Evolved to Conform: Tadeusz Zawidzki on Mindshaping

Evolved to Conform: Tadeusz Zawidzki on Mindshaping

“Social cognition involves a small bundle of cognitive capacities and behaviors that enable us to communicate and get along with one another, a bundle that even our closest primate cousins don’t have, at least not to the same level of sophistication: pervasive collaboration, language, mind-reading and what Tadeusz Zawidzki, Associate Professor of Philosophy at The George Washington University, calls “mindshaping”. Mindshaping includes our capacities and dispositions to imitate, to be natural learners, and to conform to and enforce social norms, and in Mindshaping: A New Framework for Understanding Human Social Cognition (MIT Press, 2013), Zawidzki defends the idea that mind-shaping is the basic capacity from which the rest of social cognition evolves. Most researchers hold that mind-reading – our “theory of mind” – is the linch-pin of the rest: our ability to ascribe to one another mental states with propositional content is necessary for sophisticated language use and for mindshaping. Zawidzki argues, in contrast, that our ability to “homogenize” our minds via mindshaping is what makes sophisticated mind-reading and language possible. On his view, language didn’t evolve so that we could express thought; it evolved so that we could express our commitment to cooperative behavior. Zawidzki’s innovative approach centers on reinterpreting and extending Daniel Dennett’s intentional stance to explain the social-cognitive development of the species and of individuals.”

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