Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 31, Issue 2, pp 213–235 | Cite as

Which evolutionary model best explains the culture of honour?



The culture of honour hypothesis offers a compelling example of how human psychology differentially adapts to pastoral and horticultural environments. However, there is disagreement over whether this pattern is best explained by a memetic, evolutionary psychological, dual inheritance, or niche construction model. I argue that this disagreement stems from two shortcomings: lack of clarity about the theoretical commitments of these models and inadequate comparative data for testing them. To resolve the first problem, I offer a theoretical framework for deriving competing predictions from each of the four models. In particular, this involves a novel interpretation of the difference between dual inheritance theory and cultural niche construction. I then illustrate a strategy for testing their predictions using data from the Human Relations Area File. Empirical results suggest that the aggressive psychological phenotype typically associated with honour culture is more common among pastoral societies than among horticultural societies. Theoretical considerations suggest that this pattern is best explained as a case of cultural niche construction.


Culture of honour Cultural evolution Cultural niche construction Dual inheritance theory Memetics Evolutionary psychology 



I am grateful to James Heumann and to Shawna Hamilton for assistance in constructing the Culture of Honour Database, and to Brent Saylor for assistance with statistical analysis. Thanks to workshop participants at the Cultural Evolution, Philosophy and the Emotions, Leuven (2013). Two anonymous reviewers provided helpful comments on a previous draft.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of GuelphGuelphCanada

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