The Intuition of Knowing: Its Biological Function and Natural Triggering-Conditions

Fox, Nathan Josephe (2017). The Intuition of Knowing: Its Biological Function and Natural Triggering-Conditions. PhD thesis The Open University.



Over the last hundred years, competing and incompatible positions in relation to basic problems of knowledge and the use of the verb ‘to know’ have multiplied; and the prospect of a consensus solution emerging with respect to any of the problems has not seemed particularly good. We have a Gordian knot. Even so, I suggest that we also have a way to cut it. This will involve identifying why the cognitive mechanism that produces our intuitions of knowing evolved and was maintained (by natural selection), i.e., identifying the ‘teleonomic function’ of that cognitive mechanism. Also, it will involve predicting, on the basis of this teleonomic function, the triggering-conditions of these natural knowledge intuitions. In this thesis, I develop a general theory of the origin, function and triggering-conditions of knowledge intuitions that will allow us to cut that knot. That theory follows basic biological theory (including that which pertains to natural altruism) and also signal detection theory.

My theory identifies a number of different circumstances under which the triggering-conditions of knowledge intuitions are different. Strikingly, these different circumstances (and their associated triggering-conditions) map onto the different competing and incompatible epistemological positions to which I referred. This suggests that these positions are all correct within the boundaries of one of the circumstances that my theory identifies; and that the Gordian knot is largely the result of epistemologists claiming universal applicability of a theory that in fact only applies under particular circumstances. We cut the knot by specifying the different circumstances under which each of the different epistemological positions will hold, and the reason we should expect it to hold in just these circumstances, in light of the teleonomic function of knowledge intuitions.

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