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Beyond EvolutionHuman Nature and the Limits of Evolutionary Explanation$
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Anthony O'Hear

Print publication date: 1999

Print ISBN-13: 9780198250043

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2003

DOI: 10.1093/0198250045.001.0001

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Evolutionary Epistemology

Evolutionary Epistemology

(p.50) 4 Evolutionary Epistemology
Beyond Evolution

Anthony O'Hear (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

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

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

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