Whence and Whither Sociocultural Anthropology

Harvey Whitehouse

in Creating Consilience

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780199794393
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199919338 | DOI:

Series: New Directions in Cognitive Science

Whence and Whither Sociocultural Anthropology

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This chapter argues that there is a much more formidable obstacle to vertical integration of the humanities and sciences than is generally appreciated: It is not that we have an intuitive predisposition to adopt erroneous (e.g., Cartesian) construals of the sociocultural realm, but that we have no stable and reliable intuitions about that realm and appeal to a wide range of inferential strategies to make sense of it. As part of their evolutionary endowment, humans have dedicated cognitive machinery for reasoning about physical properties (such as solidity, gravity), biological properties (such as essentialized differences between natural kinds), and psychological properties (such as the capacity to entertain false beliefs). Our intuitive physics, intuitive biology, and intuitive psychology may be challenged by scientific physics/biology/psychology but for the most part our intuitions provide a stable and robust foundation for preserving the integrity of these domains of enquiry and exploring possibilities for integration at the boundaries between them. Unfortunately, however, we lack a set of domain-specific competences for reasoning about sociocultural phenomena: we have no intuitive sociology. The chapter presents detailed evidence of this deficit in intuitive thinking, showing how our various strategies for reasoning about the sociocultural are driven by not one but many domain-specific inferential engines. That is why the integration of the humanities and sciences is so fraught with conceptual difficulties—but it is also why only science can provide solutions.

Keywords: anthropological theory; cognition and science; folk sociology; sociocultural evolution

Chapter.  5517 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy

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