W. C. Wimsatt: Re-engineering philosophy for limited beings

…towards an evolutionary view of science and philosophy.

What kinds of changes to philosophy occur if we recognize that we are not Laplacean demons, but limited beings. We should recognize and use our evolutionary pattern making abilities.

This is a pragmatic appeal to using heuristics. Heuristics are many and varied. Suspicious of “in principle” reduction. Considers “seat of the pants”, non-deductive, non-propositional modes of problem solving. Heuristics as regularity for action under certain conditions to achieve a given end.

Pinto gas tank explosions: one is an accident, ten is a design flaw.

6 common properties of heuristics. Adaptations share the same properties.

1.Heuristics do not guarantee successful solutions.

2. Heuristics are cost effective: quick and dirty.

3. Errors are not random but systematically biased and therefore it is easy to find errors.

4. Heuristics transform problems into easier but non-equivalent problems. Answers may not be answers to the original problem. ex: gene transmission.

5. Heuristics are only useful in some areas.

6. A family of heuristics may look like a single heuristic.

Heuristics and adaptations may share other commonalities.

Compositional systems are described by sloppy and gappy generalizations.

Remember that natural selection only works stochastically.

Some heuristics are combinatory, foundational, and generative. Biological examples: the genetic code, 4 nulceic acids.

Culture uses similar devices: language, writing, standard machine parts, .phonemic vs logographic alphabets, standard electronic parts, computer languages.

Design is achieved by the standardization of specialized design. Allows engineers to decompose problems into subproblems. We should use modularity, robustness, evolvability, and entrenchment as problem solving tools. The preeminence of logical empiricism and physics have given way to biology. So we should rely on heuristics more: looking for robust tendencies, studying errors, context sensitive inferences, calibrating heuristics to determine usefulness, abandon search for universal principles,

Commentator: John ****** UBC.

Our thinking (scientific and philosophical) should be more like engineering and evolution. Darwin recognized similarities between nature and human artifacts.

Hume: The history of England usefully illustrates how much accident and error were important and how little intelligence and reason were in creating that nation.

Elliot Sober: natural selection often doesn’t satisfice, it optimizes.

My comments:an interesting parallel, but there are some worrying disanalogies between human reason and evolution. Granted, bot are historical, since both biology and ideology are constrained by the past. But evolution is mindless and runs thousands or millions of experiments, and has no foresight. It lumbers us with the human appendix, just as human history lumbers us with patriarchy.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s