The Institution as an Explanatory Mechanism in Cultural Evolution: A Review of Three Theories

In: Journal of Cognition and Culture
Ryan Nichols Professor, Department of Philosophy, California State University, Fullerton Fullerton, CA USA
Center for the Study of Human Nature, California State University, Fullerton Fullerton, CA USA

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The purpose of this paper is to stimulate productive research on institutions from within cultural evolutionary science and, especially, philosophy of science. It aims to achieve this goal by distinguishing between three types of question a theory of institutions ought to answer; by comparing and analyzing three theories of institutions; and by raising, for each theory, potential challenges and questions. Theories analyzed include a cognitive psychological theory, an ecological theory, and self-interested enforcement theory. Common features of the theories are identified where possible. Emphasis is placed on stating constructive criticisms and research questions. The paper concludes with comments about the uncertain ontology of institutions and about consequences of building cultural evolutionary theories of institutions on formal models of institutions.

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