Friday, October 28, 2005

The Logic of Evolution and the Evolution of Logic

In philosophy we are finding more and more attention being paid to evolution as the principle of explanation. As I have written here, evolutionary theory is now frequently applied to many branches of philosophy. In philosophy of mind, evolutionary explanations are used to explain the development and nature of mental content and consciousness; in ethics, they are used to explain altruism, care, and responsibility; in epistemology, they are used to explain the development of doxastic practices and justificatory schemes; in aesthetics and political philosophy, they are used to explain the development and dissemination of "memes." Evolutionary theory, it seems, can be used to explain almost anything. Regardless of the explanandum, the explicans remains evolutionary theory.

As I have written about here and here, C. S. Peirce claims that “the only possible way of accounting for the laws of nature and for the uniformity in general is to suppose them results of evolution.” Part of the argument for this thesis relies on his argument against determinism. See here for that point. Given this background, I want to examine two other points to see if there is a connection between them.

The first point is a follow-up to the Peirce argument about evolutionary explanations of natural laws. It is this claim by biologist Stuart Kauffman:

Biologists tell stories. If I am right, if the biosphere is getting on with it, muddling along, exapting, creating, and destroying ways of making a living, then there is a central need to tell stories. If we cannot have all the categories that may be of relevance finitely prestated ahead of time, how else should we talk about the emergence in the biosphere or in our history—a piece of the biosphere—of new relevant categories, new functionalities, new ways of making a living?

The second point is a debate about reading Hegel’s logic in conjunction with his doctrine of historicism. This conjunction contains a tension. On the one hand, there is empirical novelty; on the other, there is logical completion. If Hegel’s historicism admits the ongoing historical development of novel events and norms, then Hegel’s aim for philosophy to achieve completion in some form of comprehensive logic seems impossible. However, Robert Pippin has argued for a kind of open Hegelianism through a revision of the logic, interpreting it to be about a process of constructing categories rather than as establishing the final categories in their completion. This reading of Hegel renders the logic as a sort of “story” which accounts for the evolutionary development of, among other things, the laws of nature. In this sense, Hegel’s logic entails an openness to the world by depending on the developments of history, and it is a “meta-logic” that places general logical constraints on what could be told as part of this story of development. As Pippin writes, “It might be that some Notion could be prompted by a recalcitrant problem in empirical research, even though such a Notion could get to be a Notion, get to be unrevisable and be thought of as constitutive, only be virtue of its ‘dialectical’ integration within our general conceptual scheme” (Hegel's Idealism, p. 259). In other words, the story of life and of the “muddling, exapting, creating, and destroying” biosphere may prompt not simply new empirical facts but also new notions which then come to be necessary and constitutive of those facts.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

WK -- have you read Ian Hacking's work? I assume that you have; if not, you might want to have a look at it. It explores themes similar to those you've raised in this post. His Historical Ontology (Harvard, 2002) is as good a starting point as any.

-RN (since we're using initials these days -- but you know who I am)

10/29/2005 9:26 AM  
Blogger wk said...

Thanks for the tip.

10/29/2005 1:24 PM  

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