UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Science as a cultural evolutionary process : bridging evolutionary epistemology and cultural evolution Fadda, Antonio


This study provides an account of how a naturalistic orientation in epistemology known as evolutionary epistemology can benefit from integration with some more recent advancements in cultural evolutionary theory. In particular, this thesis explores the ways in which a Darwinian selective framework of culture provides new insights to rethink unsolved epistemological disputes and problems such as the growth of scientific ideas, the notion of scientific progress, the ‘context distinction’, the theory ladenness of science and a demarcation criterion between science and other cultural realms. All these issues are approached from an evolutionary and selective standpoint that assumes that biological and cultural selection are representative of a wider and more encompassing selective process. Thus, the thesis also explores theoretical disputes concerning the analogies and disanalogies between cultural and biological selection. Five early evolutionary analogies of knowledge accretion are explored in the first chapter setting the context of the debate for the epistemological issues that are connected in the other chapters to cultural evolution. Here, a populationist account of scientific ideas is presented as a viable model to study the conceptual and ‘ideational’ dynamics of change in science. In the last part of this work, my populationist and selective model is applied to study a specific scientific innovation: a molecular technique for taxonomic identification and classification known as DNA barcoding. Finally, the last chapter explores the use of text analysis to investigate the network of concepts and ideas that relate to the ‘DNA barcoding’ concept’. Here, I evaluate the impact of this technique on the fields of taxonomy/systematics, particularly, for what concerns the so called ‘species problem’.

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