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Human Knowledge and Human Nature: A New Introduction to an Ancient Debate Paperback – March 19, 1992

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1ST edition (March 19, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0198751028
  • ISBN-13: 978-0198751021
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.4 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,084,238 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Very good introduction to contemporary issues in theory of knowledge. Exceptionally clear and concise."--Manuel Davenport, Texas A&M

"A careful reflection on the relation of human nature to the bases of our knowledge. Lucidly and engagingly written."--Leonard W. Ortmann, Conception Seminary College

"Students of philosophy will find Human Knowledge and Human Nature both instructive and provocative."--Times Literary Supplement

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Viktor Blasjo on July 13, 2009
Format: Paperback
"The overall conclusion of this book" (p. 193) is a defence of empiricism against rationalism, a conclusion which Carruthers immediately undermines as follows.

"Indeed, there is a strong case for saying that an empiricist should now accept the existence of innate information-bearing mental structures ... as well as the innateness of at least some concepts and some knowledge. Yet empiricism may still retain its traditional opposition to platonism, and more generally to the idea that we can obtain substantive knowledge by reason alone." (pp. 193-194).

This seems nonsensical. Isn't the virtual definition of innateness that "we can obtain substantive knowledge by reason alone"? Let's look at the argument behind these claims.

The argument is that "empiricists should have no objection to evolutionary versions of nativism" (p. 143), but that Carruthers cannot see how rationalist claims can be secured in evolutionary terms. Now, this could be due to a problem with *either* rationalism *or* Carruthers' armchair evolutionary theory. Since Carruthers naively assumes his evolutionary theory to be perfect, blame falls on rationalism.

For example, the rationalist is challenged "to provide a naturalistic account of how the process through which we acquire beliefs about the abstract realm may be a reliable one" (p. 145). It is assumed that a failure to do so is a failure for rationalism, not a failure for Carruthers' amateurish evolutionary theory. The type of "account" Carruthers has in mind is something like this: "it might be said that mathematical truths ... [may] enable you to work out what would be a sufficient store of food to see your family through a winter" (pp. 149-150).
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Yonatan Fishman on September 22, 2004
Format: Paperback
Having read numerous philosophical books on epistemology, I can confidently say that Carruthers' book is among the best. Written with startling clarity and minimal philosophical jargon, Professor Carruthers offers a compelling naturalistic approach to epistemology based on a foundation of evolutionary nativism. He shows how traditional empiricists such as Hume unnecessarily rejected innate structures shaping knowledge acquisition only because the theory of Darwinian evolution was not yet available. The book considers the nature and origins of knowledge, provides careful critiques of traditional rationalism and Mathematical Platonism, and a convincing naturalistic resolution to the problem of induction. He ends supporting an empiricist epistemology which incorporates innate structures guiding knowledge acquistion (specifically inference to the best explanation). Carruthers powerfully demonstrates how evolutionary ideas can provide resolution to deep philosophical issues that have engaged philosophers since antiquity. The book is a gem.

Yon Fishman, PhD in Neuroscience
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