Evolutionary epistemology

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Evolutionary epistemology refers to three distinct topics: (1) the biological evolution of cognitive mechanisms in animals and humans, (2) a theory that knowledge itself evolves by natural selection, and (3) the study of the historical discovery of new abstract entities such as abstract number or abstract value that necessarily precede the individual acquisition and usage of such abstractions.

Cognition is "the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses". It encompasses many aspects of intellectual functions and processes such as attention, the formation of knowledge, memory and working memory, judgment and evaluation, reasoning and "computation", problem solving and decision making, comprehension and production of language. Cognitive processes use existing knowledge and generate new knowledge.

Natural selection Mechanism of evolution by differential survival and reproduction of individuals

Natural selection is the differential survival and reproduction of individuals due to differences in phenotype. It is a key mechanism of evolution, the change in the heritable traits characteristic of a population over generations. Charles Darwin popularised the term "natural selection", contrasting it with artificial selection, which in his view is intentional, whereas natural selection is not.


Cognition in biological evolution

"Evolutionary epistemology" can refer to a branch of epistemology that applies the concepts of biological evolution to the growth of animal and human cognition. It argues that the mind is in part genetically determined and that its structure and function reflect adaptation, a nonteleological process of interaction between the organism and its environment. A cognitive trait tending to increase inclusive fitness in a given population should therefore grow more common over time, and a trait tending to prevent its carriers from passing on their genes should show up less and less frequently.

Epistemology A branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy concerned with the theory of knowledge.

Evolution Change in the heritable characteristics of biological populations over successive generations

Evolution is change in the heritable characteristics of biological populations over successive generations. These characteristics are the expressions of genes that are passed on from parent to offspring during reproduction. Different characteristics tend to exist within any given population as a result of mutation, genetic recombination and other sources of genetic variation. Evolution occurs when evolutionary processes such as natural selection and genetic drift act on this variation, resulting in certain characteristics becoming more common or rare within a population. It is this process of evolution that has given rise to biodiversity at every level of biological organisation, including the levels of species, individual organisms and molecules.

Adaptation Trait with a current functional role in the life history of an organism maintained and evolved by natural selection

In biology, adaptation has three related meanings. Firstly, it is the dynamic evolutionary process that fits organisms to their environment, enhancing their evolutionary fitness. Secondly, it is a state reached by the population during that process. Thirdly, it is a phenotypic or adaptive trait, with a functional role in each individual organism, that is maintained and has evolved through natural selection.

Growth of knowledge

"Evolutionary epistemology" can also refer to a theory that applies the concepts of biological evolution to the growth of human knowledge, and argues that units of knowledge themselves, particularly scientific theories, evolve according to selection. In this case, a theory—like the germ theory of disease—becomes more or less credible according to changes in the body of knowledge surrounding it.

One of the hallmarks of evolutionary epistemology is the notion that empirical testing alone does not justify the pragmatic value of scientific theories, but rather that social and methodological processes select those theories with the closest "fit" to a given problem. The mere fact that a theory has survived the most rigorous empirical tests available does not, in the calculus of probability, predict its ability to survive future testing. Karl Popper used Newtonian physics as an example of a body of theories so thoroughly confirmed by testing as to be considered unassailable, but which were nevertheless overturned by Einstein's insights into the nature of space-time. For the evolutionary epistemologist, all theories are true only provisionally, regardless of the degree of empirical testing they have survived. [1]

Karl Popper Austrian-British philosopher of science

Sir Karl Raimund Popper was an Austrian-British philosopher and professor.

General relativity Theory by Albert Einstein, covering gravitation in curved spacetime

General relativity is the geometric theory of gravitation published by Albert Einstein in 1915 and the current description of gravitation in modern physics. General relativity generalizes special relativity and Newton's law of universal gravitation, providing a unified description of gravity as a geometric property of space and time, or spacetime. In particular, the curvature of spacetime is directly related to the energy and momentum of whatever matter and radiation are present. The relation is specified by the Einstein field equations, a system of partial differential equations.

Process of discovering new abstract entities

"Evolutionary epistemology" can also refer to the opposite of (onto)genetic epistemology, namely phylogenetic epistemology as the historical discovery and reification of abstractions that necessarily precedes the learning of such abstractions by individuals. Piaget dismissed this possibility, stating

"The fundamental hypothesis of genetic epistemology is that there is a parallelism between the progress made in the logical and rational organization of knowledge and the corresponding formative psychological processes. Well, now, if that is our hypothesis, what will be our field of study? Of course the most fruitful, most obvious field of study would be reconstituting human history: the history of human thinking in prehistoric man. Unfortunately, we are not very well informed about the psychology of Neanderthal man or about the psychology of Homo siniensis of Teilhard de Chardin. Since this field of biogenesis is not available to us, we shall do as biologists do and turn to ontogenesis. Nothing could be more accessible to study than the ontogenesis of these notions. There are children all around us." [2]

Piaget was mistaken in so quickly dismissing the study of phylogenetic epistemology, as there is much historical data available about the origins and evolution of the various notational systems that reify different kinds of abstract entity.

