A Paleolithic Reciprocation Crisis: Symbols, Signals, and Norms

Biological Theory 9 (1):65-77 (2014)


Within paleoanthropology, the origin of behavioral modernity is a famous problem. Very large-brained hominins have lived for around half a million years, yet social lives resembling those known from the ethnographic record appeared perhaps 100,000 years ago. Why did it take 400,000 years for humans to start acting like humans? In this article, I argue that part of the solution is a transition in the economic foundations of cooperation from a relatively undemanding form, to one that imposed much more stress on human motivational and cognitive mechanisms. The rich normative, ceremonial, and ideological lives of humans are a response to this economic revolution in forager lives; from one depending on immediate return mutualism to one depending on delayed and third-party reciprocation.

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Kim Sterelny
Australian National University

Citations of this work

Toolmaking and the Evolution of Normative Cognition.Jonathan Birch - 2021 - Biology and Philosophy 36 (1):1-26.
Evolution and Moral Realism.Kim Sterelny & Ben Fraser - 2016 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 68 (4):981-1006.
Cooperation, Culture, and Conflict.Kim Sterelny - 2016 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 67 (1):31-58.

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