Helena Miton, Thomas Wolf, Cordula Vesper, Günther Knoblich, Dan Sperber. (2020) Motor constraints influence cultural evolution of rhythm. Proceedings of the Royal Society B Biological Sciences. 2020;287(1937):20202001.

Abstract: While widely acknowledged in the cultural evolution literature, ecological factors—aspects of the physical environment that affect the way in which cultural productions evolve—have not been investigated experimentally. Here, we present an experimental investigation of this type of factor by using a transmission chain (iterated learning) experiment. We predicted that differences in the distance between identical tools (drums) and in the order in which they are to be used would cause the evolution of different rhythms…

Helena Miton, Dan Sperber, Mikolaj Hernik (2020) A forward bias in human profile-oriented portraits Cognitive Science 44(2).

Abstract: The spatial composition of human portraits obeys historically changing cultural norms. We show that it is also affected by cognitive factors that cause greater spontaneous attention to what is in front rather in the back of an agent. Scenes with more space in front of a directed object are both more often produced and judged as more aesthetically pleasant. This leads to the prediction that, in profile-oriented human portraits, compositions with more space in front of depicted agents (a “forward bias”) should be over-represented. …

Hugo Mercier, Dan Sperber (2020) Bounded rationality in a social world In Riccardo Viale, ed. Routledge Handbook of Bounded Rationality.

Abstract: Standard dual process theories see reason (System 2) as an individual cognitive mechanism able to correct the mistake of intuition (System 1) and to perform as classical rational system, imperfect but not bounded in Simon’s sense. This chapter suggests instead that reason is another intuitive cognitive mechanism, with a specific domain—reasons—and specific functions—to produce and evaluate justifications and arguments in social settings…

Dimitrios Kourtis, Pierre Jacob, Natalie Sebanz, Dan Sperber, and Günther Knoblich (2020) Making sense of human interaction benefits from communicative cues Scientific Reports, 18135.

Abstract: We investigated whether communicative cues help observers to make sense of human interaction. We recorded EEG from an observer monitoring two individuals who were occasionally communicating with each other via either mutual eye contact and/or pointing gestures, and then jointly attending to the same object or attending to different objects that were placed on a table in front of them. The analyses were focussed on the processing of the interaction outcome (i.e. presence or absence of joint attention) and showed that its interpretation is a two-stage process, as reflected in the N300 and the N400 potentials…

Dan Sperber (2019) Personal notes on a shared trajectory (Reflections on the development of relevance theory). In Kate Scott, Kate, Billy Clark, and Robyn Carston, eds. Relevance, pragmatics and interpretation. Cambridge University Press, 2019. pp 13-20

“The editors of the volume asked me to provide a broad overview of the beginnings of relevance theory back in the 1970s, how it has developed over the decades and where I see it moving in the future, reflecting in the process on the collective work that Deirdre Wilson and I initiated and that has been joined and considerably enriched by many others. Here are some personal notes to help address these questions…”

Dan Sperber (2019) Instincts or gadgets? Not the debate we should be having (Commentary on Heyes C. (2019) Précis of Cognitive Gadgets: The Cultural Evolution of Thinking). Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 42.

Abstract: I argue, with examples, that most human cognitive skills are neither instincts nor gadgets but mechanisms shaped both by evolved dispositions and by cultural inputs. This shaping can work either through evolved skills fulfilling their function with the help of cultural skills that they contribute to shape, or through cultural skills recruiting evolved skills and adjusting to them.

Hugo Mercier, Dan Sperber (2019) Reply to critics Teorema 38(1)

Replies to four commentaries on The Enigma of Reason (by Salvador Mascarenhas, Ira Noveck, Cathal O’Madagain, and Karolina Prochownik) published in Teorema

Hugo Mercier, Dan Sperber (2019) Précis of The Enigma of Reason Teorema 38(1)

Précis of Hugo Mercier & Dan Sperber (2017) The Enigma of Reason (as an introduction of a discussion of the book in Teorema (38)1)

Dan Sperber.& Hugo Mercier (2018). Why a modular approach to reason? (reply to reviews of The Enigma of Reason by Nick Chater and Mike Oaksford, Catarina Dutilh Novaes, and Kim Sterelny). Mind & Language 33:533–541

Abstract: In their reviews [of The Enigma of Reason], Chater and Oaksford, Dutilh Novaes, and Sterelny are critical of our modularist approach to reason. In this response, we clarify our claim that reason is one of many cognitive modules that produce intuitive inferences each in its domain; the reason module producing intuitions about reasons. We argue that in-principle objections to the idea of massive modularity based on Fodor’s peculiar approach are not effective against other interpretations that have led to insightful uses of the notion in psychology and biology. We explain how the reason module evaluates reasons on the basis of their metacognitive properties. We show how the module fulfils a social function, that of producing reasons to justify oneself and convince others and of evaluating the reasons others produce to convince us.

Hugo Mercier, Guy Politzer, Dan Sperber (2017) What causes failure to apply the Pigeonhole Principle in simple reasoning problems? Thinking & Reasoning 23(2), 184-189.

Abstract: The Pigeonhole Principle states that if n items are sorted into m categories and if n > m, then at least one category must contain more than one item. For instance, if 22 pigeons are put into 17 pigeonholes, at least one pigeonhole must contain more than one pigeon. This principle seems intuitive, yet…

Olivier Mascaro, Olivier Morin, Dan Sperber (2017) Optimistic expectations about communication explain children’s difficulties in hiding, lying, and mistrusting liars. Journal of Child Language 44(5), 1041-1064.

Abstract: We suggest that preschoolers’ frequent obliviousness to the risks and opportunities of deception comes from a trusting stance supporting verbal communication

Thom Scott-Phillips & Dan Sperber (2015) The mutual relevance of teaching and cultural attraction (Commentary on M. A. Kline “How to learn about teaching: An evolutionary framework for the study of teaching behavior in humans and other animals”). Behavioral and Brain Sciences 38, 44-45.

Abstract: there is an important relationship between cultural attraction and teaching. The very function of teaching is to make the content taught an attractor. Teaching, moreover, typically fulfills its function by exploiting a variety of factors of cultural attraction that help make its content learnable and teachable.

