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Through a mind darkly. An empirically-informed philosophical perspective on systematic knowledge acquisition and cognitive limitations.

27 October 2011

PhD ceremony: Ms. H.L. De Cruz, 16.15 uur, Aula Academiegebouw, Broerstraat 5, Groningen

Dissertation: Through a mind darkly. An empirically-informed philosophical perspective on systematic knowledge acquisition and cognitive limitations.

Promotor(s): prof. I. Douven

Faculty: Philosophy

Given that human cognition is biased and limited, how can we explain the successes in mathematics and the sciences over the last few centuries? In other words: if we see through a glass darkly, why is it that mathematicians and scientists seem to be able to surmount their cognitive limitations to some extent? Helen De Cruz’s dissertation provides a naturalistic philosophical study of the relationship between evolved human cognitive biases and formal modes of knowledge acquisition. It presents an analysis of key notions from cognitive science that have been the focus of recent debates in empirically-informed epistemology, philosophy of science, and philosophy of mind, including innateness, mental modularity, extended cognition, epistemic action, and evolutionary (debunking) arguments for the reliability of beliefs. One key finding is that a naturalistic picture of formal knowledge acquisition should not only take into account evolved cognitive biases, but also the way humans routinely supplement their internal cognitive resources with external support. Using examples from the domain of arithmetic and the life sciences, De Cruz indicates that humans draw on a variety of epistemic tools, including artifacts, symbols, metaphors and other minds. Nevertheless, her second key claim is that evolved cognitive biases play a significant role in scientific and mathematical practice. Case studies from arithmetic, paleoanthropology and evolutionary biology indicate that what people regard as intelligible is influenced by their evolved cognitive architecture. The thesis ends by outlining some normative, epistemic and metaphysical perspectives that a naturalistic philosophy of science can offer.

Last modified:15 September 2017 3.41 p.m.

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