Cultural Blankets: Epistemological Pluralism in the Evolutionary Epistemology of Mechanisms

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In a recently published paper, we argued that theories of cultural evolution can gain explanatory power by being more pluralistic. In his reply to it, Dennett agreed that more pluralism is needed. Our paper’s main point was to urge cultural evolutionists to get their hands dirty by describing the fine details of cultural products and by striving to offer detailed and, when explanatory, varied algorithms or mechanisms to account for them. While Dennett’s latest work on cultural evolution does marvelously well on the first point, it has only whet our appetite on the second. Accordingly, the present paper aims to show what an evolutionary explanation of culture that takes the variety of cultural evolution mechanisms seriously would look like. We will focus on the cultural evolution of social epistemic mechanisms (i.e. social mechanisms that aim to deliver epistemically valued judgements) and we will propose that Darwinian algorithms should be complemented with a cultural analogue of the error reduction mechanism proposed to account for human cognition, with a particular emphasis on the necessity to build independencies (known as “Markov blankets”) between different sub-systems in charge of tracking states of the world. To illustrate our point, we will present how the evolution of the legal system as epistemic systems can be understood as a process of building increasingly better independencies and how various criticisms of the actual legal system calls for building even more of them.

This content has been updated on 2 February 2021 at 10 h 33 min.