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Consciousness, design and social practice

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It has been proposed by Dawkins, Dennett and others that memes are the units of cultural evolution. We here concentrate on Dennett's account because of the role it plays in his explanation of human consciousness - which is our principal target. Memes are claimed to be replicators that work on Darwinian principles. But in what sense are they replicators, and in what way are they responsible for their own propagation? We argue that their ability to replicate themselves is severely limited, particularly in the case of language-borne memes. We contend, too, that the theory has unacceptable consequences for the role of design in accounting for cultural change, unless we seriously want to entertain the thought that design has as little relevance to cultural evolution as it does to the evolution of species. Finally, we argue that the account fails to do justice to the complexities of social practices.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: School of Philosophy, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK.

Publication date: August 1, 2001

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