Jérôme Prado, Nicola Spotorno, Eric Koun, Emily Hewitt, Jean-Baptiste Van der Henst, Dan Sperber, Ira Noveck (2015) Neural interaction between logical reasoning and pragmatic processing in narrative discourse. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 27(4), 692-704.

 Abstract: Logical connectives (e.g., or , if, and not) are central to everyday conversation, and the inferences they generate are made with little effort in pragmatically sound situations. In contrast, the neural substrates of logical inference-making have been studied exclusively in abstract tasks where pragmatic concerns are minimal. Here, we used fMRI in an innovative design that employed narratives to investigate the interaction between logical reasoning and pragmatic processing in natural discourse.

Dan Sperber, Deirdre Wilson (2015) Beyond speaker’s meaning. Croatian Journal of Philosophy XV(44), 117-149.

Abstract: Our main aim is to show that constructing an adequate theory of communication involves going beyond Grice’s notion of speaker’s meaning. We argue that the characterisation of ostensive communication introduced in relevance theory can provide a conceptually unified explanation of a much wider range of communicative acts than Grice was concerned with, including cases of both ‘showing that’ and ‘telling that’, and with both determinate and indeterminate import.

Nicolas Claidière, Thom Scott-Phillips, Dan Sperber (2014) How Darwinian is cultural evolution? Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 369, 20130368.

Abstract: Darwin-inspired population thinking suggests approaching culture as a population of items of different types, whose relative frequencies may change over time. Three nested subtypes of populational models can be distinguished: evolutionary, selectional and replicative. … we describe cultural evolution in terms of cultural attraction, which is populational and evolutionary, but only selectional under certain circumstances. …

Guillaume Dezecache, Laurence Conty, Michele Chadwick, Leonor Philip, Robert Soussignan, Dan Sperber, Julie Grèzes (2013) Evidence for unintentional emotional contagion beyond dyads. PLOS One 8(6), e67371

Abstract: Little is known about the spread of emotions beyond dyads. Yet, it is of importance for explaining the emergence of crowd behaviors. Here, we experimentally addressed whether emotional homogeneity within a crowd might result from a cascade of local emotional transmissions where the perception of another’s emotional expression produces, in the observer’s face and body, sufficient information to allow for the transmission of the emotion to a third party. … [Our] findings demonstrate that one is tuned to react to others’ emotional signals and to unintentionally produce subtle but sufficient emotional cues to induce emotional states in others…

Dan Sperber (2013) Speakers are honest because hearers are vigilant: Reply to Kourken Michaelian. Episteme 10(1), 61-71.

Abstract: In “The evolution of testimony: Receiver vigilance, speaker honesty, and the reliability of communication”, Kourken Michaelian questions the basic tenets of our article “Epistemic vigilance” (Sperber et al. 2010). Here I defend against Michaelian’s criticisms the view that epistemic vigilance plays a major role in explaining the evolutionary stability of communication and that the honesty of speakers and the reliability of their testimony are, to a large extent, an effect of hearers’ vigilance.

Nicolas Baumard, Jean-Baptiste André & Dan Sperber (2013) A mutualistic approach to morality: The evolution of fairness by partner choice. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 36, 59-122.

Abstract: What makes humans moral beings? This question can be understood either as a proximate ‘how’ question or as an ultimate ‘why’ question. The ‘how’ question is about the mental and social mechanisms that produce moral judgments and interactions, and has been investigated by psychologists and social scientists. The ‘why’ question is about the fitness consequences that explain why humans have morality, and has been discussed by evolutionary biologists in the context of the evolution of cooperation. Our goal here is to contribute to a fruitful articulation of such proximate and ultimate explanations of human morality. We do so by developing an approach focusing on recent developments in the study of mutualistic forms of cooperation and on their relevance to fairness-based morality.

Dan Sperber & Nicolas Baumard (2012) Moral reputation: An evolutionary and cognitive perspective. Mind & Language 27(5), 485-518.

Abstract: From an evolutionary point of view, the function of moral behaviour may be to secure a good reputation as a co-operator.  The best way to do so may be to obey genuine moral motivations. Still, one’s moral reputation maybe something too important to be entrusted just to one’s moral sense. A robust concern for one’s reputation is likely to have evolved too. Here we explore some of the complex relationships between morality and reputation both from an evolutionary and a cognitive point of view.

Dan Sperber & Hugo Mercier (2012) Reasoning as a social competence. In H. Landemore & J. Elster (eds.), Collective Wisdom: Principles and Mechanisms (Cambridge University Press), 368-392.

“…We argue that the function of reasoning is primarily social and that it is the individual benefits that are side-effects. The function of reasoning is to produce arguments in order to convince others and to evaluate arguments others use in order to convince us. We will show how this view of reasoning as a form of social competence correctly predicts both good and bad performance in the individual and in the collective case, and helps explain a variety of psychological and sociological phenomena…”

Deirdre Wilson & Dan Sperber (2012) Explaining irony. In D. Wilson & D. Sperber, Meaning and Relevance. (Cambridge University Press), 123-145.

A new essay on irony, chapter 6 in Deirdre Wilson and Dan Sperber (2012) Meaning and Relevance, pp. 123-145.
[Preface and Table of contents]

Hugo Mercier & Dan Sperber (2012) “Two heads are better” stands to reason. Science (Letter) 336, 979.

Short commentary on Asher Koriat (2012): When Are Two Heads Better than One and Why? Science 336, 360.

Nicolas Claidière, Simon Kirby, Dan Sperber (2012) Effect of psychological bias separates cultural from biological evolution. PNAS (Letter) 109(51)

Nicolas Baumard & Dan Sperber (2012) Evolutionary and cognitive anthropology [perspective on morality]. In D. Fassin (ed.), A Companion to Moral Anthropology. (Wiley-Blackwell), 611-627.

“When interpreting the actions of people from other societies from a moral point of view, we often err. Two types of errors are of particular relevance here. One consists in overestimating the similarity across cultures of the moral judgments that guide people’s actions and interactions.  The other consists in underestimating this similarity…”

Dan Sperber (2012) Cultural attractors. In J. Brockman (ed.), This will make you smarter. (Harper), 180-183.

A short and popular presentation of the notion of  ‘cultural attractor’.

