gain wealth, woo sexual partners, and so on.

    .

    McD: That looks like a false hypothesis.

    .

    Gene: But, for society as a whole, the unbridled practice of sorcery is extremely destructive. Instead of (mainly) entering into a system of social cooperation based on the division of labor, everyone in a sorcerous society is constantly scheming how to protect themselves against others’ spells and ensure that their own spells remain unblocked and undetected. In a society without sorcery, it is often simple to identify “rights violators” and punish them, but in the Azande’s society, just who done you wrong is veiled in magic.

    By a stroke of evolutionary luck, Europeans developed a gene that made them incapable of believing in sorcery (except under very special circumstances described below).

    .

    McD: It does not seem likely that genetics is germane here.

    .

    Gene: As a result, they were able to stop worrying about magic spells and start producing and trading goods like food and clothing much more successfully. (Hmm, is it any coincidence that persecutions for witchcraft, almost unknown in the Middle Ages, suddenly took off with the Renaissance, and continued to the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution? Maybe this purged Western Europe of those who lacked the new gene? But, you protest, this persecution relied on a belief in witchcraft! Ah, that’s easy—it was a transitional period, with the new behavior only incompletely in effect.)

    But Europeans had not lost the ability to do sorcery, and, in fact, one form of sorcery has been a key to their success in spreading their way of life across the globe: they continued to believe in and be able to perceive the results of sorcery when the sorcery took a very public form and there was a strong consensus that it would work. They called such sorcery “science and technology.” By limiting themselves to only this type of sorcery, Europeans were able to reduce the socially destructive effects of sorcery largely to a minimum. (In day-to-day life: when an entire society wants to perform destructive sorcery on an entire other society, we get, of course, things like the Holocaust and nuclear weapons.)

    .

    McD: It is not clear why science & technology, two distinct things, are thought of as sorcery but I suppose words do not matter much.

    .

    Gene: Given the social success of this new inability to conceive of the reality of sorcery, it rapidly spread through many other societies. (How? We can think of countless ways: Perhaps genes can spread through sorcery of a sort! Of course, per the above theory, our geneticists would be unable to conceive of this.)

    In this view, our belief in the illusory nature of sorcery has not spread because it is true. It is most definitely false, but that is the very secret of its success—in this case, perceiving the truth is highly anti-survival.

    .

    McD: A paradox but also an absurdity. The mere truth cannot hold us back.

    .

    Gene: That we can’t see the overwhelming evidence of the efficacy of sorcery present to the Azande is precisely our advantage. And, of course, to us, as heirs of the Scientific Revolution, the “sorcery-is-real-but-destructive” hypothesis seems quite outlandish and implausible. Which, of course, is just how the hypothesis itself claims we will react to it—if we found it plausible, that would be good evidence that it is false!

    .

    McD: Why is that thought to be germane?

    .

    Gene: And other than citing the implausibility of and lack of evidence for the above theory—both of which are predicted by the theory!—I don’t see how any evolutionary epistemology can dismiss it.

    .

    McD: But it hardly matters that a theory is not easy to refute. It will be non-scientific that is all. That it attempts built in defensive ploys hardly matters. It is no indication of its truth. Better would be a generalisation that risked clear refutation, as Popper recommended.

  97. Mario Rizzo Says:

    Shorter comments in the future, please.

  98. Current Says:

    Rafe,

    > Thanks Current, did she actually know about Popper?

    I don’t know. I brought up Popper but I don’t know if she knew about him before.

    > Well, if she was not a specialist in Plato, the
    > fact she has a PhD in philosophy has about as
    > much relevance as if you asked your plumber what
    > he thought about The Republic. You could have a
    > PhD in philosophy from LSE and never have opened
    > a single book by Plato. (When I mentioned this
    > to a Welsh punk rocker I met in a pub, he
    > remarked, “Well, that’s some shite philosophy
    > program, then!”)

    She’d read Plato, but her specialisation was in the existentialists.

    You may say that makes her view irrelevant, perhaps. But, is your view on Keynes irrelevant because you’re not a specialist in him? Secondly, the main point I was making here is that when people say “philosophers don’t agree with Popper on Plato” that’s not really true.

  99. Gene Callahan Says:

    Yes, current, a casual survey of one existentialist who described The Republic “pretty much” as Popper did certainly is sufficient to decide whether philosophers agree with Popper on Plato or not.

  100. Rafe Says:

    Gene, have you read The Open Society yourself? If not, why should we be interested in your opinion. And if you have, what is your major criticism of his take on Plato?

  101. Gene Callahan Says:

    Yes, I certainly have, Rafe. The interpretation is pretty much wrong in its whole take on Plato as proto-totalitarian.

