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Department of Philosophy
The Metaphysics of Evolutionary Naturalism

12-14 May 2011
Habib Aziz Maamari Auditorium, Business School, AUB
Registration is free and all are welcome to attend. Please contact if you have any queries.   

From the perspective of the history of philosophy, evolutionary theory raises some very fundamental questions indeed.  How can one be a naturalist after Darwin?  On the ancient teleological naturalist picture, namely that of Aristotle, the goal of the study of the physical world, organic and inorganic, was to reveal the ultimate purposes of things.  This teleological world-view was then coupled with the belief in a unified deity, and resulted in the belief that the study of the physical world offers a window into the mind of God.

completed a revolution in the sciences that was begun by Galileo. Galileo's mathematization of physics removed Aristotelean final causes from the inorganic part of the natural world. Darwin's theory of natural selection removed those final causes from the organic part of the natural world as well.  Quite literally, there really is no point to life. 

The implications of such a radical shift in world-view are still vague, especially the implications concerning metaphysical commitments. Given all the advances in science, it seems that we cannot answer the traditional philosophical problems concerning consciousness, freedom or even religion but through this new Darwinian naturalist lens. Also, ethical questions must now be examined through this new lens, but how can one have naturalistic justification for normative claims?

What, then, ought we to say about all these metaphysical and normative questions in this new light?

Tim Crane (Cambridge) 'The Disinterested Search for Truth: a Naturalistic Perspective'
Daniel Dennett (Tufts) 'Reasons and Having Reasons: Anthropocentrism and Explanation'
Ellen Fridland (Berlin School of Mind and Brain)

  'Cognition and Skill Learning: Making a Way Through the Wilderness'

Paul Horwich (NYU) 'Naturalism, Language, and Metaphilosophy'
Muhammad Ali Khalidi (York University) 'Naturalizing Kinds: Taxonomy in the Natural and Social Sciences'
Ruth Millikan (Connecticut) 'Biological Purposes, Human Purposes, Crossing Purposes'
David Papineau (Kings College) 'Intentionality and Cognitive Design'
Peter Railton (Michigan) 'Towards a Unified Theory of Rationality in Belief, Desire, and Action'
Alex Rosenberg (Duke) 'Disillusioned Naturalism'

Thursday 12 May    
2.00-3.30pm Muhammad Ali Khalidi Naturalizing Kinds: Taxonomy in the Natural and Social Sciences
Naturalism about natural kinds is the view that they correspond to those categories posited by our best scientific theories.  This thesis is in tension with the dominant contemporary view of natural kinds, essentialism, which holds that natural kinds constitute a small subset of our scientific categories, namely those definable in terms of intrinsic, microphysical properties that are possessed necessarily rather than contingently by their bearers.  I will not offer a thorough critique of essentialism but will attempt to articulate a naturalist alternative, according to which the mark of natural kinds is their discoverability by science, both natural and social.  I will locate the origins of this naturalist conception in the work of Mill, then will trace it through the work of Quine, Boyd, and Dupré.  In each case, I will defend some aspects of the views of these philosophers while taking issue with other aspects.  What will emerge is a preliminary defense of a naturalist account of natural kinds, which provides a contrast with the prevailing essentialist conception.
3.30-4.00pm Coffee break  


Paul Horwich Naturalism, Language, and Metaphilosophy
My paper will begin  by offering an argument against contemporary philosophical naturalism, and will proceed to consider what morals can be drawn, from the methodology of that argument, regarding the relationship between linguistic and metaphysical questions.
5.30-6.00pm Coffee break
6.00-8.00pm Daniel Dennett Reasons and Having Reasons: Anthropocentrism and Explanation
There are—or at least seem to be—reasons  for many of the things organisms do, but only a few particularly mindful species have reasons for what they do, perhaps only H. sapiens.  It is we humans, of course, who have used our practice of giving and asking for reasons  to “make sense” of the rest of the evolved biological world. Are we misleading ourselves?  Is this objectionable anthropocentrism?   Or does this view of life from our vantage point actually organize and illuminate our understanding of evolution and nature?
Friday 13 May    
 09.30-11.00am David Papineau Intentionality and Cognitive Design  
Intentionality is best understood in terms of cognitive design, rather than in terms of distinctive "stances" or the "space of reasons".  But there are different kinds of intentional cognitive design and this talk will explore some of their varieties.
11.00-11.30am Coffee break  
11.30-1.00pm Ruth Millikan Biological Purposes, Human Purposes, Crossing Purposes
From our genes to our public languages, a half dozen entwined levels of selection cooperate, but sometimes also conflict, each supporting a different level of purposes. Our own purposes, purposes of the individual, emerge from this tangle, sometimes triumphantly, sometimes conflictingly.  Along the way the question how forward-looking goals emerge from natural selection is addressed, and also goals that do not aid survival
1.00-2.30pm  Lunch  


