IAS-Research Talk by Denis Walsh (University of Toronto) “Summoning and Sedimentation: Concepts for an agent-centred evolutionary biology”

Date and time: December 11, Tuesday, 11:30 a.m.

Location: Carlos Santamaría Building, Room B14.

Speaker: Denis Walsh (University of Toronto)

Title: Summoning and Sedimentation: Concepts for an agent-centred evolutionary biology


I attempt to motivate an agent-centred ‘contact’ theory of evolution. I draw on debates in the philosophy of mind to illustrate a distinction between ‘foundationalist theories’ and ‘contact theories’. Traditional approaches to thought, perception, knowledge, linguistic meaning, are foundationalist. They start with the separation of an ‘inner’ mental realm from an outer realm, and posit mental ‘givens’ as the foundational elements. Foundationalist theories of the mind have well-known structural problems. Two, in particular, appear to be insuperable: (i) underdetermination (skepticism), and (ii) the missing agent. I argue that gene-centred evolutionary theory is also a foundationalist theory. It too suffers from the same problems. One prominent solution in the philosophy of mind is to adopt a wholly different kind of theory, a contact theory of the agent. I argue that a contact theory can have the same salutary consequences for the understanding of evolution as it does for mental phenomena.