Culture From Infrahumans to Humans: Essays in the Philosophy of Biology

by Ramsey, Grant Aaron

Abstract (Summary)
It has become increasingly common to explain the behavior of animals—from

sperm whales to songbirds—in terms of culture. But what is animal culture, what is its

relationship to other biological concepts and to human culture, and what impact does

culture have on a species’ evolution and ecology? My dissertation is an attempt to

answer these questions. After an introductory chapter, the dissertation begins (Chapter

2) with a proposal for a novel concept of culture and a critique of the existing ways in

which culture has been characterized. These characterizations include views from

cultural anthropology as well as attempts to apply the concept of culture to animals.

The existing concepts are problematic in a number of ways, such as a priori excluding

infrahumans from being candidates for possessing culture, or mistaking what culture is

for its measure. In this chapter I offer a way to understand culture that avoids these and

other problems. With a concept of culture in hand, the next chapter of my dissertation

(Chapter 3) examines and criticizes one key way of understanding the concept of

culture, meme theory. In Chapter 4 I turn to the question of how cultural systems can

arise in nature, how they can be adaptive, and how the evolution and ecology of species

is impacted by the possession of a cultural system. In order to answer these questions I

introduce a general constraint on cultural systems—what I am calling the Fundamental

Constraint—that has to be satisfied in order for cultural systems to be adaptive. In the

final chapter I develop a concept of innovation and draw out the conceptual and

empirical implications of this concept.

Bibliographical Information:

Advisor:Brandon, Robert; Rosenberg, Alex; Guzeldere, Guven; McShea, Daniel W.

School:Duke University

School Location:USA - North Carolina

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:culture innovation constraint meme learning evolution


Date of Publication:05/07/2007

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