Dan Sperber (2011) A naturalistic ontology for mechanistic explanations in the social sciences. In P. Demeulenaere (ed.), Analytical sociology and social mechanisms. (Cambridge University Press), 64-77.

“.. I argue that “1) A naturalisation of the domain of the social sciences is made possible by the ongoing naturalisation of psychology. 2) The ontology of a naturalised social science is a composite ontology, articulating naturalistic description of mental and environmental events. 3) Precisely because, on this view, naturalised social sciences borrow the ingredients of their ontology from several different disciplines, their concepts and theories cannot be reduced to the concepts or theories of any one of these disciplines. 4) The way in which naturalised social sciences renounce ontological autonomy secures their theoretical autonomy. In other terms, I am arguing for an ontological reduction without theoretical reduction…”

Dan Sperber, Anne Coubray, Yann Schmitt (2011) Entretien avec Dan Sperber: Naturalisme, sciences cognitives et religion. Revue en ligne ThéoRèmes mis en ligne le 06 février 2011.

[Original website]

Hugo Mercier & Dan Sperber (2011) Why do humans reason? Arguments for an argumentative theory. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 34(2), 94-111.

Abstract: Reasoning is generally seen as a mean to improve knowledge and make better decisions. Much evidence, however, shows that reasoning often leads to epistemic distortions and poor decisions. This suggests rethinking the function of reasoning. Our hypothesis is that the function of reasoning is argumentative. It is to devise and evaluate arguments intended to persuade. Reasoning so conceived is adaptive given human exceptional dependence on communication and vulnerability to misinformation. A wide range of evidence in the psychology or reasoning and decision making can be reinterpreted and better explained in the light of this hypothesis.

Dan Sperber (2010) The Guru Effect. Review of Philosophy and Psychology 1(4), 583-592.

Abstract: Obscurity of expression is considered a flaw. Not so, however, in the speech or writing of intellectual gurus. All too often, what readers do is judge profound what they have failed to grasp. Here I try to explain this “ guru effect ” by looking at the psychology of trust and interpretation, at the role of authority and argumentation, and at the effects of these dispositions and processes when they operate at a population level where, I argue, a runaway phenomenon of overappreciation may take place.

Dan Sperber, Fabrice Clément, Christophe Heintz, Olivier Mascaro, Hugo Mercier, Gloria Origgi, Deirdre Wilson (2010) Epistemic vigilance. Mind & Language 25(4), 359-393.

Abstract: Humans depend massively on communication with others, but this leaves them open to the risk of being accidentally or intentionally misinformed. We claim that humans have a suite of cognitive mechanisms for epistemic vigilance to ensure that communication remains advantageous despite this risk. Here we outline this claim and consider some of the ways in which epistemic vigilance works in mental and social life by surveying issues, research and theories in different domains of philosophy, linguistics, cognitive psychology and the social sciences.

Nicolas Baumard & Dan Sperber (2010) Weird people, yes but also weird experiments? (Commentary on: Joseph Henrich, Steven J. Heine, Ara Norenzayan (2010) The weirdest people in the world?), Behavioral and Brain Sciences 33, 80-81.

Abstract: While we agree that the cultural imbalance in the recruitment of participants in psychology experiments is highly detrimental, we emphasize the need to complement this criticism with a warning about the “weirdness” of some cross-cultural studies showing seemingly deep cultural differences. We take the example of economic games and suggest that the variety of results observed in these games may not be due to deep psychological differences per se, but rather due to different interpretations of the situation.

Nicolas Baumard, Pascal Boyer, Dan Sperber (2010) Evolution of fairness: cultural variability. Science 329, 388-389.

Letter to Science discussing: Henrich, J., Ensimger, J., McElreath, R., Barr, A., Barrett, C., Bolyanatz, A., Cardenas, J. C., Gurven, M., Gwako, E., Henrich, N., Lesorogol, C., Marlowe, F., Tracer, D., Ziker, J. (2010) Markets, Religion, Community Size, and the Evolution of Fairness and Punishment. Science, 327, 1480-1484.

Nicolas Claidière & Dan Sperber (2010) The natural selection of fidelity in social learning. Communicative & Integrative Biology 3(4), 1-2.

Abstract: Social learning mechanisms are usually assumed to explain both the spread and the persistence of cultural behaviour. In a recent article, we showed that the fidelity of social learning commonly found in transmission chain experiments is not high enough to explain cultural stability. Here we want to both enrich and qualify this conclusion by looking at the case of song transmission in song birds, which can be faithful to the point of being true replication. We argue that this high fidelity results from natural selection pressure on cognitive mechanisms. This observation strengthens our main argument. Social learning mechanisms are unlikely to be faithful enough to explain cultural stability because they are generally selected not for high fidelity but for generalisation and adjustment to the individual’s needs, capacities and situation.

Nicolas Baumard & Dan Sperber (2010) Délit de Solidarité: qu’en disent les psychologues. Cerveau et Psycho 37

Point de vue sur l’article L622-1 du “Code de l’entrée et du séjour des étrangers” : « Toute personne qui aura, par aide directe ou indirecte, facilité ou tenté de faciliter l’entrée, la circulation ou le séjour irrégulier d’un étranger en France sera punie d’un emprisonnement de cinq ans et d’une amende de 30 000 euros »

Hugo Mercier & Dan Sperber (2009) Intuitive and reflective inferences. In J. St. B. T. Evans & K. Frankish (eds.), In two minds: Dual processes and beyond. (Oxford University Press)

Our goal here is to propose in the same spirit a principled distinction between two types of inferences: ‗intuitive inference‘ and ‗reflective inference‘ (or reasoning proper). We ground this
distinction in a massively modular view of the human mind where metarepresentational modules play an important role in explaining the peculiarities of human psychological evolution. We defend the hypothesis that the main function of reflective inference is to produce and evaluate arguments occurring in interpersonal communication (rather than to help individual ratiocination). This function, we claim, helps explain important aspects of reasoning. We review some of the existing evidence and argue that it gives support to this approach.
Inferential processes

Abstract: We propose a principled distinction between two types of inferences: ‘intuitive inference’ and ‘reflective inference’ (or reasoning proper). We ground this distinction in a massively modular view of the human mind where metarepresentational modules play an important role in explaining the peculiarities of human psychological evolution. We defend the hypothesis that the main function of reflective inference is to produce and evaluate arguments occurring in interpersonal communication (rather than to help individual ratiocination). This function, we claim, helps explain important aspects of reasoning. We review some of the existing evidence and argue that it gives support to this approach.

