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Dennett, Foucault, and the Selection of Memes

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The idea of cultural evolution, coined by Daniel Dennett, suggests we might be able to formulate a Darwinian type of explanation for the adaptive 'tricks' we learn as human beings. The proposed explanation makes use of the idea of memes. That idea is examined and related to semantic units linked to the terms in a natural language. It is agreed with Dennett that these are of pivotal significance in understanding the structure of human cognition. The alternative is then explored to the chaos of worddemons that Dennett appeals to in explaining why and how we think and enter into discursive relations. Beginning with certain thoughts about language games the essay moves on to consider the relations of power and knowledge that shape discursive reality and explain our subjectivities and actions. This leads to a sketch of Foucaultian theory as an advance in the philosophy of mind required to move beyond fairly gestural accounts of psychological explanation to be found in the standard biologically motivated approaches.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: March 1, 1999

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