International Society for History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology

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MONDAY, JULY 6  /  09:00 - 10:30  /  DS-M460
Individual papers
Free Will, Epistemic Levers and Normative Implications in Evolutionary Psychology

Epistemic levers: Biological levers and knowledge in nonhuman species

Guillaume Beaulac (Yale University, United States); Frédéric-Ismaël Banville (University of Western Ontario, Canada)

We provide a biologically-informed argument for the existence and philosophical relevance of a concept of knowledge in nonhuman species. Then, we show that such knowledge and the cognitive systems underpinning it should be used to better understand what human knowledge is. A well-known strand of arguments for the relevance of a notion of animal knowledge rests on demonstrating the explanatory usefulness of such a concept (e.g., Kornblith 2002). These arguments only support the claim that attributing knowledge to non-human animals may prove useful when our explanatory target is non-human animal behavior. They are at pains to push the thesis much further than the idea of a heuristically useful attribution of knowledge-like states to animals. One way to support the stronger claim that, not only do animals have knowledge, but that a fully naturalized epistemology should take into account the type of knowledge exhibited by nonhuman minds as well as specifically human forms of knowledge is to approach animal knowledge as a biological lever. Barker (2007) defines biological (or behavioral) levers as biological features playing a crucial role in the regulation of certain processes, and especially behavior. We begin with a general characterization of biological levers, and show how this notion can provide a solid basis to explain widespread epistemic capacities in the animal realm, such as those embodied by some danger detection mechanisms. These mechanisms rely on limited sets of cues to regulate the animals behavior. An analysis of this case in terms of biologically adequate truth-tracking capacities (similar to Millikan's approach) links this kind of capacities to knowledge as it is found in the human species. We then discuss the implications of this argument for naturalized approaches to knowledge, especially with regards to how the idea that animal knowledge can be seen as evolutionary scaffolding for human knowledge.

Clarifying contradictory results in free will belief measurements

Matthew Smithdeal (University of British Columbia, Canada)

Recent work measuring individuals’ intuitions concerning free will, determinism, and related beliefs finds increasingly complex and contradictory results. Some of these results seem to support the notion that individuals have compatibilist intuitions, while other results seem to support the notion that individuals have incompatibilist intuitions. Often these contradictory results stem from the exact same studies. One might reasonably expect that individuals construct beliefs regarding these subjects which fit together in at least a coherent manner; however, these studies show that conflicting beliefs are being held at the same time. This paper suggests that we need to draw a distinction between one’s belief in personal free will versus one’s belief in free will generally and that doing so will enable us to make better sense of the complexities and contradictions in individuals’ beliefs concerning free will and determinism. To this end, we should regard belief in personal free will as an ungrounded belief, where one holds a belief in personal free will as a result of experiencing oneself performing actions in a certain manner.

Historical functions and their normative implications

Louise Daoust (University of Pennsylvania, United States)

Experimental psychologists, such as those who adopt computational theories of mind, often appeal to ahistorical conceptions of function in their scientific explanations. In this paper, I argue that, in certain cases, treatments that privilege historical functions ought to be more systematically prioritized over those that privilege ahistorical functions. Use of historical functions in cognitive science is sometimes defended by appeal to explanatory power. These defences are often successful, but in certain cases indecisive, or insufficient to justify appeal to historical function. I show that historical functions provide not only a reasonable starting point for understanding a mechanism and how it works, they are also critical to our conceptions of how well a particular adaptation functions. I illustrate the relevant contrast in normative consequences by exploring the case of color vision. Which conception of function one employs to think about color vision entails significant consequences for the degree of accuracy one can associate with human color vision. I conclude by briefly exploring how this lesson applies to cognitive science more broadly.