Olivier Mascaro & Dan Sperber (2009) The moral, epistemic, and mindreading components of children’s vigilance towards deception. Cognition 112, 367-380.

Abstract: Vigilance towards deception is investigated in 3- to-5-year-old children: (i) In study 1, children as young as 3 years of age prefer the testimony of a benevolent rather than of a malevolent communicator. (ii) In study 2, only at the age of four do children show understanding of the falsity of a lie uttered by a communicator described as a liar. (iii) In study 3, the ability to recognize a lie when the communicator is described as intending to deceive the child emerges around four and improves throughout the fifth and sixth year of life. On the basis of this evidence, we suggest that preference for the testimony of a benevolent communicator, understanding of the epistemic aspects of deception, and understanding of its intentional aspects are three functionally and developmentally distinct components of epistemic vigilance.

Dan Sperber (2009) Culturally transmitted misbeliefs (Commentary on Ryan T. McKay & Daniel C. Dennett, “The evolution of misbelief”). Behavioral and Brain Sciences 32, 534-535.

Abstract: Most human beliefs are acquired through communication, and so are most misbeliefs. Just like the misbeliefs discussed by McKay & Dennett (M&D), culturally transmitted misbeliefs tend to result from limitations rather than malfunctions of the mechanisms that produce them, and few if any can be argued to be adaptations. However, the mechanisms involved, the contents, and the hypothetical adaptive value tend to be specific to the cultural case.

Dan Sperber (2009) Allocution du Prix Claude Lévi-Strauss.

Voici l’allocution que j’ai prononcée à l’Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques, le 29 juin 2009, en tant que lauréat du premier Prix Claude Lévi-Strauss (l’ensemble des discours peut être lu ici ou écouté ici)

Dan Sperber (2009) L’effet gourou. L’autre côté 1, 17-23.

(Traduction française par Nicolas Pain de “The Guru effect”, inédit de 2005.)
“Une énonciation obscure est considérée comme défectueuse. Tel n’est pas le cas pour les discours et les écrits des gourous intellectuels. Le problème n’est pas que des lecteurs manquant de compétence s’abstiennent, à raison, de porter un jugement sur ce qu’ils ne comprennent pas ; mais que trop souvent ces lecteurs jugent profond ce qui leur échappe. L’obscurité inspire le respect… Je voudrais expliquer ici cet « effet-gourou »…”

Nicolas Claidière & Dan Sperber (2009) Imitation explains the propagation, not the stability of animal culture. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 277(1681), 651-659.

Abstract: For acquired behaviour to count as cultural, two conditions must be met: it must propagate in a social group, and it must remain stable across generations in the process of propagation. It is commonly assumed that imitation is the mechanism that explains both the spread of animal culture and its stability. We review the literature on transmission chain studies in chimpanzees and other animals, and we use a formal model to argue that imitation, which may well play a major role in the propagation of animal culture, cannot be considered faithful enough to explain its stability. We consider the contribution that other psychological and ecological factors might make to the stability of animal culture observed in the wild.

Dan Sperber & Deirdre Wilson (2008) A deflationary account of metaphors. In R. Gibbs (ed.), Handbook of Metaphor and Thought. (Cambridge University Press), 84-105.

Abstract: On the relevance-theoretic approach outlined in this paper, linguistic metaphors are not a natural kind, and “metaphor” is not a theoretically important notion in the study of verbal communication. Metaphorical interpretations are arrived at in exactly the same way as literal, loose and hyperbolic interpretations: there is no mechanism specific to metaphors, and no interesting generalisation that applies only to them. In this paper, we defend this approach in detail by showing how the same inferential procedure applies to utterances at both ends of the literal-loose-metaphorical continuum, and how both literal and metaphorical utterances may create poetic effects

Coralie Chevallier, Ira Noveck, Lewis Bott, Valentina Lanzetti, Tatiana Nazir, Dan Sperber (2008) Making disjunctions exclusive. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology 61(11), 1741-1760.

Abstract: This work examines how people interpret the sentential connective “or”, which can be viewed either inclusively (A or B or both) or exclusively (A or B but not both). Drawing on prior work concerning quantifiers (Noveck, 2001; Noveck & Posada, 2003; Bott & Noveck, 2004) and following a relevance-theoretic line of argument, we hypothesized that conditions encouraging more processing effort would give rise to more pragmatic inferences and hence to more exclusive interpretations of the disjunction. This prediction was confirmed in three experiments.

Dan Sperber & Nicolas Claidière (2008) Defining and explaining culture (comments on Richerson and Boyd, Not by genes alone). Biology and Philosophy 23, 283-292.

Abstract: We argue that there is a continuum of cases without any demarcation between more individual and more cultural information, and that therefore “culture” should be viewed as a property that human mental representations and practices exhibit to a varying degree rather than as a type or a subclass of these representations and practices (or of “information”). We discuss the relative role of preservative and constructive processes in transmission. We suggest a revision of Richerson and Boyd’s classification of the forces of cultural evolution. [PDF version]

Dan Sperber (2007) Rudiments d’un programme naturaliste. In M. Wieviorka (ed.), Les Sciences Sociales en Mutation. (Sciences Humaines), 257-264.

“Je voudrais esquisser ici une ontologie naturaliste du social. Le naturalisme tel que je le conçois vise à unifier les sciences empiriques. Unification ne signifie pas réduction. Il s’agit plutôt d’articuler les descriptions des différents programmes de recherche et de les rendre cohérents entre eux et mutuellement pertinents…”
(A revised and updated version in English is available here)

Dan Sperber (2007) Rudiments of cognitive rhetoric. Rhetoric Society Quarterly 37(4), 361-400.

First English translation of : Dan Sperber (1975) Rudiments de rhétorique cognitive, Poétique: Revue de Théorie et d’Analyse Littéraire (23) 389-415. Deirdre Wilson’s book Presuppositions and non-truth conditional semantics (1975) and this paper were the starting points of our collaboration in developing relevance theory. [PDF version]

Nicolas Claidière & Dan Sperber (2007) The role of attraction in cultural evolution. Journal of Cognition and Culture 7, 89-111.

