Culture from the Perspective of Dual Inheritance

  • Robert A. Paul
Part of the Culture, Mind, and Society book series (CMAS)


This chapter presents a brief outline of the version of Dual Inheritance Theory developed at greater length in the author’s 2015 book, Mixed Messages: Cultural and Genetic Inheritance in the Constitution of Human Society. Accordingly, that which distinguishes humans from other social animals is a second form of trans-generational information transmission besides the genetic one, namely culture as it exists as symbolic codes external to the organisms who compose the society. While the genetic channel of inheritance is determined by the principles of inclusive fitness and reciprocal altruism, which limit the capacity of most or possibly all other animals to form large and complex societies, the human symbolic channel serves to complement and also to override the selfishness inherent in the genetic program and to create rules for marital exchange that allow identifications to go beyond closely related others, enabling individuals to affiliate with unrelated others in a prosocial way. Cultural symbolic codes thus allow human societies to create a generalized public arena, which is distinctive of our species. Some ethnographic examples of this are provided. The chapter concludes with a formulation of how culture, society, and individuals interact in human life.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert A. Paul
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyEmory UniversityAtlantaUSA

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