CFP: Special Issue of the Journal Synthese: The Cultural Evolution of Human Social Cognition

Submission deadline: May 1, 2019

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Special Issue of the Journal Synthese: The Cultural Evolution of Human Social Cognition

Volume Editors: Richard Moore (HU Berlin), Rachael Brown (ANU), Cecilia Heyes (Oxford)

Deadline: 1st May 2019

An influential idea in recent work in cognitive science holds that human forms of social cognition may not be part of our biological inheritance, but a learned product of cultural evolution (Heyes 2018, Heyes & Frith 2014). Broadly speaking, cultural evolution refers to the processes by which the socially inherited beliefs, knowledge, and skills within a population persist, propagate and change over time (Lewens 2013). Over successive generations, humans not only learn the cultural innovations of their ancestors, they also refine them - developing newer, more sophisticated versions of existing tools, and abandoning those that have been superseded. Thus our cultural artefacts – not just cars and computers, but also languages, concepts, counting systems, social institutions, and cognitive processes – change over historical time in a cumulative and dynamic manner.

To consider that human social cognition is the product of cultural evolution is to entertain the possibility that the concepts and cognitive processes that we employ in thinking about other agents may not be part of our biological inheritance, but cultural tools inherited by social learning (Heyes 2018). Just as our ancestors lacked the abilities for mathematical reasoning that are now shared by most humans (Menary 2015), many generations of our ancestors may have lacked the cognitive tools to think about other agents in the way that we do now.  For example, the ascription of mental states may be a cultural innovation for thinking about the minds of others and navigating our social worlds that has been refined and built upon by cultural evolution. A correlate of this view is that the conceptual and computational repertoire that we now employ for thinking about the minds of others, and for managing our social and ethical relationships with them, may be acquired through social learning in childhood rather than being highly dependent upon specialised genetically determined structures. Consequently there may be great differences in how minds are conceived in infancy and adulthood, and across cultures; not to mention socio-culturally determined differences in the ways that we relate to one another ethically, aesthetically, and spiritually. Differences like these would constitute clear evidence that the mind cannot be understood independently of its sociocultural environment.

For this special issue of Synthese we invite philosophers and philosophically oriented cognitive scientists to evaluate the proposal that distinctively human forms of social cognition may be learned, and that some of the cognitive tools that characterise our thinking about other minds may not have been possessed by even relatively recent ancestors. We also welcome contributions that defend accounts of which cognitive traits and abilities our ancestors would have needed to develop the cultural practices that enabled the emergence of our developed socio-cognitive toolkit.

Possible paper topics include the origins of:

·       Propositional attitude psychology

·       Social attention

·       Cooperative behaviour

·       Imitation

·       Pedagogy

·       Aesthetic sensibilities (conceived as a tool for managing social relationships)

·       Moral reasoning

·       Metacognition

·       Religious sentiment

Empirically oriented contributions are welcome, but will be expected to engage substantially with relevant philosophical topics.

For further information, please contact the leading guest editor Richard Moore:

Papers should be submitted via the editorial manager at by the deadline for May 1st, 2019.

When the system asks you to “Choose Article Type”, scroll down in the pull-down menu to ‘S.I. The Cultural Evolution of Human Social Cognition’.

Before submitting your paper, please, read carefully the Synthese ‘Instructions for Authors’ at:


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