Tim Lewens aims to understand what it means to take an evolutionary approach to cultural change, and why it is that this approach is often treated with suspicion. Convinced of the exceptional power of natural selection, many thinkers – typically working in biological anthropology, cognitive psychology, and evolutionary biology – have suggested it should be freed from the confines of biology, and applied to cultural change in humans and other animals. At the same time, others – typically with backgrounds in disciplines like social anthropology and history – have been just as vocal in dismissing the evolutionary approach to culture.
What drives these disputes over Darwinism in the social sciences? While making a case for the value of evolutionary thinking for students of culture, Lewens shows why the concerns of sceptics should not dismissed as mere prejudice, confusion, or ignorance. Indeed, confusions about what evolutionary approaches entail are propagated by their proponents, as well as by their detractors. By taking seriously the problems faced by these approaches to culture, Lewens shows how such approaches can be better formulated, where their most significant limitations lie, and how the tools of cultural evolutionary thinking might become more widely accepted.
"Cambridge philosopher Tim Lewens's spritely little book, Cultural Evolution, is a splendid introduction to the topic, looking in careful detail at much of the discussion today. One merit of philosophy is that done properly it does lay out the issues and point to the proposed options leading the way forward. Cultural Evolution does all of this and more and hence is much to be welcomed."
– Quarterly Review of Biology
Introduction: Darwinism in Dispute
1. What is Cultural Evolutionary Theory?
2. The Kinetic Theory of Culture
3. 'Culture is Information'
4. Human Nature in Theory
5. Human Nature in Practice
6. The Perils of Cultural Models
7. Populations, People, and Power
8. Cultural Adaptationism
9. Eclectic Evolution: The Case of the Emotions
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Tim Lewens is Professor of Philosophy of Science in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge. He is also a fellow of Clare College and Deputy Director of Cambridge's Centre for Research in Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH). His research interests include the philosophy of biology, biomedical ethics, and general philosophy of science. His publications include Darwin, a philosophical introduction to Darwin and Darwinism, Biological Foundations of Bioethics (2015) and The Meaning of Science (Penguin, 2015).