, Volume 3, Issue 3, pp 147-161

Individuals and the evolution of biological and cultural systems

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Recently, it has been suggested that anthropologists could more effectively build scientific theories of cultural evolution by reference to biology rather than social science. In this way, the evolution of cultures might be more usefully viewed as an anolog to the evolution of species. In systematic biology, however, the nature of species continues to be the subject of a long-standing duality of thought. This duality is analogous to the longstanding conflict in anthropology over the nature of culture. We argue, by analogy to Michael Ghiselin’s work on species, that a culture is an individual, not a class, and that cultures, like other individual entities, evolve. This view is highly concordant with concepts of culture formulated in earlier decades of this century. It has also been the philosophical orientation of American archaeology for approximately the last 25 years. We conclude that both biology and anthropology have an equal potential of contributing to a general evolutionary theory.