Quarterly Review of Biology 93 (4):297–318 (2018)

According to cultural evolutionary theory in the tradition of Boyd and Richerson, cultural evolution is driven by individuals' learning biases, natural selection, and random forces. Learning biases lead people to preferentially acquire cultural variants with certain contents or in certain contexts. Natural selection favors individuals or groups with fitness-promoting variants. Durham (1991) argued that Boyd and Richerson's approach is based on a "radical individualism" that fails to recognize that cultural variants are often "imposed" on people regardless of their individual decisions. Fracchia and Lewontin (2005) raised a similar challenge, suggesting that the success of a variant is often determined by the degree of power backing it. With power, a ruler can impose beliefs or practices on a whole population by diktat, rendering all of the forces represented in cultural evolutionary models irrelevant. It is argued here, based on work by Boehm (1999, 2012), that, from at least the time of the early Middle Paleolithic, human bands were controlled by powerful coalitions of the majority that deliberately guided the development of moral norms to promote the common good. Cultural evolutionary models of the evolution of morality have been based on false premises. However, Durham (1991) and Fracchia and Lewontin's (2005) challenge does not undermine cultural evolutionary modeling in nonmoral domains.
Keywords cultural evolution  gene-culture coevolution  power  prosocial norms  evolution of morality
Categories (categorize this paper)
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Translate to english
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

 PhilArchive page | Other versions
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

Cultural Evolution: Conceptual Challenges.Tim Lewens - 2015 - Oxford University Press UK.
Power: A Radical View.Steven Lukes & Jack H. Nagel - 1976 - Political Theory 4 (2):246-249.

View all 15 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Towards a Unified Science of Cultural Evolution.Alex Mesoudi, Andrew Whiten & Kevin N. Laland - 2006 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 29 (4):329-347.
Culture and Evolutionary Explanations.Jean Lachapelle - 1999 - Dissertation, University of Guelph (Canada)
Cultural Evolution and the Variable Phenotype.William Harms - 1996 - Biology and Philosophy 11 (3):357-375.


Added to PP index

Total views
344 ( #30,013 of 2,507,566 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
30 ( #29,971 of 2,507,566 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes