History and Philosophy Of Science | Scientific Concepts of Culture
X755 | 28442 | Colin Allen

HPSC 755 / HPSC 320
8 wk course beginning Oct 25
MW 12:20-2:00
Title: Scientific Concepts of Culture
Instructor: Colin Allen

What is culture?  Can it be studied scientifically? Is it a uniquely
human phenomenon, or do other animals possess culture? These and
related questions interest a wide range of scientists, including
behavioral biologists, anthropologists, and sociologists, who have
tried to bring culture into the scientific fold by applying ideas
from evolutionary theory in various different ways. Such attempts by
scientists to "naturalize" culture are often derided by scholars in
the humanities as being excessively "reductionist" and overly
deterministic, and as trivializing the richness and diversity of
human cultures.

In this course, we will survey the different approaches that have
been taken towards culture, including those that would treat culture
itself as an evolved trait and those that treat the transmission of
ideas or "memes" (memetics) as a formal analog to the transmission
of "genes"
(genetics).  We will also consider different ways of defining
culture, and as philosophers of science, we will step back and ask
about the role of definitions in scientific research.  Our
investigation of different ways of applying evolutionary ideas,
including ways of accommodating the the study of cultural phenomena
at different levels of detail, will also lead us to deeper
understanding of the nature of evolutionary explanation, allowing us
to address the question of whether there might be anything like
scientific laws of culture.
Getting clearer on what might be meant by reductionism and
determinism in this context will put us in a position to assess the
debates about culture that are internal to science and to assess the
merits of the worries raised by humanists from outside science.