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Kim Sterelny

Kim Sterelny is Professor of Philosophy at Australian National University and Victoria University of Wellington. His books include Language and Reality (with Michael Devitt; second edition, MIT Press).

Titles by This Author

How Evolution Made Humans Unique

Over the last three million years or so, our lineage has diverged sharply from those of our great ape relatives. Change has been rapid (in evolutionary terms) and pervasive. Morphology, life history, social life, sexual behavior, and foraging patterns have all shifted sharply away from those of the other great apes. In The Evolved Apprentice, Kim Sterelny argues that the divergence stems from the fact that humans gradually came to enrich the learning environment of the next generation. Humans came to cooperate in sharing information, and to cooperate ecologically and reproductively as well, and these changes initiated positive feedback loops that drove us further from other great apes.

Sterelny develops a new theory of the evolution of human cognition and human social life that emphasizes the gradual evolution of information-sharing practices across generations and how these practices transformed human minds and social lives. Sterelny proposes that humans developed a new form of ecological interaction with their environment, cooperative foraging. The ability to cope with the immense variety of human ancestral environments and social forms, he argues, depended not just on adapted minds but also on adapted developmental environments.

An Introduction to the Philosophy of Language

What is language? How does it relate to the world? How does it relate to the mind? Should our view of language influence our view of the world? These are among the central issues covered in this spirited and unusually clear introduction to the philosophy of language.

Making no pretense of neutrality, Michael Devitt and Kim Sterelny take a definite theoretical stance. Central to that stance is naturalism—that is, they treat a philosophical theory of language as an empirical theory like any other and see people as nothing but complex parts of the physical world. This leads them, controversially, to a deflationary view of the significance of the study of language: they dismiss the idea that the philosophy of language should be preeminent in philosophy.

This highly successful textbook has been extensively rewritten for the second edition to reflect recent developments in the field.

Titles by This Editor

This collection reports on the latest research on an increasingly pivotal issue for evolutionary biology: cooperation. The chapters are written from a variety of disciplinary perspectives and utilize research tools that range from empirical survey to conceptual modeling, reflecting the rich diversity of work in the field. They explore a wide taxonomic range, concentrating on bacteria, social insects, and, especially, humans.

Part I ("Agents and Environments") investigates the connections of social cooperation in social organizations to the conditions that make cooperation profitable and stable, focusing on the interactions of agent, population, and environment. Part II ("Agents and Mechanisms") focuses on how proximate mechanisms emerge and operate in the evolutionary process and how they shape evolutionary trajectories. Throughout the book, certain themes emerge that demonstrate the ubiquity of questions regarding cooperation in evolutionary biology: the generation and division of the profits of cooperation; transitions in individuality; levels of selection, from gene to organism; and the "human cooperation explosion" that makes our own social behavior particularly puzzling from an evolutionary perspective.

In 1995, John Maynard Smith and Eörs Szathmáry published their influential book The Major Transitions in Evolution. The "transitions" that Maynard Smith and Szathmáry chose to describe all constituted major changes in the kinds of organisms that existed but, most important, these events also transformed the evolutionary process itself. The evolution of new levels of biological organization, such as chromosomes, cells, multicelled organisms, and complex social groups radically changed the kinds of individuals natural selection could act upon. Many of these events also produced revolutionary changes in the process of inheritance, by expanding the range and fidelity of transmission, establishing new inheritance channels, and developing more open-ended sources of variation.Maynard Smith and Szathmáry had planned a major revision of their work, but the death of Maynard Smith in 2004 prevented this. In this volume, prominent scholars (including Szathmáry himself) reconsider and extend the earlier book’s themes in light of recent developments in evolutionary biology. The contributors discuss different frameworks for understanding macroevolution, prokaryote evolution (the study of which has been aided by developments in molecular biology), and the complex evolution of multicellularity.