Donald Davidson’s critiques of conceptual relativism applied to non-adaptationist evolutionary epistemology and refuted
Em: Foundations of Science
Over the last three decades, non-adaptationism has developed as an alternative model to more traditional, adaptationist approaches within Evolutionary Epistemology (EE). Despite its great explanatory strength, non-adaptationist EE finds a potential Achilles heel in its adherence to conceptual relativism, namely the idea that empirical content can be relative to many different and radically incommensurable conceptual schemes. In his seminal essay “On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme” (1974), Donald Davidson did in fact prove the unintelligibility of an analogous form of conceptual relativism. Although Davidson’s original intent was to debunk a conceptual relativist position which he discerned in the works of authors such as Kuhn, Quine, and Whorf, given the apparent similarity between the conceptual relativism supported by non-adaptationist EE and the one criticised by Davidson, one might well wonder if Davidson’s objections would have the same debunking effect if applied to non-adaptationist EE. In this paper I propose to answer this question by directing Davidson’s critiques of conceptual relativism to non-adaptationist EE and by testing to what extent the latter is de facto undermined by Davidson’s attacks. I demonstrate that Davidson’s arguments do not detract from the reliability of non-adaptationist perspectives and, to some extent, they appear to substantiate the non-adaptationist evolutionary epistemological cause anew.