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Interface Focus. 2017 Oct 6;7(5):20170018. doi: 10.1098/rsfs.2017.0018. Epub 2017 Aug 18.

Human nature, human culture: the case of cultural evolution.

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University of Cambridge, Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Free School Lane, Cambridge CB2 3RH, UK.


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. The very same sceptical arguments have also led some thinkers-usually from social anthropology-to dismiss the intimately 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, whose proponents seem to deny the distinction between human nature and human culture, while simultaneously relying on a closely allied distinction between 'genetic' (or sometimes 'organic') evolution and 'cultural' evolution? This paper defends the cultural evolutionary project against the charge that, in refusing to endorse the concept of human nature, it has inadvertently sabotaged itself.


cultural evolution; human nature; niche construction; social learning

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