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Darwin-L Message Log 1:116 (September 1993)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

Note: Additional publications on evolution and the historical sciences by the Darwin-L list owner are available on SSRN.


<1:116>From msimon7@ua1ix.ua.edu  Mon Sep 13 22:48:53 1993

Date: Mon, 13 Sep 1993 22:51:40 -0600 (CDT)
From: Morris Simon <msimon7@ua1ix.ua.edu>
Subject: Re: Evolution in linguistics?
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu

On Sun, 12 Sep 1993, John Wilkins wrote:
> Two issues concern me:
>
> 1. How much is cultural evolution REALLY affected by the so-called
> intentionality of social agents? Does this really introduce a lamarckian
> element (I think not)

The phrasing of your question suggests to me that you regard "cultural
evolution" as a "given" process. The monolithic view of social darwinism
is now a remote 'racial' memory, having been replaced by its very distant
decendants, "universal" and "multilinear" evolutionism. Both are oriented
toward the use of energy in food production, and both are mainly applicable
to cultural systems which no longer exist. In my view, there are certainly
no "Lamarckian" influences underlying more recent theories of cultural
evolution.

> 2. What are the close analogies and the disanalogies between cultural and
> biological evolution (Gould, eg, thinks that the term "evolution" ought to be
> restricted to biology -- I think because he thinks cultural change is a
> directed and staged process).

I share the thought you attribute to Gould. I seldom find theories of cultural
evolution to be very useful, either to explain well-documented cases of
culture change or to analyze ongoing change processes as they occur in
modern cultures. The "multilinear" model of Julian Steward, with its central
concept of "cultural ecology," is more interesting to me than the energy-based
constructs of the "universalists" after Leslie White, but neither of these
modern cultural evolution theories share essential analogies with biolgical
evolution to a degree which justifies labelling them as "evolutionary."

Of course, you will find many other anthropologists and archeologists who
disagree with my thoughts on the utility of cultural evolutionary models.
But this is perhaps enough to keep the thread alive . . . .

Morris Simon <msimon7@ua1ix.ua.edu>
Stillman College

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