Popper is considered by many to have given evolutionary epistemology its first comprehensive treatment, though Donald T. Campbell coined the phrase in 1974 [3] and Piaget alluded to it in 1974 [4] and described the concept as one of five possible theories in The Origins of Intelligence in Children (1936). [5]

Donald T. Campbell American psychologist & scholar

Donald Thomas Campbell was an American social scientist. He is noted for his work in methodology. He coined the term "evolutionary epistemology" and developed a selectionist theory of human creativity. A Review of General Psychology survey, published in 2002, ranked Campbell as the 33rd most cited psychologist of the 20th century.

See also

Genetic epistemology or 'developmental theory of knowledge' is a study of the origins (genesis) of knowledge (epistemology) established by Jean Piaget.

Memetics is the study of information and culture based on an analogy with Darwinian evolution. Proponents describe memetics as an approach to evolutionary models of cultural information transfer. Critics regard memetics as a pseudoscience. Memetics describes how an idea can propagate successfully, but doesn't necessarily imply a concept is factual.

Evolutionary psychology Application of evolutionary theory to identify which human psychological traits are evolved adaptations

Evolutionary psychology is a theoretical approach in the social and natural sciences that examines psychological structure from a modern evolutionary perspective. It seeks to identify which human psychological traits are evolved adaptations – that is, the functional products of natural selection or sexual selection in human evolution. Adaptationist thinking about physiological mechanisms, such as the heart, lungs, and immune system, is common in evolutionary biology. Some evolutionary psychologists apply the same thinking to psychology, arguing that the modularity of mind is similar to that of the body and with different modular adaptations serving different functions. Evolutionary psychologists argue that much of human behavior is the output of psychological adaptations that evolved to solve recurrent problems in human ancestral environments.

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Jean Piaget Swiss psychologist, biologist, logician, philosopher and academic

Jean Piaget was a Swiss psychologist known for his work on child development. Piaget's theory of cognitive development and epistemological view are together called "genetic epistemology".

Theoretical psychology is concerned with theoretical and philosophical aspects of psychology. It is an interdisciplinary field with a wide scope of study. It focuses on combining and incorporating existing and developing theories of psychology non-experimentally. Theoretical psychology originated from the philosophy of science, with logic and rationality at the base of each new idea. It existed before empirical or experimental psychology. Theoretical psychology is an interdisciplinary field involving psychologists specializing in a wide variety of psychological branches. There have been a few prominent pioneers of theoretical psychology such as Wilhelm Wundt, William James, Sigmund Freud, and John B. Watson. There has also been a number of notable contributors which include Jerome Kagan, Alan E. Kazdin, Robert Sternberg, Kenneth J. Gergen, and Ulric Neisser. These contributors often publish in a variety of journals including the most prominent for theoretical psychology, the Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology. Many other organizations are beginning to recognize theoretical psychology as a formal subdivision of psychology.

Piagets theory of cognitive development piaget psycology theory

Piaget's theory of cognitive development is a comprehensive theory about the nature and development of human intelligence. It was first created by the Swiss developmental psychologist Jean Piaget (1896–1980). The theory deals with the nature of knowledge itself and how humans gradually come to acquire, construct, and use it. Piaget's theory is mainly known as a developmental stage theory. Piaget "was intrigued by the fact that children of different ages made different kinds of mistakes while solving problems". He also believed that children are not like "little adults" who may know less; children just think and say words in a different way. By Piaget thinking that children have great cognitive abilities, he came up with four different cognitive development stages, which he put out into testing. Within those four stages he managed to group them with different ages. Each stage he realized how children managed to develop their cognitive skills. For example, he believed that children experience the world through actions, representing things with words, thinking logically, and using reasoning.

Naturalized epistemology, coined by W. V. O. Quine, is a collection of philosophic views concerned with the theory of knowledge that emphasize the role of natural scientific methods. This shared emphasis on scientific methods of studying knowledge shifts focus to the empirical processes of knowledge acquisition and away from many traditional philosophical questions. There are noteworthy distinctions within naturalized epistemology. Replacement naturalism maintains that traditional epistemology should be abandoned and replaced with the methodologies of the natural sciences. The general thesis of cooperative naturalism is that traditional epistemology can benefit in its inquiry by using the knowledge we have gained from the cognitive sciences. Substantive naturalism focuses on an asserted equality of facts of knowledge and natural facts.

Noogenesis is the emergence and evolution of intelligence.

