Biological Theory

, Volume 1, Issue 1, pp 52–60 | Cite as

Modest Evolutionary Naturalism



I begin by arguing that a consistent general naturalism must be understood in terms of methodological maxims rather than metaphysical doctrines. Some specific maxims are proposed. I then defend a generalized naturalism from the common objection that it is incapable of accounting for the normative aspects of human life, including those of scientific practice itself. Evolutionary naturalism, however, is criticized as being incapable of providing a sufficient explanation of categorical moral norms. Turning to the epistemological norms of science itself, particularly those governing the empirical testing of specific models, I argue that these should be regarded as conditional rather than categorical and that, as such, can be given a naturalistic justification. The justification, however, is more cognitive than evolutionary. The historical development of science is found to be a better place for applying evolutionary ideas. After briefly considering the possibility of a naturalistic understanding of mathematics and logic, I turn to the problem of reconciling scientific realism with an evolutionary picture of scientific development. The solution, I suggest, is to understand scientific knowledge as being “per-spectival” rather than absolutely objective. I first argue that scientific observation, whether by humans or instruments, is perspectival. This argument is extended to scientific theorizing, which is regarded not as the formulation of universal laws of nature but as the construction of principles to be used in the construction of models to be applied to specific natural systems. The application of models, however, is argued to be not merely opportunistic but constrained by the methodological presumption that we live in a world with a definite causal structure even though we can understand it only from various perspectives.


evolutionary naturalism naturalism perspectivism scientific models scientific observation scientific realism scientific theories testing scientific models 


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Copyright information

© Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy Center for Philosophy of ScienceUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA

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