To send content items to your account,
please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies.
If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account.
Find out more about sending content to .
To send content items to your Kindle, first ensure email@example.com
is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings
on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part
of your Kindle email address below.
Find out more about sending to your Kindle.
Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations.
‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi.
‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.
In this book, Michael Arbib presents a most interesting and comprehensive account of the evolution of language. The work is both impressive and convincing in its description of how the language-ready brain evolved and how languages emerged through cultural evolution. As we are in broad agreement with Arbib's evolutionary story at the neurocognitive level, we focus on an underdeveloped part of his argument: when did language evolve in the human lineage? How does Arbib's neurocognitive argument connect with what archeology teaches us about human evolution?
ABSTRACT : Many philosophers and psychologists think that moral norms have a different nature as rules from convention: while we are obliged to respect moral norms because of what they are in themselves, our respect for conventions depends on our attitude toward a particular social context. I question this distinction between moral norms and conventions and argue that conventions depend on social context because the context structures the agents’ expectations, sets reference points for the assessment of gains and losses, and helps the observer to infer the presence and the seriousness of harms.
hierarchies and inequalities are not unique to state societies, but there is little doubt that the rise of the state introduced a radical change in the realm of human politics. For the first time in human history, political systems brought millions of individuals under one rule, creating unknown opportunities for collective action as well as exploitation. This chapter aims to explain this phenomenon from a viewpoint that may look unfamiliar to students of the state and of its origin. I am not seeking to legitimize the existence of the state, as contract theorists have traditionally done, by identifying the reasons that people would have to accept its rule. Nor am I looking for an explanation of specific transitions to statehood, as historians, anthropologists, and archaeologists do with great competence.
Instead, as in the previous chapter, my goal is to explain how the recurrence and stability of certain institutional outcomes can be explained by the cognitive and motivational mechanisms underlying human cooperation. It is the recurrence and stability of certain types of outcomes that I seek to explain, not the emergence of specific outcomes, such as the construction of the state in China or in Mesoamerica. The underlying epistemological assumption is simple. Some explanatory factors might be essential to account for regularities at the population level, but these same factors might be only loosely relevant in accounting for particular cases.
no field in the science of human beings is more condemned to deal with scarcity than human evolution. Reconstructing the morphology, cognitive abilities, and behavior of entire populations over hundreds of thousands of years is certainly ambitious, but doing so on the basis of lithic industries and fragmentary fossils from a few hundred individuals may seem hopeless. I hope that my discussion of the evolution of cooperative behavior in the previous chapter has illustrated that, despite the fragmentary nature of the data, it is still possible to constrain hypotheses in useful ways.
In this chapter, my focus is on the later steps in human evolution; that is, on the evolution of properly modern Homo sapiens. Most of it is devoted to the discussion of human evolution in general and not to hierarchies strictly speaking. Yet this more general discussion is necessary for my overall goal. Modern Homo sapiens is the first and only primate ever to have created large-scale hierarchical societies. It is also probably the first and only hominin to have built large tribal networks and to have made use of symbolic artifacts to indicate individuals' places within these networks. In the next two chapters, I will contend that it is through the construction of such institutions that inequality and hierarchies came back in the human lineage. However, they came back, I will argue, in a form that has little in common with primate-like dominance hierarchies.
In this book, Benoît Dubreuil explores the creation and destruction of hierarchies in human evolution. Combining the methods of archaeology, anthropology, cognitive neuroscience and primatology, he offers a natural history of hierarchies from the point of view of both cultural and biological evolution. This volume explains why dominance hierarchies typical of primate societies disappeared in the human lineage and why the emergence of large-scale societies during the Neolithic period implied increased social differentiation, the creation of status hierarchies, and, eventually, political centralisation.
human capacities for norm following and sanctioning depend not on a single but on a plurality of cognitive and motivational mechanisms. As I see it, a natural history of hierarchies explains how hierarchical or egalitarian social outcomes relate to the biological evolution of these mechanisms. In this chapter and the following, I argue that social norms and sanctions as we know them in modern Homo sapiens result from a few significant cognitive changes in the human lineage and that these changes led to the elimination of dominance hierarchies as they exist in nonhuman primates.
To make my point, I first need to explain what dominance hierarchies are (2.1) and how their existence must be understood within the context of nonhuman primates' social cognition (2.2) and affiliative behavior (2.3). I then describe the mechanism of joint attention, which is specific to humans, and explain how it gives rise to the normative expectations discussed in the previous chapter (2.4). This comparative discussion is not meant to suggest that nonhuman primates can be taken as a portrait of our last common ancestors with them. My point is simply that a trait shared by two related species – biologists qualify such traits as “homologous” – has a high probability of having been present in their last common ancestors. In the last two sections, I delve into the archaeological data to identify major behavioral changes since our last common ancestor with chimpanzees and other apes (2.5).
since the early 1990s, the modern state has received considerable attention from political theorists and social scientists. In a context in which discourses on globalization were gaining influence, highlighting the fact that the state was socially constructed, that itwas in some way the outcome of recent historical developments in theWestern world, became a fashionable project in academic circles (Biersteker and Weber 1996; Held 1989, 1995; Walker 1993). Yet simply saying that an institution is socially constructed does not say much about why it exists or about its future prospects. Every institution is socially constructed, in the sense that it depends on the presence of shared expectations about what has to be done.
