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"When is it Selectively Advantageous to Have True Beliefs?"Abstract: "Several philosophers have argued that natural selection will favor reliable belief formation; others have been more skeptical. I develop a model to explore the functional utility of belief and desire formation mechanisms, and defend the claim that natural selection favors reliable inference methods in a broad, but not universal, range of circumstances."
"Modeling Reciprocal Altruism."
British Journal for the Philosophy of Science
(December 1996), 47(4):533-551.
Abstract: "Biologists rely extensively on the iterated Prisoner's Dilemma game to model reciprocal altruism. After examining the informal conditions necessary for reciprocal altruism, I argue that formal games besides the standard iterated Prisoner's Dilemma meet these conditions. One alternate representation, the "modified" Prisoner's Dilemma game, removes a standard but unnecessary condition; the other game is what I call a "Cook's Dilemma". We should explore these new models of reciprocal altruism because they predict different stability characteristics for various strategies; for instance, I show that strategies such as "Tit-for-Tat" have different stability dynamics in these alternate models."
(with Branden Fitelson and Elliott Sober). "How Not to Detect Design--Critical Notice: William A. Dembski, The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities." Philosophy of Science (September 1999), 66(3):472-488.
"Why Be Rational? Prudence, Rational Belief, and Evolution."
PhD Dissertation, The University of Wisconsin, Madison, 2000.
Abstract in Dissertation Abstracts International (February 2001), 61(8A):3209-A.
Abstract: "We usually assume that we should be rational; however, it is not clear why. My thesis considers two interpretations of the question "why be rational?" First of all, is it prudent to be epistemically rational? Second, under what conditions would natural selection favor epistemically rational belief and desire formation policies? I formulate and defend both a prudential justification as well as an evolutionary explanation of epistemic rationality. In the first part, I examine famous examples of non-epistemic arguments for belief, including work by Immanuel Kant, Blaise Pascal, and William James. Drawing on this earlier work, I develop a precise account of the difference between epistemic and non-epistemic reasons for belief. I defend a truth-linked approach to epistemic reason, and argue that various prima facie problems for such an account can be overcome with a question-relative understanding of epistemic value. Many philosophers have made claims about the evolution of rationality. Several philosophers, including Quine and Dennett, have argued that natural selection will favor rationality in one form or another. Others, such as Stich, Plantinga, Godfrey-Smith and Sober, have been more skeptical. I use optimality modelling techniques, adapted from evolutionary biology, to develop a model that represents both belief and desire formation devices. I show how certain kinds of deviations from epistemic rationality can be useful, but demonstrate that the more systematically important a proposition is, the more natural selection will favor organisms with reliable ways of finding out about the world. In the final part of my essay, I argue that it is prudent to be epistemically rational only if we make certain substantial assumptions about the nature of an agent's environment, as well as her mind. Once again, the notion of systematic importance plays a crucial role. I show that for propositions of a certain kind, the more systematically important they are, the closer an agent's degree of belief must be to the evidence in order for beliefs about such propositions to be prudent, provided that the evidence indicates the truth."
"When is it Selectively Advantageous to have True Beliefs? Sandwiching the Better Safe than Sorry Argument." Philosophical Studies (August 2001), 105(2):161-189.
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