Philosophical issues around the nature of culture and cultural change spring from many historical sources: the work of German romantic philosophers (especially Herder); 19th century ethnological efforts at taxonomising human diversity, and; anthropological, archaeological and linguistic work on the mechanisms of linguistic and artefactual differentiation. Much of what is now thought of as cultural evolution, however, emerged out of mid-20th century work of cultural anthropologists and archaeologists inspired by diachronic theories of change and stasis from biology, ecology, and Marxism. Philosophical attention around the mid-century tended to focus on issues of methodology in the social sciences and the cogency of the culture concept. Notable here is David Bidney’s (1944) Theoretical Anthropology which focused on ontological issues in contemporary anthropological practice. By and large, then, the focus was on the cultural part of cultural evolution. Philosophical focus on the evolutionary aspect had to wait until the 1970s, with Michael Ruse’s (1974) being a noteworthy early effort. This time period saw a flush of new work in cultural evolution inspired by theories and tools of population genetics, especially that of Richard Dawkins (1976), Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman (1981) and Boyd and Richerson (1985). Taking seriously the analogy between biological and cultural change, these works introduced topics that continue to occupy philosophical work on cultural evolution to the present day. These include research on the ontology of culture, the extent to which cultural elements are organized; the proper units of cultural evolution; the aptness of the analogy between biological evolution and cultural change; the nature of cultural evolutionary explanation, and; the evolutionary role of cultural evolution.
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David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Ezio Di Nucci
Jack Alan Reynolds
Darrell P. Rowbottom
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