The complexities of cultural evolution

Footnotes to Plato

cultural evolutionCultural evolution is a buzzword that gets thrown around a lot, even though, unfortunately, we still struggle to come up with a coherent — and testable — theory of how culture evolves. These days the word “evolution” is used in direct analogy with biological evolution, and particularly Darwinian processes, but it is far from clear if, and to what extent, cultural evolution is really analogous to its biological counterpart.

In a recent essay at The Philosophers’ Magazine Online I take on this topic by way of analyzing a carefully written paper by Alberto Acerbi and Alex Mesoudi, published in Biology and Philosophy, which attempts to clear the air from a lot of confusion in the field of Darwinian cultural evolution.

Acerbi and Mesoudi make clear what the problem is: “Cultural evolution studies are characterized by the notion that culture evolves according to broadly Darwinian principles. Yet how far the analogy between cultural and…

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