Dennett’s FBtBaB: Chapter Ten

I continue my series of short comments on Daniel Dennett’s From Bacteria to Bach and Back. These comments are mainly written for an online forum, in which undergraduate students of Professor Dennett post. Each time I raise a point about one chapter. This time I comment on chapter ten.

On page 212 Professor Dennett suggests that a memetic theory of cultural evolution might provide the mechanism that Durkheimian functionalism lacked. I find the claim intriguing, yet dubious for the following reason: At least as far as I am familiar with sociological functionalism the function of social practices, traditions and so forth is relative to the whole society. Memes might also be functional e.g. a word functions very well to express a certain issue and therefore may be operated upon by natural selection. But how could a meme be functional relative to the whole society? How would this functionality lead to the meme being selected for?

Until this question is answered, I do not see Professor Dennett’s account of cultural evolution helping Durkheimian functionalism.

UPDATE (9. 3. 2017)

I have received confirmation from Professor Dennett that he in fact asserts that memes can functional relative to the whole society. Furthermore, I have been pointed to chapters 5-8 of Breaking the Spell.

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