Darwinizing culture: the status of cultural evolutionary theory as a science


The last couple of decades has witnessed a surge of attempts to Darwinize the cultural sciences. By applying biological theories and tools to cultural phenomena (e.g., cultural diversity, cultural revolutions), cultural evolutionists purport to make the study of culture a more progressive and more rigorous enterprise. Although their work has caught on so rapidly, and although it has faced several in principle objections, it hasn't yet been subjected to thorough methodological criticism. In that light, exploiting the tools provided by the philosophy of science, the current programme aims to answer the following question: To what extent can we justify trust in methods devised for understanding biological phenomena, if these are applied to the realm of culture?
The programme is truly timely, since cultural evolutionary theory currently attracts an enormous amount of attention, both in terms of exposure and funding. Moreover, critical analysis of cultural evolutionary models and methods enables resolving several outstanding issues in the philosophy of science (related, e.g., to modelling and historical explanation). Finally, the programme sheds new light on work in evolutionary economics and innovation studies, and makes its outcomes relevant for non-academic audiences.
Methodologically, the programme is innovative in being non-partisan, since proceeding by way of internal critique, and in working bottom-up. In particular, it takes full advantage of a by philosophers much-discussed but underutilized tool, namely robustness analysis. That is, robustness analyses are performed to assess the extent to which the purported successes of cultural evolutionary theory are attributable to rather than independent from the simplifying assumptions it makes. The outcomes of these analyses thus offer an excellent basis for judging the amount of trust to be placed in this Darwinian inquiry of culture.


Wetenschappelijk artikel


  • K Vaesen(2015): No strength in numbers after all
  • A Acerbi(2015): If we are all cultural darwinians what is the fuss about? Attraction Versus Selection in Cultural Evolution
  • K Vaesen(2015): Stop het chimpocentrism
  • K Vaesen, M Collard(2015): Demography, risk and the explanation of major transitions in cultural evolution during the Pleistocene
  • A Acerbi(2016): Review of Tim Lewens, Cultural Evolution: Conceptual Challenges
  • K Vaesen(2016): De culturele revolutie: hoe kon de mens opeens speren maken?
  • K Vaesen(2017): Onderzoeksbudget voor alle onderzoekers? Dat kán
  • K Vaesen(2017): Ruige neanderthaler verdween door homeopathische verdunning
  • A Acerbi(2017): Birth of the cool. Cultural dynamics of emotion words in fiction and song lyrics
  • K Vaesen(2017): De ondergang van de Neanderthalers
  • K Vaesen(2017): Geef alle wetenschappers basisbeurs
  • K Vaesen(2017): Basisbudget voor onderzoekers is werkbaar
  • K Vaesen(2017): Bom onder financieringsstelsel onderzoeken
  • J Katzav, K Vaesen(2017): A partly externalist account of the course of 20th-Century Anglo-American philosophy
  • J Katzav, K Vaesen(2017): Ideological biases and their effects on the course of 20th-Century Anglo-American philosophy
  • K Vaesen(2017): Deze filosoof pleit voor een basisinkomen voor onderzoekers
  • A Acerbi(2017): Can cultural attraction get from theory to predictions?
  • K Vaesen(2018): Just a single early grant success can change the course of a scientist's career
  • K Vaesen(2018): De mens als hoogtepunt van de schepping? Achterhaald idee (





Dr. K. Vaesen

Verbonden aan

Technische Universiteit Eindhoven, Faculteit Industrial Engineering & Innovation Sciences, Philosophy & Ethics (Phil&Ethics)


A. Acerbi, E. Boon, Dr. K. Vaesen


15/12/2014 tot 15/12/2019