16 May 2011 12:45pm - 2:00pm CRASSH


Part of the CRASSH Fellows Work-in-Progress seminar series.  All welcome, no registration necessary.  Sandwich lunch and refreshments provided.

   Dr Tim Lewens (History and Philosophy of Science, Clare)
   Crausaz Wordsworth Interdisciplinary Fellowship in Philosophy
   The Kinetic Theory of Culture
   Email: tml1000@cam.ac.uk

Evolutionary theorists of culture sometimes say that the key conceptual innovation of their field lies in what they call ‘population thinking’. This makes the study of culture analogous to the study of gases: in both cases, we explain the behaviour of an aggregate by reference to the combined statistical effects of the particles contained within it. Here I examine three objections to what we might call the ‘kinetic theory of culture’: the first is that it tells us nothing new, the second is that it is committed to a philosophically indefensible view about meaning, the third is that it fails to account for the phenomena of power. Only the last objection carries weight.

The aim of my project is to diagnose the deep philosophical disputes about the nature of investigation and explanation that underlie these debates, and to work towards an evolutionary framework that takes the concerns of social and cultural anthropology seriously as part of a broader project addressing philosophical questions about human nature. Elements of this project are already well under way, but an interdisciplinary perspective gained at CRASSH, drawing on biological anthropology, social anthropology and philosophy, will be key.

About Tim Lewens


Dr Tim Lewens is a Senior Lecturer in the History and Philosophy of Science at Cambridge University, and a Fellow of Clare College. He is a member of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, and the author of various books and academic articles including Darwin (Routledge 2007), a philosophical study of Darwin and Darwinism. He has written and lectured extensively on evolution. He has been a Governor of Exeter School (nominated by the University of Cambridge) since 2007. In 2008, Lewens was one of eleven recipients of the University of Cambridge's Pilkington Prize for the quality of his teaching. 



For administrative enquiries and a link to the readings please contact Michelle Maciejewska. 

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