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Cultural evolutionary theory as a theory of forces

Baravalle, Lorenzo (2019) Cultural evolutionary theory as a theory of forces. [Preprint]

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Abstract

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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Item Type: Preprint
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Baravalle, Lorenzo0000-0001-6299-6403
Keywords: Cultural Evolutionary Theory; Cultural Change; Kinetic Theory; Population Thinking; Evolutionary Forces; Dynamical Theory.
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology > Evolutionary Theory
Specific Sciences > Cultural Evolution
General Issues > Explanation
General Issues > Structure of Theories
Depositing User: Dr. Lorenzo Baravalle
Date Deposited: 13 May 2019 17:15
Last Modified: 13 May 2019 17:15
Item ID: 15993
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology > Evolutionary Theory
Specific Sciences > Cultural Evolution
General Issues > Explanation
General Issues > Structure of Theories
Date: May 2019
URI: https://philsci-archive-dev.library.pitt.edu/id/eprint/15993

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