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

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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.






Ramsey, Grant Aaron (2007). Culture From Infrahumans to Humans: Essays in the Philosophy of Biology. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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