On Fri, Jul 16, 2010 at 5:13 PM, Brent Meeker <meeke...@dslextreme.com> wrote:
> And in either case the counter argument is the same, c.f. "The Evolution of
> Reason" by William S. Cooper.

Maybe.  But it’s not a very good counter argument.  Actually, if his
thesis is true, I think it helps my argument more than it hurts.

The thesis posited by the book is a bigger problem for Bruno's theory that mine.

A long-ish response, but there are several quotes from the book that
add up in length.

So logic reduces to biology.  Fine.  And biology reduces to...what?
Initial conditions and causal laws, that’s what.

“Evolution is not the law enforcer but the law giver - not so much a
police force as a legislature.  The laws of logic are not independent
of biology but implicit in the very evolutionary processes that
enforce them.  The processes determine the laws.

If the latter understanding is correct, logical rules have no separate
status of their own but are theoretical constructs of evolutionary
biology.  Logical theory ought then in some sense to be deducible
entirely from biological considerations.  The concept of scientific
reduction is helpful in expressing that thought.  In the received
methodological terminology the idea of interest can be articulated as
the following hypothesis.

REDUCIBILITY THESIS:  Logic is reducible to evolutionary theory.”

So obviously evolution is not a law enforcer or a law giver.  It isn’t
a causal law, but rather a consequence of causal laws.

Cooper claims that logic reduces to evolutionary theory.  And what
does evolutionary theory reduce to?  Initial conditions and
fundamental causal laws acting on fundamental entities.

Assuming physicalism, the causal laws of our universe applied to a
suitable set of initial conditions will, in time, exhibit features
that we categorize as “evolutionary”.  Some of these evolutionary
processes may give rise to entities that have conscious experiences,
and some of those conscious experiences will be of holding this, that,
or the other beliefs about logic.  But those beliefs are a result of
fundamental laws acting on fundamental entities, and not associated
with any sort of independently existing platonic standard of “logical

This is the gist of my post, and seems to be the main gist of his
book. We do part company eventually though.  I’ll save that part for


“‘How do humans manage to reason?’ Since the form of this question is
the same as that of the first, it would be natural to attack it in a
similar two-pronged fashion. [...] Somewhere in the latter part there
would be talk of selective forces acting on genetic variation, of
fitness, of population models, etc. [...] The laws of Reason should
not be addressed independently of evolutionary theory, according to
the thesis. Reasoning is different from all other adaptations in that
the laws of logic are aspects of the laws of adaptation themselves.
Nothing extra is needed to account for logic - only a drawing out of
the consequences of known principles of natural selection.”

Selective forces?  What would have caused those selective forces?
What do these selective forces reduce to?  Why these selective forces
instead of some others?

Natural selection?  Well, there are causally neutral “filters”
(metaphorically speaking), but these metaphorical filters are as much
a consequence of the universe’s initial conditions and causal laws as
the organisms that are (metaphorically) selected.

Evolution is a consequence of causal laws, not a causal law itself.
In this it is like the first law of thermodynamics - which is a
consequence of the time invariance of the causal laws, not a causal
law itself.  Evolution and the first law of thermodynamics are
descriptions of how things are, not explanations.

So as I said, if physicalism is true then the arguments that we
present and believe are those entailed by the physics that underlies
our experiences, and by nothing else.

In this view, evolution is also just a manifestation of those same
underlying physical forces.  And logic is merely an aspect of the
experiences generated by the more fundamental activities of quarks and

In this vein, he says:

“If evolutionary considerations control the relevant aspects of
decision behavior, and these determine in turn the rest of the
machinery of logic, one can begin to discern the implicative chain
that makes Reducibility Theory thinkable.


If the evolutionary control over the logic is indeed so total as to
constrain it entirely, there is no need to perpetuate the fiction that
logic has a life of its own.  It is tributary to the larger
evolutionary mechanism.”

All we have to do is add that the universe’s initial conditions and
causal laws control the evolutionary considerations, and my point is
practically made.

The main point of contention between my argument and Cooper’s is:

“In this way the general evolutionary tendency to optimize fitness
turns out to imply, in and of itself, a tendency for organisms to be
rational.  Once this is shown there is no need to look for the source
of logical principles elsewhere, for the logical behavior is shaped
directly by the evolutionary forces acting on their own behalf.
Because the biological processes expressed in the population models
wholly entail the logical rules, and are sufficient to predict and
explain rational behavior, no separate account of logic is needed.”

Optimize fitness?  Again, evolution isn’t something imposed from
outside the system, and it’s not a causal law.  If fitness of some
group is optimized over time, that’s just a consequence of system’s
initial conditions and causal laws.

In a deterministic system, the rise of that group was destined to
happen.  In an indeterministic system, the rise of that group was a
result of the interplay between the initial conditions, the
deterministic part of causal framework, and the outcome of the random
coin flips.

So, he seems to imply that initial conditions and causal laws must
give rise to rational actors.  But as he says, there is no independent
standard of rationality.  Rationality is relative to the rules of the
particular physical system.  So the behaviors that a system most
commonly gives rise to are, by definition, “rational”.

So rational is a meaningless label.  In his formulation above it just
means “whatever ends up being the most commonly manifested behaviors.”

But it’s not commonly manifested because it’s rational.  Rather, it’s
labeled rational because it’s commonly manifested.


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