November 3, 2007

Burge on Perceptual Systems and Veridicality (Part 2)

In my previous post, I attributed to Burge the thesis that that the perceptual system, though a product of evolution by natural selection, has a representational function that is apriori connected to normative notion of veridicality. However, this prima facie seems like a problematic claim since natural selection is not itself concerned with normative notions, such as veridicality, and so one may wonder how our perceputal systems come to acquire such a normative concern. In this post, I will attempt to articulate one way this objection may be further unpacked.

According to Darwinian assumption, we have the particular perceptual systems that we do because they promoted the biological fitness of our ancestors. However, this seems to present a problem for Burge’s account. If we accept his insistence that a system which is unreliable may still promote biological fitness, then we seem faced with the following question: what reason do we have to think that our perceptual systems are reliable? In other words, there appears to be a mismatch between the practical mechanism (i.e., natural selection) that produced the perceptual system and the normative role the system is supposed to play. This seems to open up a lacuna between what the perceptual system has been “designed” for—namely, to promote biological fitness—and its representational function—namely, to arrive at true beliefs.

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