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Ecological factors of attraction and causal explanation in cultural attractor theory

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Cultural Attractor Theory (CAT) employs what they call ‘factors of attraction’ to explain the distribution and form of cultural variants. CAT theorists differentiate ecological from psychological factors of attraction, yet vary in their commitment as to whether psychological factors of attraction should occupy a privileged explanatory role. Here I argue that CAT should, in fact, privilege the psychological. CAT explanations appeal to a distinctive causal-explanatory relationship called biasing. This characterises the fine-grained way in which factors of attraction influence the acquisition and expression of cultural variants. After identifying and clarifying biasing, I argue that psychological factors of attraction enter into such relationships. By contrast, ecological factors of attraction do not. While these latter factors are not causally irrelevant to explaining the distribution and form of cultural variants, they exert coarse-grained ‘switch-like’ effects—constraining the evolvability of culture.

This talk is part of the CamPoS (Cambridge Philosophy of Science) seminar series.

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