  102. Troy Camplin Says:

    I haven’t read The Open Society, so I can’t comment on it per se — but I will say that the perception of Plato as proto-totalitarian isn’t an uncommon one. There are those who see him as the father of fascism and communism both. Insofar as people misunderstand Plato’s Republic, one can understand where that perception may come from, even if we don’t agree with that interpretation.

  103. Current Says:

    Gene,

    I’m not saying that all philosophers agree with Popper. My point is simply that some do.

    Can we get back to the more interesting questions about epistemology above?

    What do you think about what I wrote on August 10, 2010 at 9:12 am for example?

    Are you trying to argue against all evolutionary viewpoints or only some of them

  104. Gene Callahan Says:

    “Are you trying to argue against all evolutionary viewpoints or only some of them…”

    Any of them that pretend to a complete explanation of cognition.

  105. Gene Callahan Says:

    I’m back in the woods again, and coming to the cafe for Internet access, so I’m going to have to “close the thread” as far as my own participation is concerned. I’d like to conclude by noting that this thread has made even clearer to me the self-defeating nature of sceptical epistemologies. Either you have some warrant or justification for your beliefs — in which case you have contradicted the declaration that these don’t exist — or you don’t, in which case, why should anyone care what you say more than if you are saying “I prefer vanilla to chocolate ice cream.”

    Greg, imagine, for instance, the worst dreams of the neocons are true, and Muslims really do want to extend the Caliphate worldwide, and they establish Sharia law everywhere. They declare evolutionary epistemology the devil’s work: all adherents will be stoned, and all their books burned. The idea will bascially disappear from the earth. Would your reaction be, “Welp, I guess I was wrong: EE turned out to be really counter-survival!” Or would you go to the grave thinking you were right and your executors wrong? Rafe, when the imans tell you to shut up with all the critical nonsense and read the Koran, would you be able to articulate a reason this is wrong? If you did, wouldn’t this represent a WARRANT for your view? Or would you just say, “This Koran business is as good as any other!” and go along?

    In any case, thanks for the discussion: even when I’ve disagreed with people, I’ve learned from it. You may e-mail your concession speeches individually, thank you, thank you.
    🙂

  106. Kenneth Hopf Says:

    Gene,

    “I’m back in the woods again, and coming to the cafe for Internet access, so I’m going to have to “close the thread” as far as my own participation is concerned. I’d like to conclude by noting that this thread has made even clearer to me the self-defeating nature of sceptical epistemologies. Either you have some warrant or justification for your beliefs — in which case you have contradicted the declaration that these don’t exist — or you don’t, in which case, why should anyone care what you say more than if you are saying “I prefer vanilla to chocolate ice cream.””

    Obviously, they may care what you say because what you say is true! What justification has to do with truth is still a complete and total mystery, Gene. You haven’t addressed this question at all.

  107. Gene Callahan Says:

    Ah, I forgot to unsubscribe, so I’ll respond once more, on my dinky iPhone screen.

    “What justification has to do with truth is still a complete and total mystery, Gene. You haven’t addressed this question at all.”

    Yeah, because no one I know has said justification is connected to truth. It’s connected to truth claims. If tomorrow I declare alpha centauri is orbited by 3 planets, and later it turns out that it is, it’s absurd to say I “knew” that if the reason I said it was I asked my cat and she meowed 3 times. There is an extensive literature on why knowledge is “justified true belief,” Kenneth — perhaps if you read it, the mystery will abate.

  108. Lee Kelly Says:

    “If tomorrow I declare alpha centauri is orbited by 3 planets, and later it turns out that it is, it’s absurd to say I “knew” that if the reason I said it was I asked my cat and she meowed 3 times.” – Gene

    I don’t believe it’s absurd. If the success or failure of some practical course of action depended on the truth of falsity of this claim, then you would be quite as successful as someone who, contra impossibility, had justified true belief of the matter. Of course, such knowlede of a specific fact would be of little use, since unless your cat has quite unusual powers (easily tested), you have little knowledge from which to derive similar predictions in the future.

    Ultimately, all valid arguments beg the question (and some invalid arguments too).

  109. Kenneth Hopf Says:

    Gene,

    It is precisely this literature on knowledge as justified true belief that I had in mind when I said that nobody has produced a coherent account of justification. There reason there IS an extensive literature is that the whole idea of knowledge as justified true belief is in a death spiral — has been ever since 1963 when Gettier published his famous 3-page paper.

  110. Gene Callahan Says:

    “I don’t believe it’s absurd.”

    Well, Lee, that about says it all!

  111. Gene Callahan Says:

    “There reason there IS an extensive literature is that the whole idea of knowledge as justified true belief is in a death spiral…”

    Looks to me like you’re trying to justify your view by citing this fact, Kenneth.

