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Monday, October 17, 2016

Extending evolutionary theory? - Tim Lewens

I will be attending the Royal Society Meeting on New trends in evolutionary biology: biological, philosophical and social science perspectives. I'll post each of the abstracts and ask for your help in deciding what question to pose to the speakers. Here's the abstract for Tim Lewens' talk on Human nature, human culture: the case of cultural evolution.

In recent years, far from arguing that evolutionary approaches to our own species permit us to describe the fundamental character of human nature, a prominent group of cultural evolutionary theorists has instead argued that the very idea of 'human nature' is one we should reject. It makes no sense, they argue, to speak of human nature in opposition to human culture. But the very same sceptical arguments have also led some thinkers – usually from social anthropology – to dismiss the related idea that we can talk of human culture in opposition to human nature.

How, then, are we supposed to understand the cultural evolutionary project itself, which seems to rely on a closely allied distinction between 'organic' and 'cultural' evolution? This talk defends the cultural evolutionary project against the charge that, in refusing to endorse the concept of human nature, it has inadvertently sabotaged itself.
Tim Lewens is a professor in the Department of the History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge (UK). I'm not the least bit interested in cultural evolution (i.e. history) and I'm certainly not interested in quibbling about the meaning of "human nature." I hope there's a good pub nearby 'cause I'm going to skip this talk.

1 comment :

  1. "A knowledge of philosophy does not seem to be of use to physicists… After a few years’ infatuation with philosophy as an undergraduate I became disenchanted. The insights of the philosophers I studied seemed murky and inconsequential compared with the dazzling successes of physics and mathematics. From time to time since then I have tried to read current work on the philosophy of science. Some of it I found to be written in a jargon so impenetrable that I can only think that it aimed at impressing those who confound obscurity with profundity. Some of it was good reading and even witty, like the writings of Wittgenstein and Paul Feyerabend. But only rarely did it seem to me to have anything to do with the work of science as I knew it… I do not aim here to play the role of a philosopher, but rather that of a specimen, an unregenerate working scientist who finds no help in professional philosophy."--Steven Weinberg