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Evolutionary theory and social science

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-R043-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 21, 2024, from

Article Summary

Ideas from evolutionary theory impinge on the social sciences in two ways. First, there is the research programme of sociobiology, which attempts to demonstrate the impact of biological evolution on important features of human mind and culture. Second, there is the idea that biological evolution provides a suggestive analogy for the processes that drive cultural change. Both research programmes have tended to focus on the idea of natural selection, even though the theory of biological evolution considers processes besides selection. Sociobiology attempts to show that the following conditional helps explain psychological traits just as it applies to traits of morphology and physiology: if a trait varies in a population, makes a difference for the survival and reproduction of individuals, and is influenced by genetic factors, then natural selection will lead the trait to change its frequency in the population. Models of cultural evolution are built on an analogous conditional: if a set of alternative ideas are found in a culture, and people tend to find some of these ideas more attractive than others, then the mix of ideas in the culture will change. Sociobiology and the understanding of cultural change as an evolutionary process are approaches that have a history and both will continue to be explored in the future. Each is a flexible instrument, which may be better suited to some tasks than to others, and may be handled well by some practitioners and poorly by others. As a consequence, neither can be said to be ‘verified’ and ‘falsified’ by their track records to date.

Citing this article:
Sober, Elliott. Evolutionary theory and social science, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-R043-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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