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Wired for Society: Cognizing Pathways to Society and Culture

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While cognitive scientists increase their tentative incursions in the social domains traditionally reserved for social scientists, most sociologists and anthropologists keep decrying those attempts as reductionist or, at least, irrelevant. In this paper, we argue that collaboration between social and cognitive sciences is necessary to understand the impact of the social environment on the shaping of our mind. More specifically, we dwell on the cognitive strategies and early-developing deontic expectations, termed naïve sociology, which enable well-adapted individuals to constitute, maintain and understand basic social relationships. In order to specify the way in which the demanding character of typical social relationships can be recognized in situ, we introduce the concept of “deontic affordances”. Finally, we shed light on the continuum that might relate a primitive naïve sociology, dedicated to the processing of invariant properties of the social life and a mature naïve sociology, necessary for dealing with the variable properties of cultural forms of life.

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  1. 1.

    Of course, the argument of the individualist approaches to the social, for which the state of society ultimately depends on first-person conscious, reflexive decisions of individuals, is very different from the holistic argument according to which there is an irreducible social reality, both external and constraining (Durkheim 1912). For individualist sociologists, the problem is that cognitive science unduly dismantles the rational actor and replaces it with an organism, conceived as the infra-individual site of the production, conflict and coalition of mostly unconscious cognitive representations and micro-mechanisms. In this case, the mistake of the cognitive sciences is not to neglect the weight of the social but to weaken “the empire of the will” proper to the individual-as-rational-self (Bronner 2006).

  2. 2.

    The recent, lively French debate that the social naturalism proposed by Kaufmann and Cordonier (2011) has prompted among sociologists shows the persistence of this view.

  3. 3.

    In guise of example, in the excellent, voluminous overview of child psychology recently published by Banaji and Gelman (2013), there are only two pages about dominance and it is not an entry in the index. To our knowledge, only two experimental studies have been published in developmental psychology on dominance processing, namely Mascaro and Csibra (2012) and Thomsen et al. (2011).

  4. 4.

    Although not resorting to the concept of affordance, several authors have argued arguing in favor of the perceptibility of deontic facts. For them, moral evaluation is not based upon conformity with rules of conduct, but upon sensitivity to deontic requirements that specific situations impose on behavior. See notably Mac Dowell (1978) and Goldie (2007).


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The authors are grateful to Hugo Mercier for his fruitful remarks on the manuscript. We also thank an anonymous reviewer for his/her very helpful suggestions and criticisms.

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Correspondence to Laurence Kaufmann.

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Kaufmann, L., Clément, F. Wired for Society: Cognizing Pathways to Society and Culture. Topoi 33, 459–475 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11245-014-9236-9

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  • Cognitive science
  • Naïve sociology
  • Deontic affordances
  • Social relationships