, Volume 44, Issue 4, pp 1351–1366 | Cite as

Are Evolutionary Debunking Arguments Self-Debunking?

  • Christos Kyriacou


I argue that, at least on the assumption that if there are epistemic facts they are irreducible, the evolutionary debunking maneuver is prima facie self-debunking because it seems to debunk a certain class of facts, namely, epistemic facts that prima facie it needs to rely on in order to launch its debunking arguments. I then appeal to two recent reconstructions of the evolutionary debunking maneuver (Kahane (2011), Griffiths and Wilkins (2015)) and found them wanting. Along the way I set aside two ways (one envisaged, the other by Sterpetti (2015)) to avoid the self-debunking problem that I find unpromising. I conclude that the evolutionary debunking maneuver needs to clarify the meta-epistemological commitments upon which it is supposed to operate.


Evolutionary debunking arguments Epistemic facts Self-debunking The Milvian bridge principle 



I would like to thank Fabio Sterpetti for helpful correspondence, two anonymous referees as well as the participants of a workshop at the University of Amsterdam in 2015 for helpful discussion.


  1. Alston, W. (2006). Beyond justification. London: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Atran, S., & Henrich, J. (2010). The evolution of religion: How cognitive by-products, adaptive learning heuristics, ritual displays, and group competition generate deep commitments to prosocial religions. Biological Theory, 5, 18–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Ball, P. (2003). Molecules a very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Blackburn, S. (2006). Truth. London, Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  5. Boghossian, P. (2007). Fear of knowledge. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  6. Bonjour, L. (1998). Defense of pure reason. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Brosnan, K. (2011). Do the evolutionary origins of Our moral beliefs undermine moral knowledge? Biology and Philosophy, 26, 51–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Burnyeat, M. (1976). Protagoras and self-refutation in Plato’s theatetus. Philosophical Review, 85(2), 172–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Carter, A., & Chrisman, M. (2012). Is epistemic expressivism incompatible with inquiry? Philosophical Studies, 159(3), 323–339.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Chakravartty, A. (2011). ‘Scientific Realism’. In E.Zalta (ed.), Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  11. Churchland, P. (1981). Eliminative materialism and the propositional attitudes. The Journal of Philosophy, 78, 68–97.Google Scholar
  12. Clifford, W. K. (1877\1999). ‘The Ethics of Belief’ in T. Madigan, (ed.), The Ethics of Belief and Other Essays, Amherst, MA: Prometheus. 70–96.Google Scholar
  13. Cuneo, T. (2007). The normative web. Oxford: Oxford Univesity Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cuneo, T, & Kyriacou, C. (2017). ‘Defending the Moral\Epistemic Parity’. In C. McHugh, J. Way and D. Whiting (Eds.), Metaepistemology, Oxford: Oxford University Press. Forthcoming.Google Scholar
  15. Cuneo, T., & Shafer-Landau, R. (2014). The moral fixed points: new directions for moral nonnaturalism. Philosophical Studies, 171, 399–443.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Das, R. (2016). Evolutionary debunking of morality: epistemological or metaphysical? Philosophical Studies, 173, 417–435.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Dawkins, R. (2006a). The God delusion. London: Bantam Press.Google Scholar
  18. Dawkins, R. (2006b). The blind watchmaker. Location: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  19. De Cruz, H., Boudry, M.,De Smedt, J., Blancke, S. (2011). ‘Evolutionary Approaches to Epistemic Justification’. Dialectica, 517–535.Google Scholar
  20. Dennett, D. (1995). Darwin’s dangerous idea. London: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  21. Enoch, D. (2006). Agency, shmagency: Why normativity Won’t come from what is constitutive of Action. Philosophical Review, 115(2), 169–198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Enoch, D. (2011). ‘Shmagency Revisited’ in New Waves in Metaethics, (ed.) M.Brady. Palgrave Macmillan. 208–233.Google Scholar
  23. Enoch, D. (2013). Taking morality seriously. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Feldman, R. (2002). ‘Epistemological Duties’ in The Oxford Handbook of Epistemology, (ed.) Paul Moser. Oxford Oxford, University Press. 261–384.Google Scholar
  25. FitzPatrick, W. (2015). Debunking evolutionary debunking of ethical realism. Philosophical Studies, 172, 883–904.Google Scholar
  26. Foley, R. (1987). The theory of epistemic rationality. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Fumerton, R. (1995). Metaepistemology and skepticism. London: Rowman and Littlefield.Google Scholar
