In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Evolutionary Epistemology

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Textbooks
  • Anthologies
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals

Philosophy Evolutionary Epistemology
James Marcum
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 August 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 August 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0354


Evolutionary epistemology approaches the growth of knowledge, especially scientific knowledge, in terms of evolutionary mechanisms. In other words, just as biological organisms evolve, so do the natural sciences and their practice and knowledge. This article includes a list of general references and other bibliographic resources that introduce and situate evolutionary epistemology, followed by a discussion of the predominant philosophers advocating the theory. Finally, it focuses on the philosophy of evolutionary epistemology, rather than cultural or social evolution or evolutionary psychology with respect to the cognitive neurosciences. However, one of the challenges for evolutionary epistemologists is to integrate cultural and social evolution and evolutionary cognition and psychology.

General Overviews

This section includes a historical précis of contemporary philosophy, such as the introduction of evolutionary epistemology (Losee 2001), as well as the location of evolutionary epistemology within its history (Callebaut 1993 and Schurz 2014). Also included are works introducing and discussing the general topic of evolutionary epistemology, such as Bradie and Harms 2017, Gontier 2006, Holland and O’Hear 1984, Plotkin 1987, and Vollmer 2004, with a critical analysis in Renzi and Napolitano 2011.

  • Bradie, Michael, and William Harms. “Evolutionary Epistemology.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 2017.

    The authors cover the history of evolutionary epistemology, as well as the philosophical issues and problems facing the field, in what may be the most comprehensive article as of the mid-2010s.

  • Callebaut, Werner. Taking the Naturalistic Turn or How Philosophy of Science Is Done. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.

    After reconstructing interviews with two dozen prominent philosophers of science over the “naturalistic turn” in the philosophy of science, the author addresses specific issues concerning evolutionary epistemology and philosophy of science.

  • Gontier, Nathalie. “Evolutionary Epistemology.” In Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Jonathan Matheson. Jacksonville: University of North Florida, 2006.

    General topics concerning evolutionary epistemology are covered in this article as well as several prominent philosophers of evolutionary epistemology, including Donald Campbell, Karl Popper, and Stephen Toulmin.

  • Holland, Alan, and Anthony O’Hear. “On What Makes an Epistemology Evolutionary.” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 58 (1984): 177–217.

    DOI: 10.1093/aristoteliansupp/58.1.177

    Holland discusses the various approaches to evolutionary epistemology for identifying its hallmarks, particularly those by Campbell, Popper, and Quine. O’Hear follows with critical remarks, especially concerning the problem that evolution is not progressive.

  • Losee, John. A Historical Introduction to the Philosophy of Science. 4th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

    Presents the evolutionary analogy proposed by philosophers of science, such as Popper, Hull, Ruse, among others, as well as its critics, especially Cohen and Toulmin.

  • Plotkin, Henry C. “Evolutionary Epistemology as Science.” Biology & Philosophy 2 (1987): 295–313.

    DOI: 10.1007/BF00128835

    Explores the various areas of both theoretical and empirical research facing contemporary evolutionary epistemology.

  • Renzi, Barbara G., and Giulio Napolitano. Evolutionary Analogies: Is the Process of Scientific Change Analogous to the Organic Change? Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars, 2011.

    In a critical assessment of the analogy between biological and conceptual evolution as developed by Campbell, Kuhn, Toulmin, and especially Hull, the authors conclude that the analogy is at best “loose” and propose a descriptive philosophy of science as an alternative.

  • Schurz, Gerhard. Philosophy of Science: A Unified Approach. London: Routledge, 2014.

    The author provides an analysis of contemporary philosophy of science’s development in which he situates evolutionary epistemology and philosophy of science as a “first concretization of naturalism” in terms of epistemology.

  • Vollmer, Gerhard. “New Arguments in Evolutionary Epistemology.” Ludus Vitalis 12.21 (2004): 197–212.

    After discussing the general premises of evolutionary epistemology, the author critically engages recent discussions concerning the nature of selection, language, and realism.

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