Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 23, Issue 2, pp 243–255 | Cite as

Foresight in cultural evolution

  • Alex MesoudiEmail author


Critics of Darwinian cultural evolution frequently assert that whereas biological evolution is blind and undirected, cultural change is directed or guided by people who possess foresight, thereby invalidating any Darwinian analysis of culture. Here I show this argument to be erroneous and unsupported in several respects. First, critics commonly conflate human foresight with supernatural clairvoyance, resulting in the premature rejection of Darwinian cultural evolution on false logical grounds. Second, the presence of foresight is perfectly consistent with Darwinian evolution, and is found in biology, in the form of open, teleonomic processes such as genetically-biased behavioural learning. Finally, empirical evidence from the social sciences suggests that cultural change appears far less guided and directed, and human foresight far less accurate, than is commonly assumed.


Cultural evolution Foresight Human culture Mental time travel Niche construction Planning Teleology Teleonomy 



I wish to thank Kim Sterelny and an anonymous reviewer for several insightful comments and suggestions.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Social and Developmental PsychologyUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK

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