The Evolutionary Explanation of Rationality

I take the following argument (word for word) from Steven Stich’s fantastic book The Fragmentation of Reason:

(1)Evolution is caused by natural selection.
(2)Natural selection will choose the best-designed (i.e., that most fitness-enhancing) system available in the gene pool.
(3)Over evolutionary time, a huge and varied set of options will be available for natural selection to choose among, and this set is very likely to include one or more that closely approximate a theoretical optimum.
(4)Systems produced by evolution can be expected to be about as well designed as it is possible to be.
(5)Our inferential system was produced by evolution.

Stephen Stich, The Fragmentation of Reason (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1990), 63.

For context, Stich is attempting to construct an evolutionary explanation of our belief that the human mind is rational (to whatever degree). He critiques every point, but what is most damaging to the case is that it is no way explains why the mind must be rational. There needs to be some ancillary proposition that states something like “Rationality has a monopoly on survival enhancing behavior.” I’m not positive that is a very helpful way to word it (I’m open to suggestions), but the missing premise needs to include something to the effect of survival-enhancing behavior necessitating rational beliefs. Since any missing premise built around that concept is probably wrong (and open to clear counterexample) there can be no evolutionary explanation of rationality (even if our minds evolved by the mechanisms of contemporary evolutionary theory).


Vic Reppert Presents a Teleological Argument from Minds

Is there a prima facie case for theism based on the existence of minds? Vic Reppert believes there is:

Now, how likely is it that minds should exist on the assumption that the basic causes are mental. Pretty likely, it seems to me. If theism is true, then from what we know of ourselves as rational creatures, we should expect that a rational being in charge of everything would create rational beings with whom He or She could communicate. But what if God does not exist, and the basic causes were non-mental. How there can be minds is at best difficult and at most impossible to explain. A lot of things had to happen just right in the development of the human brain in order for reason to be possible, if it is even possible at all. It looks, therefore, like the existence of creaturely minds confirms theism even if we cannot show that, for example, dualism is true. The existence of creaturely reason, therefore, confirms the mental character of the universe.

I think that this intuition- that minds are real and significantly differ from physical entities- does show that there is a case to be made for the teleological nature of the universe. Are there ways out of it? I think so. Russellian Monism may have significant difficulties, but it is not obviously plagued by the same problems as strict physicalism. Eliminative Materialism may skirt Reppert’s problem by deflating the ontological punch of the mind, but for some (ok, for most) this comes at too high a cost. One last “option” is too punt away the explanatory responsibility to forces poorly understood (Mysterians, Dennett):

“. . . the brain is an artifact, and it gets whatever intentionality its parts have from their role in the ongoing economy of the larger system of which it is a part — or, in other words, from the intentions of its creator, Mother Nature (otherwise known as the process of evolution by natural selection).”

Daniel Dennett, Kinds of Minds (New York: Basic Books, 1996), 52-53

This is your standard Dennettian non-answer, but I suspect this is what many professional philosophers have in mind when confronting what we all take to be genuine mental entities.

Audio recording of the Plantinga-Dennett exchange

I am ecstatic this was recorded.

Dennett vs. Plantinga (the minutes)

An anonymous gentleman was kind enough to take some notes during the recent Plantinga/Dennett exchange. It sounds a little disappointing, but I still would have sacrificed my gall-bladder to have been there. Read more here.