Show simple item record

dc.contributor.authorChellappoo, Azitaen
dc.description.abstractThe aim of my thesis is to address key conceptual challenges within cultural selection, in order to provide a rigorous evaluation of its promise and scope. Cultural selection, a process analogous to natural selection which operates on cultural traits, has been proposed as an explanation for a wide range of phenomena. These include aspects of social institutions, technological change, and the widespread cooperative norms and behaviours that characterise human societies. There has been much work exploring the extent to which cultural systems can be said to be analogous to biological systems; however, I argue that cultural systems need not resemble biological systems in key respects in order for cultural selection to take place. Rather, the crucial question is not simply whether selection can apply to cultural systems in principle but what cultural selection can explain. In particular, cultural selection should bring meaningful explanatory benefits over and above those already offered by alternative frameworks, such as those from anthropology or history. I argue for skepticism regarding the explanatory power of cultural selection, through analysis of the ways in which cultural selection has been applied, the formal models and case studies used as evidence of cultural selection, and the social learning biases thought to underlie cultural selection processes. In order to show that cultural selection can still operate even if cultural systems differ significantly from biological systems, I argue that cumulative selection can take place in populations without reproduction. However, even if cultural selection could operate in principle, this does not mean it generates explanatory benefits. In chapter 2 I show that cultural selection has been applied in ways that offer no explanatory payoffs, through close examination of cultural selection in the field of sustainability science. I then focus on cultural group selection in chapter 3, thought to be the most convincing form of cultural selection, arguing for skepticism regarding its scope and plausibility. Explanatory deficits extend to the social learning biases that underpin cultural selection: in chapter 4 I argue for skepticism regarding the existence of one such social learning bias, prestige bias. Additionally, inductive risk considerations provide further motivation for clarifying the explanatory potential of cultural selection. In chapter 5 I argue that a kind of inductive risk is present when we consider the adoption and pursuit of cultural selection, and this should encourage careful analysis of the expected explanatory gains before applying cultural selection frameworks further.en
dc.description.sponsorshipArts and Humanities Research Council Studentshipen
dc.rightsAll rights reserveden
dc.rightsAll rights reserveden
dc.rightsAll rights reserveden
dc.subjectcultural evolutionen
dc.subjectphilosophy of biologyen
dc.subjectcultural selectionen
dc.subjectsocial learningen
dc.titleConceptual Challenges in Cultural Selectionen
dc.type.qualificationnameDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)en
dc.publisher.institutionUniversity of Cambridgeen
dc.publisher.departmentHistory and Philosophy of Scienceen
dc.publisher.collegeDepartment of History and Philosophy of Science
dc.type.qualificationtitlePhD in Philosophy of Scienceen
pubs.funder-project-idAHRC (1791870)
cam.supervisorLewens, Timothy

Files in this item


There are no files associated with this item.

This item appears in the following Collection(s)

Show simple item record