  28. Garner, R. (2007). Abolishing morality. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 10(5), 499–513.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Gibbard A. (1990). Wise Choices, Apt Feelings. Oxford, Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Goldman, A. (1992). What is justified belief? . In his liaisons: Philosophy meets the cognitive and social sciences. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  31. Greco, J. (2011). Achieving knowledge. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Greco, D. (2015). Epistemological open question arguments. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 93(3), 509–523.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Griffiths, P., & Wilkins, J. (2015). Crossing the milvian bridge: When Do evolutionary explanations of belief debunk belief? In P. Sloan, G. McKenny, & K. Eggelson (Eds.), Darwin in the 21st century: Nature, humanity, and God (pp. 201–231). Notre Dame: Notre Dame University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Haidt, J. (2012). The righteous mind. London: Penguin.Google Scholar
  35. Heathwood, C. (2009). Moral and epistemic open-question Arguments. Philosophical Books, 50, 83–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Huemer, M. (2008). Ethical intuitionism. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  37. Jenkins, C. S. (2007). Epistemic norms and natural Facts. American Philosophical Quarterly, 44(3), 258–272.Google Scholar
  38. Joyce, R. (2007). The evolution of morality. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  39. Kahane, G. (2011). Evolutionary debunking arguments. Nous, 45(1), 103–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Kappel, K. (2011). Is epistemic expressivism dialectically incoherent? Dialectica, 65(1), 49–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Kim, J. (1988). ‘What is ‘Naturalized Epistemology’? in J.Tomberlin (ed.), Philosophical Perspectives 2. Epistemology. Atascadero, CA: Reidgeview Publishing. 381–405.Google Scholar
  42. Kitcher, P. (2007). ‘Biology and Ethics’ in The Oxford Handbook of Ethical Theory, David Copp (ed.). Oxford, Oxford University Press. 163–185.Google Scholar
  43. Korman, D. (2014) ‘Debunking Perceptual Beliefs About Ordinary Objects’. Philosophers’ Imprint 14 (13).Google Scholar
  44. Kusch M. (2010). ‘Epistemic Replacement Relativism Defended’ in M.Dorato and M.Suarez (eds.), Epsa Epistemology and Methodology of Science. Springer. 165–175.Google Scholar
  45. Kvanvig, J. (2003). The value of knowledge and the pursuit of understanding. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Kyriacou, C. (2016) ‘Metaepistemology’. In Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Eds. J.Fieser and B.Dowden. URL= Accessed 12 January 2016.
  47. Lynch, M. (2009). Truth, value and epistemic expressivism. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research., 79(1), 76–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. MacFarlane, J. (2014). Assessment sensitivity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Mackie, J. (1971). Ethics. Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  50. Olson, J. (2010). In defence of moral error theory. In M. Brady (Ed.), New waves in metaethics (pp. 62–84). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  51. Olson, J. (2011). Error theory and reasons for Belief. In A. Reisner & A. Steglich-Petersen (Eds.), Reasons for belief (pp. 75–93). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  52. Pagin, P. (2014). ‘Assertion’. In E.Zalta (ed.), Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. URL=
  53. Plantinga, A. (1993). Warrant and proper function. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Putnam, H. (1978). There is at least one a priori Truth. Erkenntnis, 13(1), 153–170.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Quine, W. V. O. (1953). Two dogmas of Empiricism’ in his from a logical point of view. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  56. Rowland, R. (2013). Moral error theory and the argument from epistemic reasons. Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy, 7(1), 1–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Ruse, M. (1995). The view from somewhere in his evolutionary naturalism (pp. 154–198). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  58. Setiya K. (2012). Knowing Right From Wrong. Oxford, Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  59. Shafer-Landau, R. (2005). Moral realism: A defense. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  60. Shafer-Landau, R. (2012). ‘Evolutionary Debunking, Moral Realism and Moral Knowledge’. Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy Vol. 7 (1).Google Scholar
  61. Sterpetti, F. (2015). ‘Are Evolutionary Debunking Arguments Really Self-Defeating?’ Philosophia, 1–13.Google Scholar
  62. Street, S. (2006). A Darwinian dilemma for realist theories of value. Philosophical Studies, 127, 109–166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Street, S. (2008). Constructivism about reasons. Oxford Studies in Metaethics, 3, 207–245.Google Scholar
  64. Street, S. (2009). Evolution and the normativity of epistemic reasons. Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 35, 213–249.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Timmons, M. and Horgan T. (1992). ‘Troubles for New Wave Moral Semantics: The 'Open Question Argument' Revived’. Philosophical Papers XXI 153–175.Google Scholar
  66. Unger, P. (1975). Ignorance. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  67. Vavova, K. (2014). Debunking evolutionary debunking. Oxford Studies in Metaethics, 9, 76–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Williamson, T. (2000). Knowledge and its limits. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Classics and PhilosophyUniversity of CyprusNicosiaCyprus

Personalised recommendations