Pragmatism and Evolutionary Epistemology

Michele Marsonet

To understand the significance of a pragmatist stance in this matter we must address a basic question: which kind of evolution are we referring to when talking of “evolutionary epistemology”? If we take evolution to be an undifferentiated concept, such that no useful distinction can be found in it, we are on a wrong track. The evolutionary “pattern” is certainly one, but this should not lead us to assume that the specific characteristics of mankind must be left out of the picture, either because they are not important or because no specifically human characteristic is admitted. Nicholas Rescher’s evolutionary framework, for example, is instead pluralistic and multi-sided. It is worth noting how and why Rescher’s evolutionary epistemology differs from the one delineated in a famous book by Karl Popper. The Austrian-born philosopher based his approach on the “random conjectures and refutation” model. A scientist, for example, faces the problem of explaining nature’s doings by one of the endlessly many hypotheses that he has at his disposal. Subsequently he chooses to endorse a conjecture from this infinite range, and the testing itself, via falsification, furnishes the necessary selection. According to Popper’s picture we have, in sum, a sort of blind and random mechanism: his “trial-and-error” search procedure. Rescher’s opinion about this issue is that, on such Popperian grounds, scientific progress becomes more or less inexplicable. In particular, the success in providing explanatory theories that perform well in prediction and the guidance of applications in a complex world is now an accident of virtually miracolous proportions.

evolution; epistemology; fallibilism; history; mankind; nature; anthropocentrism

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