Bradley Franks' Culture and Cognition

franksA new and important book by Bradley Franks: Culture and Cognition: Evolutionary Perspectives ( Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).

The blurb: "Human culture depends on human minds for its creation, meaning and exchange. But minds also depend on culture for their contents and processes. Past resolutions to this circularity problem have tended to give too much weight to one side and too little weight to the other.

In this groundbreaking and timely work, Bradley Franks demonstrates how a more plausible resolution to the circularity problem emerges from reframing mind and culture and their relations in evolutionary terms. He proposes an alternative evolutionary approach that draws on views of mind as embodied and situated. By grounding social construction in evolution, evolution of mind is intrinsically connected to culture – resolving the circularity problem.

In developing his theory, Franks provides a balanced critical assessment of modularity-based and social constructionist approaches to understanding mind and culture." For the table of content,



The Circularity Problem and Social Constructionist Views
The Circularity Problem and Naturalistic Views
Massive Modularity and Psychological Essentialism
Explanatory Approaches: Cultural and Cognitive Environments and the Evolutionary Past
Massive Modularity and Adaptations
Representations, Motivation and Affect
Mind, Situation and Representation
Culture, Embodiment and Extended Mind
Varieties of Theory of Mind, Affordances, Indication and Culture
Adaptations, Culture and External Theory of Mind
Cultural Evolution, Cultural Transmission and Cultural Patterns
Circularity Revisited: Mind and Culture in Interaction




Dear Editor,

            Thank you for your letter and for your decision to allow me to submit a revision. I am very grateful to the reviewers for their pertinent and useful comments. These comments made me aware of many shortcomings in my initial submission and suggested ways of improving it. I also discussed the paper and the reviews with two people with whom I had been collaborating on these issues, Jean-Baptiste André, a biologist with whom I have co-authored a paper published in Evolution and another one submitted, both on formal models of mutualistic cooperation, and Dan Sperber, who was my PhD supervisor, and who convinced me of the aptness of several serious criticisms of the reviewers. Both agreed to work with me on a thoroughly revised paper, which we hereby submit.

The most important change involves the treatment of group selection. In the initial version, the paper attempted to do two things at once, to present and defend in some detail a state-of-the-art mutualistic approach to morality, and to contrast its prediction with that of a group-selection approach. On the whole the reviewers were much more satisfied with the way in which I achieved the first goals than the second. Reviewers objected to my attributing a number of specific predictions to group selection and their comments made me realize that indeed, I had been to some extent targeting an ad-hoc synthetic re-construction of an array of research that is very much work in progress and where implications of group selection are being discovered and discussed and are not necessarily a matter of universal agreement among proponents of the approach. While of course different approaches should be compared, I was attempting to do too much at once, and not doing it well enough, in my initial submission and, given the importance, richness, and ongoing development of group selection approaches, even if I had done a better job in this work of comparison, it still would have fallen quite short of what would be needed, given the limits of a single paper where the main focus was anyhow on presenting a specific mutualistic theory.

The reviewers and my now co-authors have convinced me not to try to do two things at the same time and that it would be better to develop our own account of cooperative behavior in some detail. If we succeed in convincing colleagues of the fruitfulness of our mutualistic approach, then it will become relevant to discuss the degree and manner in which this approach may be a complement or an alternative to group selection approaches (and issue on which the co-authors of the present submission don’t fully agree while they fully agree on the positive proposals). This choice also gives us more room to explain in detail how partner choice can lead to fairness and how fairness can account for the behaviors observed in economic games (as requested by several reviewers). In consequence, the manuscript is now entitled The mutualistic theory of morality” and emphasizes the link between partner-choice and fairness-based behaviors.

My co-authors have helped me in particular address two important problems that had been highlighted by reviewers. These are the link between partner-choice and fairness (Reviewers 3, 4, 5 and 6) and the link between partner-choice and an intrinsic motivation to be fair (Reviewers 4, 5 and 6). Jean-Baptiste André and I have developed mathematical models in order to more precisely formalize the dynamics of partner-selection (the first model is in press: André and Baumard, 2011, Evolution; the second is submitted and is available on our websites). While the present submission remains non-formal, we can draw on this more formal work to explain how how partner-choice leads to fair distributions in cooperation. In our model, human social life is made up of a diversity of opportunities in which individuals can invest time, resources, and energy. As a result, humans should never consent to enter an interaction in which the marginal benefit of their investment is lower than the average benefit that they could receive elsewhere. In other words, negotiation over the distribution of benefits in each and every interaction is constrained by the whole range of outside opportunities, determined by the market of potential partners. In particular, if two individuals are equal in the sense that they both have the same average outside opportunities, they should both receive the same marginal benefit from each resource unit that they invest in a joint cooperative venture, irrespective of their local negotiating power. The diversity of cooperative opportunities thus leads individuals to treat others in a fair way (see my response to the reviewers for more details).

 Dan Sperber and I have worked on the emergence of an intrinsic motivation to cooperate (see Baumard and Sperber, 2007). This point is particularly important as it is often argued that cooperation in anonymous settings is strong evidence in favor of group selection. We argue however that there is an individual advantage in being intrinsically motivated to cooperate and in cooperating without taking reputation into account. As Trivers (1971) pointed out a while ago, this is indeed the best way to convince others of one’s willingness to be fair. There are, of course, costs associated with being genuinely moral and not taking advantages of opportunities to cheat, in the form of missed opportunities. But there may be even greater costs in pursuing one’s own selfish interests all the time: high cognitive costs involved in calculating risks and opportunities and, more importantly, risks of incurring huge losses in reputation to secure relatively minor benefits. The most cost-effective way of securing a good moral reputation, then, may well consist in being a genuinely moral person.

            More generally, we have taken more space to discuss how the theory articulates the ultimate level (partner choice) and the proximal level (sense of fairness) (see part 1), how it relates to other evolutionary theories such as reciprocity (section 2.1.1), how it predicts fairness-based behaviors (section 2.1.3), and how it leads to the selection of an intrinsic motivation to cooperate (section 2.2.2). Finally, we have carefully rewritten the whole manuscript (including the review of experimental work, which conserves the same structure).

Finally, we have decided to adopt a more conservative terminology in order to prevent potential communication problems. We now use “partner choice” (and also “partner selection” and “social selection”) to refer to the kind of phenomenon we described as “market selection” in the first version. This terminology also emphasizes the fact that the evolutionary mechanisms we discuss are not new, and indeed are well-known. What is original however is the way we articulate them and the rich behavioral predictions that we derive from them.

We think the paper is now much better and we hope that the reviewers, whose comments have been so helpful, will concur. I respond to these comments in detail below.


Nicolas Baumard

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