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Learning and the evolution of social systems : an epigenetic perspective

Lernen und die Evolution sozialer Systeme : eine epigenetische Perspektive
[collection article]

Eder, Klaus

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Abstract The theory of epigenetic developments in evolution rests upon two assumptions. First, it refers to developmental processes that decouple biological from genetic evolution. Decoupling evolutionary processes from genetic evolution is even more important for social evolution. Second, it claims that the development of an organism plays a vital role in evolution. It takes into account the specific role individual development plays in evolution. Thus epigenesis refers to definite evolutionary processes unintelligible within Darwinian theory (Ho and Saunders, 1982). This special characteristic of epigenetic processes restricts the field of random developments in evolution. The Darwinian processes of variation and selection are seen as of secondary relevance for evolution to take place. The logic of evolution is decoupled from Darwinian logic, which thus loses its pre-eminent role in explaining evolutionary sequences. An epigenetic system that organizes individual development as cognitive learning processes (as does the epigenetic system underlying social evolution) changes evolutionary processes in several respects. It changes (1) the tempo of evolution (2) the internal structures that restrict the relevance of selection processes and (3) the conditions that favour learning processes and therefore the innovations that are necessary for social evolution. The central characteristic of social evolution is that society is produced by such cognitive learning processes. Learning processes allow for the self-production (Touraine, 1973) of society. Of central importance to the process of self-production is a special type of cognitive learning, namely moral learning (Fairservis, 1975). Moral development emerges in learning processes specific to the human species, and is therefore considered to be the key variable in a theory of social evolution (Eder, 1976, 1984; Habermas, 1981).

Der Verfasser fragt nach dem Stellenwert der Evolutionstheorie in den Sozialwissenschaften und nach der Rolle des epigenetischen Systems in diesem Zusammenhang. Hierbei spielen Lernprozesse eine besondere Rolle, vor allem eine Spielart des kognitiven Lernens, das moralische Lernen, das als Schlüsselvariable in der Theorie sozialer Evolution gesehen wird. Gesellschaft ist das Produkt kognitiver Lernprozesse. Der Verfasser entwickelt seine Argumentation zur Rolle der Evolutionstheorie in den Sozialwissenschaften in drei Schritten. Zunächst rekonstruiert er die klassische Version der Erklärung evolutionären Wandels in der Geschichte über genuin soziale Faktoren, über die Konflikte zwischen sozialen Klassen (Marx). In einem zweiten Schritt geht es um die soziale Konstruktion des kognitiven Universums. Als Beispiel dient hier die Entstehung des Staates in den historischen Stammesgesellschaften Angolas. Vor diesem Hintergrund werden in einem dritten Schritt die theoretischen Konsequenzen des Axioms einer sozialen Konstitution von Lernprozessen und der gesellschaftlichen Evolution und seine Auswirkungen auf eine Theorie der gesellschaftlichen Evolution diskutiert. (ICE)
Keywords learning; evolution; evolutionary theory; social system; society; Marx, K.; class antagonism; sociological theory; social change; state formation; Angola; tribal society; cognitive learning theory; social construction; cognition; Southern Africa; developing country
Classification General Problems, History of the Social Sciences; General Concepts, Major Hypotheses and Major Theories in the Social Sciences; General Sociology, Basic Research, General Concepts and History of Sociology, Sociological Theories
Method basic research; theory formation
Free Keywords social evolution; epigenetic system; learning, social learning; Touraine; Fairservis; Habermas
Collection Title Evolutionary theory in social science
Editor Schmid, Michael; Wuketits, Franz M.
Document language English
Publication Year 1987
Publisher Reidel
City Dordrecht et al.
Page/Pages p. 101-125
ISBN 90-277-2612-4
Status Published Version; reviewed
Licence Creative Commons - Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works