The replicator, introduced by Dawkins in The Selfish Gene, has caught on as an important concept in formulating a general account of selection. However, in recent years the concept has come under attack. Developmental systems theorists have criticized replicator accounts of evolution as unduly gene-centred accounts. In the realm of cultural evolution, Robert Boyd and Peter Richerson have promoted the view that cultural evolution is best depicted on a population level and Dan Sperber has argued extensively that cultural evolution does not proceed by replicators forming lineages. The importance of the concept of replicator for use in evolutionary theory depends on what exactly we understand by it. It can be contested whether a satisfactory definition of what a replicator is has yet been given by any of its users. Since Dawkins gave his loose definition, a number of evolutionary biologists and philosophers have given the replicator a more formal treatment. The definitions they have reached have differing implications for what entities should regarded as replicator. A profound analysis of the different definitions of replicator and the implications for a characterization of evolution is necessary to clarify whether there is a concept of replicator that is useful in evolutionary biology, and whether its use stretches to other domains in which evolution takes place. My research is focused on what, if anything, should be understood by a replicator and what the place of this concept should be in evolutionary theory.
Joeri Witteveen obtained his liberal arts undergraduate degree from University College Maastricht, the Netherlands in 2006. He took courses towards his degree at the University of California at Berkeley. In September 2007 he finished his work on theories of cultural evolution for the MSc in Philosophy of the Social Sciences at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He hopes to commence with a PhD in philosophy in fall 2008.