Chapter 6: Institutions
The literature about the role of biological determinants in human life is mostly cast in terms of the biology/culture divide (for example Richerson and Boyd 2005; Mesoudi 2011). So far, I have referred to this notion, too, but I will now introduce a specification which completes the substantial revision of the use of the term ‘culture’ according to these views. I argue that humans are institutional animals, and assign a more limited place to culture. This more specific use of culture has already been introduced in the previous chapter: Basically, I refer the term to shared identities, that is, to the emergence of We–attitudes and We–modes, and to the emergence of group boundaries in networks. But shared identities only encompass a part of what makes human behaviour special in relation to other animals. I argue that this more encompassing phenomenon is institutions, following the arguments presented by John Searle (2005). Institutions are the core phenomenon that enables human phenotypic plasticity, in the particular sense of enabling humans to create entirely new forms of life which are not directly determined by their biological properties, though being subject to biological constraints, and being enabled by biological capabilities (see Boyer and Petersen 2012). These forms of life refer to life in groups, in particular, and how this life in groups changes individual behaviour.
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