Peter Railton Toward a Unified Theory of Rationality in Belief, Desire, and Action  
Take the term ‘reason’ in its normative sense.  How, then, is it possible to act for a reason as such?  Or, to hold a belief for a reason? That is, how could a natural, causal system function in such a way as to count as thinking, or feeling, or doing something as an apt response to a reason for thought, feeling, or action?  The predominant view within contemporary practical philosophy appears to be that one cannot give a naturalistic reduction of such phenomena. I attempt to explain this possibility in terms of the notion of processes that attune an individual to reasons—processes that evidence-sensitive, content-sensitive, and directly guide belief or action in appropriate ways.  By giving an account of the nature of belief and desire as compound states capable of learning, and involving regulation of expectation and behavior through an affective representation, I believe we can see how a “belief-desire” psychology could be attuned to reasons as such, and could attune our actions accordingly. 
4.00-4.30pm Coffee break  
4.30-6.00pm Alex Rosenberg Disillusioned Naturalism 
Naturalism takes the findings of science seriously as a guide to the solution of philosophical problems. Naturalists believe that enduring philosophical questions about the nature of reality, purposes in nature, the mind and its relation to the brain, ethical value, the character of social institutions, can be answered by resources drawn from science. And most naturalists believe that these answers need not undermine answers to them drawn from common sense and human experience.  The disillusioned naturalist holds that science does answer enduring questions but is pessimistic about science’s capacity to save the appearances, the values, and most of the answers that most people give to perennial philosophical questions about reality, life, the mind, morality, consciousness, personal identity, and the future trajectory of human history. My talk sketches the reasons for this pessimism.
Saturday 14 May    
09.30-11.00am Ellen Fridland Cognition and Skill Learning: Making a Way Through the Wilderness
In the attempt to provide a naturalized account of the mind, philosophers often appeal to the role of abilities, skills, knowing-how, and other practical capacities.  However, the relationship between such capacities and cognition is often taken for granted.  In this talk, I attempt to remedy this oversight, first, by defending the notion that embodied skills are both cognitive and nonpropositional, and second, by proposing that embodied skill learning constitutes a necessary stage in the development of genuine, fully generalizable, conceptual capacities.  To this end, I begin by defending Gilbert Ryle’s distinction between knowing-how and knowing-that against the criticisms of Jason Stanley and Timothy Williamson.  Next, through the lens of skill learning, I demonstrate why knowing-how is legitimately cognitive despite being nonpropositional.  In the third section of my talk, I elucidate several conceptual connections between the degrees of flexibility in learning, conceptuality, consciousness, and intentionality.  I conclude by suggesting that embodied skill learning is well-suited to occupy the intermediate level of Annette Karmiloff-Smith’s model of representational redescription.  Here, I argue that action-based learning provides the requisite flexibility and sense of agency necessary for later attaining full-blown conceptual capacities. 
11.00-11.30am Coffee break  
11.30-1.00pm  Tim Crane The Disinterested Search for Truth: a Naturalistic Perspective 
Aristotle's Metaphysics begins with the claim: 'all men by nature desire to know'. We can distinguish between the desire to know something to serve some other purpose, and the desire to know for its own sake. This lecture will explore the hypothesis that one of the things that is distinctive of human thought, as opposed to the thought of other animals, is this latter desire: to know the truth for its own sake. To have this desire, thinkers must conceive of themselves as subject to the norm of avoiding error. In human beings, the possession of language facilitates this norm. The lecture will suggest that some striking evidence from studies of animal cognition (especially monkeys, apes and dogs) and some evidence from human developmental psychology supports the hypothesis that the 'disinterested search for truth' might be one of the things distinctive of human thinkers.

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