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Information and Meaning in Evolutionary Processes (Cambridge Studies in Philosophy and Biology)

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ISBN-13: 978-0521815147
ISBN-10: 0521815142
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Editorial Reviews


"...this is a very enjoyable book...Harm's demonstration of the fecundity of his approach may persuade those sympathetic to naturalism that evolutionary epistemology has much to offer." --Joseph Millum, University of Toronto: Philosophy in Review

Book Description

The most significant legacy of philosophical skepticism is the realization that our concepts, beliefs and theories are social constructs. This belief has led to epistemological relativism, or the thesis that since there is no ultimate truth about the world, theory preferences are only a matter of opinion. In this book, William Harms seeks to develop the conceptual foundations and tools for a science of knowledge through the application of evolutionary theory, thus allowing us to acknowledge the legacy of skepticism while denying its relativistic offspring.

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Product Details

  • Series: Cambridge Studies in Philosophy and Biology
  • Hardcover: 282 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (April 26, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521815142
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521815147
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,423,260 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Tim Tyler on November 25, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book starts out with a 80-page critique of "replicator theories" - a term the author uses to cover the cultural evolution theories of Dawkins, Dennett, Blackmore, Hull and various other players. However, memes seem to attract most of the fire. We hear about how Dawkins backtracked apologetically after introducing memes, playing down their significance. How David Hull was only interested in memes to the extent that they helped him develop a scientific epistemology, and how Dennett got his memes second hand, and just wanted to use them to bolster his concept of the "intentional stance". Memes are based partly on G. C. Williams attempt to rechristen the gene. We hear that this rechristening never caught on, and the word "gene" today still has a totally different meaning in biology textbooks, leaving memes dependent of a dead definition. Further the definition of "gene" that Williams used makes little sense - since it defined genes in terms of selection pressures, which might fluctuate wildly in real life, causing genes and memes to flit in and out of existence. On page 67, Harms writes:

"The reader cannot help be aware by now that I do not like the meme concept. It seems, in a word, "superstitious" to me - just the sort of concept that scientific progress will require us to abandon."

There's criticism of the concept of "selfishness" and criticism of the concept of "replication". Harms recognises the "meme's eye view" as a valid perspective, but claims that describing culture in terms of a symbiosis between memes and genes is "awkward". He writes, on page 51:

"Methodologically, ontologically, the meme is a mess. For the purposes of popular appeal, however, it could not have been better designed by a Madison Avenue advertising exec.
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Information and Meaning in Evolutionary Processes (Cambridge Studies in Philosophy and Biology)
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