Philosophical Psychology 15 (2):173 – 184 (2002)

John Sarnecki
University of Toledo
The significance of historical advances in human development has been widely debated within cognitive science. Steven Mithen's recent book, The prehistory of mind (London: Thames & Hudson, 1996), presents an archeologist's attempt to explain the details of cognitive development within the framework of modern anthropology and cognitive psychology. We argue that Mithen's attempt fails for a number of different reasons. The relationship between the archeological evidence he considers and his conclusions is problematic. We maintain that it is difficult to draw biological conclusions from strictly behavioral artifactual evidence. To buttress his claims, Mithen borrows heavily from the very cognitive science literature to which he hopes to contribute. As a consequence, his analysis of the archeological evidence cannot promote a particular cognitive theory, since his interpretation is only as strong as those theories from which he borrows. We are also concerned that the specific details of Mithen's program are equally problematic. Mithen's claim that modular intelligences did not exist outside of hominid evolution is likely false and unwarranted. As a consequence, we argue that the central component of his claim that the uniquely human feature of our development, the move from modular to fluid minds, depends on poorly defined distinctions between a wide range of mental processes. Whether we can accept Mithen's characterization of these claims will depend, we argue, on how he chooses to clarify these terms. We suggest that the various choices will be difficult to reconcile with his theory. Moreover, we suggest that the phenomena that Mithen hopes to explain in human development cannot be explained strictly in terms of analogical reasoning. We nevertheless find Mithen's attempt at answering these questions to be both a constructive and fascinating foray into what is an under-explored topic.
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1080/09515080220127127125
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 63,285
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Greek Zombies.Jan Sleutels - 2006 - Philosophical Psychology 19 (2):177-197.
After the Ice: A Global History. 20,000-5000 BC.John Sarnecki - 2007 - Journal of Cognition and Culture 7 (1-2):143-148.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles


Added to PP index

Total views
40 ( #268,187 of 2,448,636 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
1 ( #449,192 of 2,448,636 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes