Toolmaking and the Evolution of Normative Cognition

Biology and Philosophy 36 (1):1-26 (2021)
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We are all guided by thousands of norms, but how did our capacity for normative cognition evolve? I propose there is a deep but neglected link between normative cognition and practical skill. In modern humans, complex motor skills and craft skills, such as toolmaking, are guided by internally represented norms of correct performance. Moreover, it is plausible that core components of human normative cognition evolved as a solution to the distinctive problems of transmitting complex motor skills and craft skills, especially skills related to toolmaking, through social learning. If this is correct, the expansion of the normative domain beyond technique to encompass more abstract norms of fairness, reciprocity, ritual and kinship involved the elaboration of a basic platform for the guidance of skilled action by technical norms. This article motivates and defends this “skill hypothesis” for the origin of normative cognition and sets out various ways in which it could be empirically tested.

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Jonathan Birch
London School of Economics

Citations of this work

Culture and cognitive science.Jesse Prinz - forthcoming - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Culture and Cognitive Science.Andreas De Block & Daniel Kelly - 2022 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
The Skilful Origins of Human Normative Cognition.Jonathan Birch - 2021 - Analyse & Kritik 43 (1):191-202.

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