Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 22, Issue 3, pp 401–414 | Cite as

The Fundamental Constraint on the evolution of culture

  • Grant Ramsey


This paper argues that there is a general constraint on the evolution of culture. This constraint – what I am calling the Fundamental Constraint – must be satisfied in order for a cultural system to be adaptive. The Fundamental Constraint is this: for culture to be adaptive there must be a positive correlation between the fitness of cultural variants and their fitness impact on the organisms adopting those variants. Two ways of satisfying the Fundamental Constraint are introduced, structural solutions and evaluative solutions. Because of the limitations on these solutions, this constraint helps explain why there is not more culture in nature, why the culture that does exist has the form it has, and why complex, cumulative culture is restricted to the human species.


Culture Constraint Evolution Imitation Innovation Social learning 


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I thank Robert Brandon and Alex Rosenberg for reading and commenting on multiple drafts of this paper. I also thank Natalie Gold, David Kaplan Steve Nowicki, Kim Sterelny, Peter Richerson, and an anonymous reviewer for their helpful comments and suggestions. A previous version of this paper was presented at the 2005 meeting of the International Society for the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyDuke UniversityDurhamUSA

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