Abstract: Henrich and Boyd (2002) were the first to propose a formal model of the role of attraction in cultural evolution. They came to the surprising conclusion that, when both attraction and selection are at work, final outcomes are determined by selection alone. Th is result is based on a determistic view of cultural attraction, different from the probabilistic view introduced in Sperber (1996). We defend this probabilistic view, show how to model it, and argue that, when both attraction and selection are at work, both affect final outcomes.

Dan Sperber (2007) Le témoignage et l’argumentation dans une perspective évolutionniste. Raisons Pratiques 17

Version française de: An evolutionary perspective on testimony and argumentation. Philosophical Topics 29, 401-413. (2001)

Luca Surian, Stefiania Caldi, Dan Sperber (2007) Attribution of beliefs by 13-month-old infants. Psychological Science 18, 580-586.

Abstract: In two experiments, we investigated whether 13-month-old infants expect agents to behave in a way consistent with information to which they have been exposed. Infants watched animations in which an animal was either provided information or prevented from gathering information about the actual location of an object. The animal then searched successfully or failed to retrieve it. Infants’ looking times suggest that they expected searches to be effective when—and only when—the agent had had access to the relevant information. This result supports the view that infants’ possess an incipient metarepresentational ability that permits them to attribute beliefs to agents. We discuss the viability of more conservative explanations and the relationship between this early ability and later forms of ‘theory of mind’ that appear only after children have become experienced verbal communicators.

Ira Noveck & Dan Sperber (2007) The why and how of experimental pragmatics: The case of ‘scalar inferences’. In N. Burton-Roberts (ed.), Advances in Pragmatics. (Palgrave)

“Although a few pioneers in psycholinguistics had, for more than twenty years, approached various pragmatic issues experimentally, it is only in the past few years that investigators have begun employing the experimental method in testing pragmatic hypotheses (see Noveck & Sperber 2004). We see this emergence of a proper experimental pragmatics as an important advance with a great potential for further development. In this chapter we want to illustrate what can be done with experimental approaches to pragmatic issues by presenting one case, that of so-called ‘scalar inferences’, where the experimental method has helped sharpen a theoretical debate and has provided uniquely relevant evidence…” [PDF version]

Dan Sperber & Lawrence Hirschfeld (2007) Culture and modularity. In P. Carruthers, S. Laurence, S. Stich (eds.), The Innate Mind: Culture and Cognition. (Oxford University Press), 149-164.

“…We agree with standard social science that culture is not human psychology writ large and that it would make little sense to seek a psychological reductionist explanation of culture. We believe, however, that psychological factors play an essential role in culture. Among these psychological factors, the modular organization of human cognitive abilities favors the recurrence, cross-cultural variability, and local stability of a wide range of cultural representations. “

Dan Sperber (2007) Seedless Grapes: Nature and Culture. In S. Laurence & E. Margolis (eds.), Creations of the Mind: Theories of Artifacts and their Representation, (Oxford University Press)

“…Domesticated plants and animals have simultaneously biological, cultural, and artifactual functions… How should we describe these functions and their articulation? What are the biological and cultural functions of seedless grapes, or of suntans, and how do these functions interact? In trying to answer such questions, we are led to rethink the relationship between nature and culture, and to reappraise the notion of an artifact….”

Dan Sperber (2007) Cultura e modularità. French original in J-P. Changeux (ed.), Gènes et Culture. (Odile Jacob), 277-299.

Dan Sperber (2006) Why a deep understanding of cultural evolution is incompatible with shallow psychology. In N. Enfield & S. Levinson (eds.), Roots of Human Sociality. (Bloomsbury), 431-449.

“…I will argue that understanding the mind is doubly important to the study of culture. Psychological considerations are crucial both to a proper characterization of what is cultural and to a proper explanation of cultural phenomena…”

Dan Sperber & Nicolas Claidière (2006) Why modeling cultural evolution is still such a challenge. Biological Theory 1(1), 20-22.

“…it will take more than adjusting the Darwinian model to be faithful to the Darwinian inspiration…”

Dan Sperber & Gloria Origgi (2005) Pourquoi parler, comment comprendre? In J-M. Hombert, (ed.) L’origine de l’homme, du langage et des langues. (Fayard), 236-253.

“…Une nouvelle branche de la linguistique, la pragmatique, s’est développé au cours des dernières décennies. Elle étudie la compréhension des énoncés en contexte. Qui adopte une perspective pragmatique est amené à concevoir les énoncés non tant comme des moyens qu’utilise le locuteur pour transmettre au moyen de sons le sens qu’il veut communiquer, mais plutôt comme des indices riches et complexes que le locuteur fourni à l’auditeur afin de lui permettre de reconstruire le sens voulu… Nous nous interrogerons ici sur les conséquences de la perspective pragmatique pour l’étude de l’évolution du langage…”

Dan Sperber & Deirdre Wilson (2005) Pragmatics. In F. Jackson & M. Smith (eds.), Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Language. (Oxford University Press)

” …pragmatics contrasts with semantics, the study of linguistic meaning, and is the study of how contextual factors interact with linguistic meaning in the interpretation of utterances. Here we will briefly highlight a range of closely related, fairly central pragmatic issues and approaches that have been of interest to linguists and philosophers of language in the past thirty years or so. Pragmatics, as we will describe it, is an empirical science, but one with philosophical origins and philosophical import.”

Dan Sperber (2005) Modularity and relevance: How can a massively modular mind be flexible and context-sensitive?In P. Carruthers, S. Laurence, S. Stich (eds.), The Innate Mind: Structure and Content. (Oxford University Press)

“…What I want to do here is answer two questions: How can a massively modular mind be flexible? And: How can a massively modular mind be context-sensitive?…” [PDF version]

Dan Sperber (2005) Conceptual tools for a naturalistic approach to cultural evolution. In S. Levinson & P. Jaisson (eds.), Evolution and Culture. (MIT Press), 147-166.

Jean-Baptiste Van der Henst & Dan Sperber (2004) Testing the cognitive and communicative principles of relevance. In I. Noveck & D. Sperber (eds.), Experimental Pragmatics, (Palgrave)

The studies reported in this chapter test predictions directly inspired by central tenets of relevance theory and, in particular, by the cognitive and the communicative principles of relevance.

