Synthese Library Volume 190, 1987, pp 381-401

The Evolutionary Explanation of Beliefs

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In my Evolutionary Explanation in the Social Sciences, I attempt to answer two questions which I consider to be of central importance to the philosophy of the social sciences. Firstly, are functional explanations — the explanation of social practices, norms, institutions, etc. by reference to their (latent) function — legitimate in the social sciences, just as they are in biology? Secondly, what is the “deep structure” of the social sciences? In particular, do all legitimate social-scientific explanations fit the action pattern, do they all consist in explaining actions and their aggregate results by reference to the subjective situation of their authors? The treatment of both these questions leads to a systematic exploration of what I call evolutionary explanations, i.e. explanations which presuppose a mechanism of “filtering through the (actual) consequences” or, put differently, which rely on the selection of “blind” variants according to the consequences associated with them (Van Parijs, 1981, section 20).