Extending literary darwinism: Culture and alternatives to adaptation

J. Verpooten

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Literary Darwinism is an emerging interdisciplinary research field that seeks to explain literature and its oral antecedents (“literary behaviors”), from a Darwinian perspective. Considered the fact that an evolutionary approach to human behavior has proven insightful, this is a promising endeavor. However, Literary Darwinism as it is commonly practiced, I argue, suffers from some shortcomings. First, while literary Darwinists only weigh adaptation against by-product as competing explanations of literary behaviors, other alternatives, such as constraint and exaptation, should be considered as well. I attempt to demonstrate their relevance by evaluating the evidentiary criteria commonly employed by Literary Darwinists. Second, Literary Darwinists usually acknowledge the role of culture in human behavior and make references to Dual Inheritance theory (i.e., the body of empirical and theoretical work demonstrating that human behavior is the outcome of both genetic and cultural inheritance). However, they often do not fully appreciate the explanatory implications of dual inheritance. Literary Darwinism should be extended to include these recent refinements in our understanding of the evolution of human behavior.
Keywords: Dual Inheritance; Literary Darwinism; adaptationism; evidentiary criteria; evolutionary psychology
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-27
JournalScientific Study of Literature
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


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