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Title: Evolutionary theory and normative realism in epistemology
Author: Di Nicola, Alessandro
ISNI:       0000 0004 5354 3682
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2015
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In this thesis I discuss one way in which evolutionary theory has been brought to bear on the evaluation of competing meta-normative views in epistemology. More specifically, I investigate whether normative realism in epistemology (epistemic realism) is compatible with the view that we are justified in holding many of the epistemic beliefs we hold, on the assumption that those beliefs can be explained in evolutionary terms. In Part I I discuss normativity in epistemology and meta-epistemology. I begin by drawing attention to the fact that there are very different ways of understanding which concepts in epistemology are normative and what their normativity consists in. I focus on the concept of an epistemic reason to illustrate this point. I then discuss, in some detail, how different interpretations of epistemic-normativity will affect the form which normative-realist views in epistemology can take. I conclude by drawing a taxonomy of epistemic-realist views which is mindful of the different interpretations of epistemic normativity which I distinguished. In Part II I turn to discuss the topic of Darwinian arguments against normative-realist views in epistemology. I begin by considering the form which Darwinian arguments have taken in recent metaethical literature. I argue that Darwinian arguments of a kind which is meant to raise a distinctively epistemological challenge for normative-realist views – I call those 'Darwinian-epistemological' arguments – represent a more interesting object of philosophical investigation than Darwinian arguments of a different 'metaphysical' kind. I then formulate a Darwinian-epistemological argument which targets normative-realist views in epistemology (DEA), explain how it works, and spend some time discussing its key premises. In Part III I engage with the Darwinian-epistemological challenge against realism about epistemic normativity that Sharon Street presents in her paper 'Evolution and the Normativity of Epistemic Reasons' (2009). I argue that Street’s epistemological challenge is best viewed as an instance of a Darwinian-epistemological argument of the kind I formulated (DEA). I then go on to reply to Street’s argument on behalf of the epistemic realist. I conclude that arguments with the form of DEA do not represent a serious threat for normative realist views in epistemology.
Supervisor: Child, Bill; Kahane, Guy Sponsor: Brasenose College, Philosophy Faculty
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Philosophy ; Epistemology,causation,humankind ; Ethics (Moral philosophy) ; Evolution,ecology and systematics ; normativity ; epistemology ; metaethics ; evolution ; evolutionary psychology ; realism ; evolutionary debunking arguments ; epistemic reasons