As I understand it, the naturalist's contribution to the social sciences is neither to deny that institutions are created through somehow contingent historical processes nor to minimize the astounding diversity of present and past social arrangements, but to explain why regularities still exist in human affairs. Institutions are anchored in expectations, which in turn are always defined contextually, and this suffices to explain why human cultural productions are always unique.
for hundreds of thousands of years, our ancestors lived in relatively egalitarian foraging bands. Then, a few thousand years ago, they began to form increasingly larger-scale societies in which social hierarchies played a central role. Early chiefdoms, kingdoms, and city-states placed relationships of dependence and subordination at the center of social life. With the construction of the modern state and its expansion around the world, humanity has departed from social arrangements rooted in our deepest past, perhaps for good. What made this departure possible? Large-scale hierarchical societies are neither natural entities nor the outcome of our ancestors' deliberate planning. As philosopher Adam Ferguson (1819: 222) would have said, they are “the result of human action, but not the execution of any human design.” How can we explain their astonishing resilience and capacity to spread to new cultures?
Questions like these can be answered in different ways. One way of looking at the problem is from a functionalist viewpoint. What are hierarchies for? What is their use? This is certainly the approach favored by modern social contract theorists such as Hobbes, Locke, and Spinoza to account for the existence of the state. The state enables humans to overcome the situation of insecurity that pervades the state of nature. It facilitates collective action by bringing people under one rule. There is something true in this view, but pointing out the function of an institution does not properly explain its origin.
the claim that humans have a passion for equality may raise an eyebrow among some readers. Indeed, inequality not only pervades our own postindustrial civilization but also seems to have been part and parcel of all previous societies, as expressed in feudalism, slavery, gender inequality, and the like. However, to say that we have a passion for equality is not to say that it is our only passion. The human mind is complex, and many competing motives struggle to determine our behavior. Moreover, calls for equality can be based on motives (envy, spite, malevolence) that have little to do with equality as such.
The natural history that I propose is one in which the passion for equality has force in the human lineage, but remains in competition with other motives to produce societies as diverse as small foraging bands and continental empires. In the following chapters, I argue that egalitarian social arrangements in Homo sapiens and extinct human species should not be explained as the direct outcome of a passion for equality, but rather in the broader context of the evolution of the motivational and cognitive mechanisms underlying norm following and sanctioning. In the proper circumstances, these very mechanisms are also likely to permit the evolution of hierarchical and inegalitarian arrangements. Before I get into the phylogenetic and historical debate on the origins of hierarchies, however, I want to discuss Homo sapiens as we know it today.
i first imagined writing this book when i enrolled as a graduate student in political philosophy. I was fascinated by the state as a form of political organization and was determined to dedicate my dissertation to it. The most fashionable stance in the literature at that time – in both political science and political philosophy – was to emphasize the contingent nature of the institution that interested me so much. The state, especially the modern state, was presented as the outcome of a particular history; namely, that of Western civilization during the last five centuries. The world to come, here went the influential tenet, would be one in which the state as we know it would vanish and make way for new forms of “global governance.” In this new era of post-sovereignty, the old Westphalian concepts familiar to us moderns would become unrecognizable.
When I began writing this book, my primary intention was to defend a different view. I wished not to deny that the modern state was in some unquestionable way the contingent outcome of a historical process, but instead, to explore if in another sensible way, it could also result from some robust causes, inseparable from what we are as human beings. Modern political philosophers aspired to understand how the state – or civil society – was taking the human out of the state of nature. In contrast, my objective was to show how the state itself was a part of nature – of our nature.
one thing that an informed discussion of human psychology and social life should avoid is drawing a sharp distinction between nature and nurture, between the realm of innate behaviors and that of socially constructed ones. It is wise to conceive human social behavior, just like that of any other social species, as taking place within a space that is constrained both by social cognition and social interaction, and not as alternately determined by one or the other. The transformation of social cognition described in Chapters 2 and 3 has significantly changed the space of human social behavior. This is not to say that nonhuman primates and other animals have no “culture.” Ethological research over the years has documented sufficient cultural variation among numerous species, such that talking about animal culture is no longer taboo. Yet the specific cognitive mechanisms that I have discussed bring us closer to uniquely human culture, at least as it is understood in mainstream social science. The ability to follow and enforce social norms, for instance, is at the center of most definitions of culture, as are our complex abilities for perspective taking and material symbolization discussed in Chapter 3.
The standard view in social science is that, once these cognitive abilities are in place, the gamut of possible variations in human behavior expands indefinitely. The evolution of human culture, it is said, becomes unpredictable. I think this idea is mostly correct. Even the most enthusiastic supporters of animal cultures do not deny humans' spectacular distinctiveness.