Dual inheritance theory (DIT), also known as gene–culture coevolution or biocultural evolution, was developed in the 1960s through early 1980s to explain how human behavior is a product of two different and interacting evolutionary processes: genetic evolution and cultural evolution. Genes and culture continually interact in a feedback loop, changes in genes can lead to changes in culture which can then influence genetic selection, and vice versa. One of the theory's central claims is that culture evolves partly through a Darwinian selection process, which dual inheritance theorists often describe by analogy to genetic evolution.

Cultural selection theory is the study of cultural change modelled on theories of evolutionary biology. Cultural selection theory has so far never been a separate discipline. However it has been proposed that human culture exhibits key Darwinian evolutionary properties, and "the structure of a science of cultural evolution should share fundamental features with the structure of the science of biological evolution". In addition to Darwin's work the term historically covers a diverse range of theories from both the sciences and the humanities including those of Lamark, politics and economics e.g. Bagehot, anthropology e.g. Edward B. Tylor, literature e.g. Ferdinand Brunetière, evolutionary ethics e.g. Leslie Stephen, sociology e.g. Albert Keller, anthropology e.g. Bronislaw Malinowski, Biosciences e.g. Alex Mesoudi, geography e.g. Richard Ormrod, sociobiology and biodiversity e.g. E.O. Wilson, computer programming e.g. Richard Brodie, and other fields e.g. Neoevolutionism, and Evolutionary archaeology.

Evolutionary educational psychology is the study of the relation between inherent folk knowledge and abilities and accompanying inferential and attributional biases as these influence academic learning in evolutionarily novel cultural contexts, such as schools and the industrial workplace. The fundamental premises and principles of this discipline are presented below.

Enactivism argues that cognition arises through a dynamic interaction between an acting organism and its environment. It claims that our environment is one which we selectively create through our capacities to interact with the world. "Organisms do not passively receive information from their environments, which they then translate into internal representations. Natural cognitive systems...participate in the generation of meaning ...engaging in transformational and not merely informational interactions: they enact a world." These authors suggest that the increasing emphasis upon enactive terminology presages a new era in thinking about cognitive science. How the actions involved in enactivism relate to age-old questions about free will remains a topic of active debate.

Epistemology or theory of knowledge is the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope (limitations) of knowledge. It addresses the questions "What is knowledge?", "How is knowledge acquired?", "What do people know?", "How do we know what we know?", and "Why do we know what we know?". Much of the debate in this field has focused on analyzing the nature of knowledge and how it relates to similar notions such as truth, belief, and justification. It also deals with the means of production of knowledge, as well as skepticism about different knowledge claims.

In psychology, constructivism refers to many schools of thought that, though extraordinarily different in their techniques, are all connected by a common critique of previous standard approaches, and by shared assumptions about the active constructive nature of human knowledge. In particular, the critique is aimed at the "associationist" postulate of empiricism, "by which the mind is conceived as a passive system that gathers its contents from its environment and, through the act of knowing, produces a copy of the order of reality".

Cognitive science of religion is the study of religious thought and behavior from the perspective of the cognitive and evolutionary sciences. The field employs methods and theories from a very broad range of disciplines, including: cognitive psychology, evolutionary psychology, cognitive anthropology, artificial intelligence, neurotheology, developmental psychology, and archaeology. Scholars in this field seek to explain how human minds acquire, generate, and transmit religious thoughts, practices, and schemas by means of ordinary cognitive capacities.

Universal Darwinism An attempt to expand the application of Darwinian evolutionary theory to other fields

Universal Darwinism refers to a variety of approaches that extend the theory of Darwinism beyond its original domain of biological evolution on Earth. Universal Darwinism aims to formulate a generalized version of the mechanisms of variation, selection and heredity proposed by Charles Darwin, so that they can apply to explain evolution in a wide variety of other domains, including psychology, economics, culture, medicine, computer science and physics.

Formative epistemology is a collection of philosophic views concerned with the theory of knowledge that emphasize the role of natural scientific methods. According to formative epistemology, knowledge is gained through the imputation of thoughts from one human being to another in the societal setting. Humans are born without intrinsic knowledge and through their evolutionary and developmental processes gain knowledge from other human beings. Thus, according to formative epistemology, all knowledge is completely subjective and truth does not exist.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to social science:

Cultural evolution is an evolutionary theory of social change. It follows from the definition of culture as "information capable of affecting individuals' behavior that they acquire from other members of their species through teaching, imitation and other forms of social transmission". Cultural evolution is the change of this information over time.


  1. Popper, 1972. [ page needed ]
  2. Piaget, 1974. [ page needed ]
  3. Schilpp, 1974. pp. 412–463
  4. Piaget, 1974, p. 13
  5. See p. 14ff