First Advisor

Angela Coventry

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Philosophy and University Honors




Sociology of knowledge, Social epistemology, Evolution




Traditional epistemology deals with questions about the possible sources of knowledge, the conditions which make a belief an item of knowledge, and the extent to which we can know, as well as the nature of justification and what can make a belief justified for someone. Evolutionary epistemology (EE) breaks from TE to avoid its perceived shortcomings by both dismissing some traditional questions and emphasizing new, related questions that are more readily answerable given what we know about the biology and phylogenetic history of humans. The new questions assume that we are physical, naturally evolved beings and that cognition can be studied by methods of natural science. This thesis reviews the emergence of EE, summarizing the arguments that have been made by its major proponents, clarifies two points that are neglected in the literature, and ends with a discussion of some criticisms and limitations of EE as well as work that remains to be done. The first point I clarify is that the program in EE of studying the evolution of epistemological mechanisms (EEM) is logically distinct from the program of building an evolutionary epistemology of theories (EET). I argue that EET does not gain validity from the fact that cognitive mechanisms have evolved and does not stand or fall with EEM. The second point I clarify is that adherents to EE need not see it as replacing or superseding TE. A complementary view of EE with TE is both viable and potentially fruitful.


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