Toolmaking and the Origin of Normative Cognition

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We are all guided by thousands of norms, but how did our capacity for normative cognition evolve? I propose there is a deep but neglected link between normative cognition and practical skill. In modern humans, complex motor skills and craft skills, such as skills related to toolmaking and tool use, are guided by internally represented norms of correct performance. Moreover, it is plausible that core components of human normative cognition evolved in response to the distinctive demands of transmitting complex motor skills and craft skills, especially skills related to toolmaking and tool use, through social learning. If this is correct, the expansion of the normative domain beyond technique to encompass more abstract norms of reciprocity, ritual, kinship and fairness involved the elaboration of a basic platform for the guidance of skilled action by technical norms. This article motivates and defends this “skill hypothesis” for the origin of normative cognition and sets out various ways in which it could be empirically tested.
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Archival date: 2020-04-14
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