Synthese 198 (3):2801-2820 (2019)

Lorenzo Baravalle
Universidade Federal do ABC
Cultural evolutionary theory has been alternatively compared to a theory of forces, such as Newtonian mechanics, or the kinetic theory of gases. In this article, I clarify the scope and significance of these metatheoretical characterisations. First, I discuss the kinetic analogy, which has been recently put forward by Tim Lewens. According to it, cultural evolutionary theory is grounded on a bottom-up methodology, which highlights the additive effects of social learning biases on the emergence of large-scale cultural phenomena. Lewens supports this claim by arguing that it is a consequence of cultural evolutionists’ widespread commitment to population thinking. While I concur with Lewens that cultural evolutionists often actually conceive cultural change in aggregative terms, I think that the kinetic framework does not properly account for the explanatory import of population-level descriptions in cultural evolutionary theory. Starting from a criticism of Lewens’ interpretation of population thinking, I argue that the explanatory role of such descriptions is best understood within a dynamical framework—that is, a framework according to which cultural evolutionary theory is a theory of forces. After having spelled out the main features of this alternative interpretation, I elucidate in which respects it helps to outline a more accurate characterisation of the overarching structure of cultural evolutionary theory.
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DOI 10.1007/s11229-019-02247-0
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References found in this work BETA

Evolution, Population Thinking, and Essentialism.Elliott Sober - 1980 - Philosophy of Science 47 (3):350-383.
Natural Selection as a Population-Level Causal Process.Roberta L. Millstein - 2006 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 57 (4):627-653.

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Citations of this work BETA

Paris, California and the quest for a theory of cultural change.Lorenzo Baravalle - 2019 - Humanities Journal of Valparaiso 14:223-240.

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