Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 22, Issue 4, pp 493–512 | Cite as

Is cultural evolution Lamarckian?

  • Maria E. KronfeldnerEmail author
Original Paper


The article addresses the question whether culture evolves in a Lamarckian manner. I highlight three central aspects of a Lamarckian concept of evolution: the inheritance of acquired characteristics, the transformational pattern of evolution, and the concept of directed changes. A clear exposition of these aspects shows that a system can be a Darwinian variational system instead of a Lamarckian transformational one, even if it is based on inheritance of acquired characteristics and/or on Lamarckian directed changes. On this basis, I apply the three aspects to culture. Taking for granted that culture is a variational system, based on selection processes, I discuss in detail the senses in which cultural inheritance can be said to be Lamarckian and in which sense problem solving, a major factor in cultural change, leads to directed variation.


Cultural evolution Inheritance of acquired characteristics Lamarckism Memes Problem solving Transformational evolution directed variation 


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I am deeply obliged to the editor of Biology and Philosophy, to an anonymous referee, and to Hans Rott for their inspiring and extensive comments. I am equally grateful to Marion Blute, Mayannah Dahlheim, Peter Godfrey-Smith, Wolfram Hinzen, Richard C. Lewontin and Carsten Reinhardt for helpful discussions of earlier drafts of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Max Planck Institute for the History of ScienceBerlinGermany

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