Dan Sperber & Ira Noveck (2004) Introduction. In I. Noveck & D. Sperber (eds.), Experimental Pragmatics, (Palgrave)

This volume lays down the bases for a new field, Experimental Pragmatics, that draws on pragmatics, psycholinguistics and also on the psychology of reasoning. [PDF version]

Dan Sperber & Lawrence Hirschfeld (2004) The cognitive foundations of cultural stability and diversity. Trends in Cognive Science 8, 40-46.

Abstract: The existence and diversity of human cultures are made possible by our species-specific cognitive capacities. But how? Do cultures emerge and diverge as a result of the deployment, over generations and in different populations, of general abilities to learn, imitate and communicate? What role if any do domain-specific evolved cognitive abilities play in the emergence and evolution of cultures? These questions have been approached from different vantage points in different disciplines. Here we present a view that is currently developing out of the converging work of developmental psychologists, evolutionary psychologists and cognitive anthropologists.

Deirdre Wilson & Dan Sperber (2004) Relevance Theory. In L. R. Horn & G. Ward (eds.), The Handbook of Pragmatics. (Blackwell), 607-632.

We outline the main assumptions of the current version of the theory and discuss some of its implications for pragmatics [PDF version]

Dan Sperber (2003) Pourquoi repenser l’interdisciplinarité? Séminaire virtuel Rethinking interdisciplinarity / Repenser l’interdisciplinarité à www.interdisciplines.org

Version française de “Why rethink interdisciplinarity?” Texte discuté dans le cadre du séminaire virtuel Rethinking interdisciplinarity / Repenser l’interdisciplinarité à  www.interdisciplines.org (où l’intégralité de la discussion est en ligne).

Dan Sperber (2003) Why rethink interdisciplinarity? Virtual seminar Rethinking interdisciplinarity on www.interdisciplines.org

English version of “Pourquoi repenser l’interdisciplinarité?” Text discussed in the virtual seminar Rethinking interdisciplinarity / Repenser l’interdisciplinarité on www.interdisciplines.org 2003 (where the whole discussion is available). [PDF version]

Dan Sperber & Vittorio Girotto (2003) Does the selection task detect cheater-detection? In J. Fitness & K. Sterelny (eds.), New directions in evolutionary psychology. Macquarie Monographs in Cognitive Science (Psychology Press)

We begin, with a short presentation of Cosmides’s social contract hypothesis, of Wason selection task, and of Cosmides’s reasons to use the task in order to test the theory. In a second section, we present the relevance-theoretic analysis of the selection task proposed by Sperber, Cara and Girotto (1995) which cast doubts on the appropriateness of the task to study reasoning. In a third section, we present Fiddick, Cosmides and Tooby’s (2000) defense of the use of the selection task as a tool to test evolutionary theories of reasoning, and argue that it is methodologically flawed. In a fourth section, we present three experiments designed to test contrasting predictions deriving from the two approaches. In the conclusion, we come back to Cosmides’s hypothesis and reflect on how it might be really tested…”

Dan Sperber & Vittorio Girotto (2002) Use or misuse of the selection task? Rejoinder to Fiddick, Cosmides, and Tooby. Cognition 85, 277-290.

Abstract: Sperber, Cara, and Girotto (1995) argued that, in Wason’s selection task, relevance-guided comprehension processes tend to determine participants’ performance and pre-empt the use of other inferential capacities. Because of this, the value of the selection task as a tool for studying human inference has been grossly overestimated. Fiddick, Cosmides, and Tooby (2000) argued against Sperber et al. that specialized inferential mechanisms, in particular the “social contract algorithm” hypothesized by Cosmides (1989), pre-empt more general comprehension abilities, making the selection task a useful tool after all. We rebut this argument. We argue and illustrate with two new experiments, that Fiddick et al. mix the true Wason selection task with a trivially simple categorization task superficially similar to the Wason task, yielding methodologically flawed evidence. We conclude that the extensive use of various kinds of selection tasks in the psychology of reasoning has been quite counter-productive and should be discontinued.

Maurice Bloch & Dan Sperber (2002) Kinship and evolved psychological dispositions: The Mother’s Brother controversy reconsidered. Current Anthropology 43(4), 723-748.

Abstract: This article revisits the old controversy concerning the relation of the mother’s brother and sister’s son in patrilineal societies in the light both of anthropological criticisms of the very notion of kinship and of evolutionary and epidemiological approaches to culture. It argues that the ritualized patterns of behavior discussed by Radcliffe-Brown, Goody, and others are to be explained in terms of the interaction of a variety of factors, some local and historical, others pertaining to general human dispositions. In particular, an evolved disposition to favor relatives can contribute to the development and stabilization of these behaviors not by directly generating them but by making them particularly “catchy” and resilient. In this way, it is possible to recognize both that cultural representations and practices are specific to a community at a time in its history (rather than mere tokens of a general type) and that they are, in essential respects, grounded in the common evolved psychology of human beings.

Jean-Baptiste Van der Henst, Laura Carles, Dan Sperber (2002) Truthfulness and relevance in telling the time. Mind and Language 17, 457-466.

Abstract: Someone asked ‘What time is it?’ when her watch reads 3:08 is likely to answer ‘It is 3:10.’ We argue that a fundamental factor that explains such rounding is a psychological disposition to give an answer that, while not necessarily strictly truthful or accurate, is an optimally relevant one (in the sense of relevance theory) i.e. an answer from which hearers can derive the consequences they care about with minimal effort. A rounded answer is easier to process and may carry the same consequences as one that is accurate to the minute. Hence rounding is often a way of optimising relevance. Three simple experiments give support and greater precision to the view that relevance is more important than strict truthfulness in verbal communication.

Deirdre Wilson & Dan Sperber (2002) Truthfulness and relevance. Mind 111 583.

Abstract: This paper questions the widespread view that verbal communication is governed by a maxim, norm or convention of literal truthfulness. Pragmatic frameworks based on this view must explain the common occurrence and acceptability of metaphor, hyperbole and loose talk. We argue against existing explanations of these phenomena and provide and alternative account, based on the assumption that verbal communication is governed not by expectations of truthfulness but by expectations of relevance, which are raised by literal, loose and metaphorical talk alike. Sample analyses are provided, and some consequences of this alternative account are explored.

