Philosophical Topics on Cultural Evolution

Spring semester 2021 | Master in philosophy of Science (WP), Master in Political, Legal, and Economic Philosophy (PP) | Seminar | 469527 | EN | 7 ECTS | Montag 14:15-16:00

Over the past four decades, researchers have developed theoretical models, both qualitative and quantitative, to facilitate our understanding of the complex patterns of transmission and evolution of cultural traits. Despite the differences between cultural and genetic transmission, many of the models of cultural evolution borrow elements from the theory of population genetics. Furthermore, cultural and biological evolution can interact with one another and influence both transmission, development, and selection. This interaction requires integrating insights from niche construction theory and gene-culture coevolutionary approaches that help us to understand their reciprocal influence. In this seminar, we review the core concepts in cultural evolutionary theory, focusing on its philosophical implications. We will discuss the relationship between cultural and biological evolution, the dynamic of cultural transmission, the cumulative nature of human culture, its pattern of diversification and increasing complexity, the existence of culture in nonhuman species, among other topics. In the final part of the seminar, we will have the opportunity to revise these topics in light of recent evolutionary models of human social organization, morality, and religion.

Work required for credits:
1. First paper: Each student will take care of presenting at least one of the assigned weekly readings. A short paper should be submitted on the day of the presentation. Length: 4000 words max. Weight: 40%.
2. Final paper: Each student will have the opportunity to improve on his previous paper or write a paper from scratch based on one of the topics discussed through the seminar. Length: 6000 words max. Weight: 50%.
3. Discussion: If the student is taking the class for credit, she is expected to participate in discussion along with all writing assignments. Weight: 10%.

Syllabus | Course catalog | Timetable | External resources

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