Biology and Philosophy

, Volume 4, Issue 1, pp 33–56 | Cite as

Where guesses come from: Evolutionary epistemology and the anomaly of guided variation

  • Edward Stein
  • Peter Lipton


This paper considers a central objection to evolutionary epistemology. The objection is that biological and epistemic development are not analogous, since while biological variation is blind, epistemic variation is not. The generation of hypotheses, unlike the generation of genotypes, is not random. We argue that this objection is misguided and show how the central analogy of evolutionary epistemology can be preserved. The core of our reply is that much epistemic variation is indeed directed by heuristics, but these heuristics are analogous to biological preadaptations which account for the evolution of complex organs. We also argue that many of these heuristics or “epistemic preadaptations” are not innate but were themselves generatedby a process of blind variation and selective retention.

Key Words

Evolutionary epistemology heuristics preadaptation variation 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Edward Stein
    • 1
  • Peter Lipton
    • 2
  1. 1.Dept. of Linguistics and PhilosophyMassachusetts Institute of TechnologyCambridgeUSA
  2. 2.Dept. of PhilosophyWilliams CollegeWilliamstownUSA

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