Dan Sperber & Deirdre Wilson (2002) Pragmatics, modularity and mind-reading. Mind and Language 17, 3-23.

Abstract:  The central problem for pragmatics is that sentence meaning vastly underdetermines speaker’s meaning. The goal of pragmatics is to explain how the gap between sentence meaning and speaker’s meaning is bridged. This paper defends the broadly Gricean view that pragmatic interpretation is ultimately an exercise in mind-reading, involving the inferential attribution of intentions. We argue, however, that the interpretation process does not simply consist in applying general mind-reading abilities to a particular (communicative) domain. Rather, it involves a dedicated comprehension module, with its own special principles and mechanisms. We show how such a metacommunicative module might have evolved, and what principles and mechanisms it might contain.

Dan Sperber (2002) Il futuro della scrittura. Convegno virtuale “text-e”

Contributo al convegno virtuale text-e, 2002, il primo convegno interamente virtuale dedicato all’impatto di Internet sul testo scritto, la lettura e la diffusione della conoscenza. Il convegno si è svolto dal 15 ottobre 2001 a fine marzo 2002. Su text-e troverete le dieci conferenze invitate e i dibattiti archiviati che hanno seguito ogni conferenza.

Dan Sperber (2002) L’avenir de l’écriture. Colloque virtuel “text-e”

Texte écrit en anglais, français et italien pour le colloque virtuel text-e, organisé par l’Association Euro-Edu, la Bibliothèque Publique d’Information du Centre Pompidou  et la Société GiantChair, colloque consacré à explorer l’impact de l’Internet sur la lecture, l’écriture et la diffusion du savoir. Le colloque s’est déroulé du 15 octobre 2001 jusqu’à fin mars 2002; les débats peuvent être consultés sur le site du colloque ou dans Text-e: Le texte à l’heure de l’Internet, Gloria Origgi & Noga Arikha eds., 2003 Paris: Bibliothèque Publique d’Information.

Dan Sperber (2002) The future of writing. Virtual symposium “text-e”

Text written in English, French and Italian for the virtual symposium text-e, organised by the Association Euro-Edu, the Bibliothèque Publique d’Information du Centre Pompidou and the Société GiantChair on the impact of the Web on reading, writing and the diffusion of knowledge. The symposium took place from October 15th 2001 until the end of March 2002. The debates can be read on the site of the symposium.

Jean-Baptiste Van Der Henst, Dan Sperber, Guy Politzer (2002) When is a conclusion worth deriving? A relevance-based analysis of indeterminate relational problems. Thinking & Reasoning 8(1), 1-20.

Abstract : When is a conclusion worth deriving? We claim that a conclusion is worth deriving to the extent that it is relevant in the sense of relevance theory (Sperber & Wilson, 1995). To support this hypothesis, we experiment with “indeterminate relational problems” where we ask participants what, if anything, follows from premises such as A is taller than B, A is taller than C. With such problems, the indeterminate response that nothing follows is common, and we explain why. We distinguish several types of determinate conclusions and show that their rate is a function of their relevance. We argue that by appropriately changing the formulation of the premises, the relevance of determinate conclusions can be increased, and the rate of indeterminate responses thereby reduced. We contrast these relevance-based predictions with predictions based on linguistic congruence. [PDF version]

Dan Sperber (2001) L’individuel sous influence du collectif. La Recherche 344, 32-35.

“Notre activité mentale s’appuie sur des mémoires externes qui ont évolué avec le développement de l’écriture, de l’imprimerie, et maintenant des nouvelles technologies de l’information. Une évolution dont doivent tenir compte aussi bien les sciences sociales que les sciences cognitives…”

Dan Sperber (2001) An evolutionary perspective on testimony and argumentation. Philosophical Topics 29, 401-413.

“…A significant proportion of socially acquired beliefs are likely to be false beliefs, and this not just as a result of the malfunctioning, but also of the proper functioning of social communication…” [PDF version]

Vittorio Girotto, Markus Kemmelmeier, Dan Sperber, Jean-Baptiste Van der Henst (2001) Inept reasoners or pragmatic virtuosos? Relevance and the deontic selection task. Cognition 81, 69-76.

Abstract: Most individuals fail the selection task, selecting P and Q cases, when they have to test descriptive rules of the form ªIf P, then Qº. But they solve it, selecting P and not-Q cases, when they have to test deontic rules of the form ªIf P, then must Qº. According to relevance theory, linguistic comprehension processes determine intuitions of relevance that, in turn, determine case selections in both descriptive and deontic problems. We tested the relevance theory predictions in a within-participants experiment. The results showed that the same rule, regardless of whether it is tested descriptively or deontically, can be made to yield more P and Q selections or more P and not-Q selections. We conclude that the selection task does not provide a tool to test general claims about human reasoning.

Dan Sperber (2001) In Defense of massive modularity. In E. Dupoux (ed.), Language, Brain and Cognitive Development: Essays in Honor of Jacques Mehler. (MIT Press), 47-57.

“In October 1990, a psychologist, Susan Gelman, and three anthropologists whose interest for cognition had been guided and encouraged by Jacques Mehler, Scott Atran, Larry Hirschfeld and myself, organized a conference on “Cultural Knowledge and Domain Specificity” … A main issue at stake was the degree to which cognitive development, everyday cognition, and cultural knowledge are based on dedicated domain-specific mechanisms, as opposed to a domain-general intelligence and learning capacity…” [PDF version]

Dan Sperber (2001) Conceptual tools for a natural science of society and culture (Radcliffe-Brown Lecture in Social Anthopology 1999). Proceedings of the British Academy 111, 297-317.

Abstract: To approach society and culture in a naturalistic way, the domain of the social sciences must be reconceptualised by recognising only entities and processes of which we have a naturalistic understanding. These are mental representations and public productions, the processes that causally link them, the causal chains that bond these links, and the complex webs of such causal chains that criss-cross human populations over time and space. Such causal chains may distribute and stabilise representations and productions throughout a human population, thereby generating culture. The lecture introduces several conceptual tools useful for such a naturalistic approach, and illustrates their use with the case study of ritual activity in a Southern Ethiopian household. [PDF version]

Dan Sperber (2000) Metarepresentations in an evolutionary perspective. In D. Sperber (ed.), Metarepresentations: A Multidisciplinary Perspective. (Oxford University Press), 117-137.