  112. Lee Kelly Says:

    Gene,

    I wasn’t being completely straight with you. Of course, you were correct, it would be absurd. My response used equivocation for rhetorical purposes. For “knowledge” defined as justified true belief, it would be absurd. Of course, I do not think such knowledge is possible, and thus do not normally mean “knowledge” in that way.

  113. Impairment Says:

    “It seems to me that Gray’s point is indisputable: the mere fact that, say, our brains or our scientific enterprises evolved as “spontaneous orders” gives them, contra Hayek, no warrant of epistemological reliability whatsoever.” – Gene

    Well, I think this is disputable. Our brains evolved as a tool for problem solving. People with brains have survived until know so brains seem to be helpful. Of course, this suggests “only” epistemological helpfulness, but no “reliability”.

    I have the impression that you think of science that way: first we do not know anything about a certain topic, we develop a theory, then we gain certain and true knowledge about that topic.

    But that´s not the way it works. Science starts with a problem, maybe a discrepancy between theory and measurements (e.g. radiation of a black body). Hypotheses are developed in order to solve the problem, and that which delivers the most satisfactory solution might survive. We can falsify some theories and weed them out. But that does not necessarily mean that the surviving ones are true, they are “merely” better than the older ones.

    So, if we follow this path, we do not get the truth, we get more sophisticated theories. These are just temporary solutions to be replaced sooner or later by other temporary solutions.

    Nearly the same applies to evolution: a species faces a problem, because the environment has changed. Genetic changes (and/or changes in behaviour) might offer attempts of a solution. Some might be successful. If a brain or eyes or ears or whatever emerge as a solution to a series of such problems, this development should mirror reality and nature.

    Thus, this process, either in science or in nature, yields an everlasting search for better solutions (or: the truth). In this sense it is epistemologically reliable (though not warranted).

    P.S.: I read the Open Society as well as The Republic. I strongly endorse Popper´s view of Platon as a propagandist of a totalitarian state.

  114. Rafe Says:

    It is surprising the way some people rubbish Popper’s ideas, nobody could believe everything he wrote but you would have to be tone deaf to the music of ideas to be unimpressed and uninspired by his achievement.

    Impairment has a nice take on the parallel between scientific problem-solving and survival in nature.

    Gene wrote “Looks to me like you’re trying to justify your view by citing this fact, Kenneth.”

    It is helpful to draw a distinction between the kind of justification that is sought by foundationalists and the justification of a PREFERENCE between options, whether a theory, a policy, a house, a car, a wife or a mouse trap.

    That brings the discussion down from the clouds of philosophy to examine the options and the evidence and arguments that contribute to the preference. Foundations are not supposed to move but preferences can change in response to new evidence, new arguments, and new options.

  115. Rafe Says:

    Preferences can also change as a result of using different criteria for selection. So you can shift from authoritarian criteria (this is what The Book says) or justificationist criteria like inductive probability to the tests of critical rationalism like problem-solving capacity, standing up to tests, integrating disciplines, raising interesting questions.

    Gene, can you give us a progress report on the inductive probability program? Are the Bayesians still our best bet?

  116. Greg Ransom Says:

    This is dime store “evolutionary epistemology” which has little or nothing to do with Hayek’s work or anything I’m interested in.

    Gene wrote:

    “It’s only the fact that evolution doesn’t “want” you to see the truth of my example that makes you think there is a need for ” a reiterative selection mechanism.”

  117. Greg Ransom Says:

    But think how great this has all been for generating papers and Ph.D’s and tenure …

    “Gene,

    It is precisely this literature on knowledge as justified true belief that I had in mind when I said that nobody has produced a coherent account of justification. There reason there IS an extensive literature is that the whole idea of knowledge as justified true belief is in a death spiral — has been ever since 1963 when Gettier published his famous 3-page paper.”

  118. TokyoTom Says:

    Gray overstates his objection to evolutionary epistemology, as there is very good reason for supposing that the various “webs of belief” which have emerged via natural and cultural evolution have enhanced our survival chances and thus to some degree mirror nature or track reality.

    What Gray and Callahan miss is that our belief systems are more often than not GROUP “cultural” systems that give particular groups a competitive edge in survival stakes, in the environment in which such belief systems evolved.

    See, e.g.,

    – Bruce Yandle,

    – Roy Rappaport (former head of the American Anthropology Assn.) in his book “Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity”; and

    – David Sloan Wilson in his book “Darwin`s Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society”.

    http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2009/09/10/more-from-gene-callahan-are-external-quot-objective-moral-truths-quot-needed-in-order-for-a-community-to-enforce-shared-rules.aspx

    The problem, of course, is that the acceleration of technological innovation means that cultures adapted to particular physical environments have been under severe stress for the past few millenia.

    Gene still seems to be on a quest to find an “objective” moral order: http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/search.aspx?q=rappaport


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