AbstractsBiology & Animal Science

The Proximate-Ultimate Distinction and its Relation to the Emergence of Linguistic Structure

by Tom Doney

Institution: University of Edinburgh
Year: 2014
Keywords: Proximate-Ultimate; Iterated Learning; Linguistic Structure; Evolution
Record ID: 1400873
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/1842/8601


Ernst Mayr's Proximate-Ultimate distinction has come under scrutiny in recent years for its supposed failure to account for reciprocal evolutionary processes such as niche-construction and intersexual selection. This article defends Mayr's distinction on the grounds that these reciprocal processes can easily be explained within the explanatory framework. It then goes on to asses the claims of certain authors such as Smith and Kirby (2008) who's conclusions would suggest that the "ultimate" explanation for the emergence of linguistic structure lies within cultural evolution. If verified, this would break the monopoly of natural selection as the only known process leading to "the appearance of complex design" in the natural world.