“Just as bats are unique in their ability to use echolocation, so are humans unique in their ability to use metarepresentations. Other primates may have some rather rudimentary metarepresentational capacities. We humans are massive users of metarepresentations, and of quite complex ones at that…”

Dan Sperber (2000) Introduction. In D. Sperber (ed.), Metarepresentations. (Oxford University Press), 3-13.

Dan Sperber (2000) Quelques outils conceptuels pour une science naturelle de la societe et de la culture. Raisons Pratiques

Version française de: Conceptual tools for a natural science of society and culture. Proceedings of the British Academy 111, 297-317. (2001)

Gloria Origgi & Dan Sperber (2000) Evolution, communication, and the proper function of language. In P. Carruthers & A. Chamberlain (eds.), Evolution and the Human Mind: Language, Modularity and Social Cognition. (Cambridge University Press), 140-169.

“Language is both a biological and a cultural phenomenon. Our aim here is to discuss, in an evolutionary perspective, the articulation of these two aspects of language. For this, we draw on the general conceptual framework developed by Ruth Millikan (1984) while at the same time dissociating ourselves from her view of language…” [PDF version]

Dan Sperber (2000) La communication et le sens. In Y. Michaud (ed.), Qu’est-ce que l’humain? Université de tous les savoirs, volume 2. (Odile Jacob), 119-128.

“…La facilité avec laquelle nous communiquons peut nous dissimuler le problème d’explication que pose cette facilité même…”

Dan Sperber (2000) An objection to the memetic approach to culture. In R. Aunger (ed.), Darwinizing Culture: The Status of Memetics as a Science. (Oxford University Press), 163-173.

“Memetics is one possible evolutionary approach to the study of culture. Boyd and Richerson’s models (1985), or my epidemiology of representations (1985, 1996), are among other possible evolutionary approaches inspired in various ways by Darwin. Memetics however, is, by its very simplicity, particularly attractive…”

Dan Sperber (1999) Pour un utopisme raisonné. In R-P. Droit & D. Sperber, Des Idées qui viennent (Odile Jacob), 169-187.

Roger-Pol Droit et moi avons publié en 1999 une discussion philosophique et politique entre nous en six parties, chacune introduite par un cour essai de l’un ou de l’autre. Voici le troisième de mes trois essais.

Dan Sperber (1999) Voir autrement la culture. In R-P. Droit & D. Sperber, Des Idées qui viennent (Odile Jacob), 91-105.

Roger-Pol Droit et moi avons publié en 1999 une discussion philosophique et politique entre nous en six parties, chacune introduite par un cour essai de l’un ou de l’autre. Voici le second de mes trois essais.

Dan Sperber (1999) Naturaliser l’esprit. In R-P. Droit & D. Sperber, Des Idées qui viennent (Odile Jacob), 11-24.

Roger-Pol Droit et moi avons publié en 1999 une discussion philosophique et politique entre nous en six parties, chacune introduite par un cour essai de l’un ou de l’autre. Voici le premier de mes trois essais.

Dan Sperber & Lawrence Hirschfeld (1999) Culture, Cognition, and Evolution. In R. Wilson & F. Keil (eds.), MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences (MIT Press), cxi-cxxxii.

“Most work in the cognitive sciences focuses on the manner in which an individual device — be it a mind, a brain, or a computer — processes various kinds of information. Cognitive psychology in particular is primarily concerned with individual thought and behavior. Individuals however belong to populations. This is true in two quite different senses. Individual organisms are members of species and share a genome and most phenotypic traits with the other members of the same species. Organisms essentially have the cognitive capacities characteristic of their species, with relatively superficial individual variations. In social species, individuals are also members of groups. An important part of their cognitive activity is directed toward other members of the group with whom they cooperate and compete. Among humans in particular, social life is richly cultural. Sociality and culture are made possible by cognitive capacities, contribute to the ontogenetic and phylogenetic development of these capacities, and provide specific inputs to cognitive processes…” [PDF version]

Dan Sperber & Deirdre Wilson (1998) Irony and relevance: A reply to Drs Seto, Hamamoto and Yamanashi. In R. Carston & S. Uchida (eds.), Relevance theory: Applications and implications (John Benjamins), 283-293.

“…In this brief reply, we will look at three main issues. First, is verbal irony necessarily echoic? Should a category of non-echoic irony be recognised, as Drs Seto and Hamamoto propose? Second, is there a clear-cut boundary between ironical and non-ironical utterances, or are there borderline cases, as Dr Yamanashi suggets? Third, can the relevance-theoretic account of irony shed light on a range of more complex cases, including those discussed by Dr Hamamoto? We will end with some more general reflections on whether irony is a natural kind…” [PDF version]

Deirdre Wilson & Dan Sperber (1998) Pragmatics and time. In R. Carston & S. Uchida (eds.), Relevance theory: Applications and implications (John Benjamins), 1-22.

We sketch an inferential account of unencoded causal and temporal components of utterance interpretation as in: “John dropped the glass and it broke.” [PDF version]

Dan Sperber & Deirdre Wilson (1998) The mapping between the mental and the public lexicon. In P. Carruthers & J. Boucher (eds.), Thought and language (Cambridge University Press) 184-200.

“…given the inferential nature of comprehension, the words in a language can be used to convey not only the concepts they encode, but also indefinitely many other related concepts to which they might point in a given context. We see this not as a mere theoretical possibility, but as a universal practice, suggesting that there are many times more concepts in our minds than words in our language…” [PDF version]

Dan Sperber (1998) Are Folk Taxonomies “memes”? Commentary on Scott Atran (1998) ‘Folk biology and the anthropology of science: Cognitive universals and cultural particulars’. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 21(4), 589-590.

Abstract: This commentary stresses the importance of Atran’s work for the development of a new cognitive anthropology, but questions both his particular use of Dawkins’s “meme” model and the general usefulness of the meme model for understanding folk-taxonomies as cultural phenomena.

Dan Sperber (1998) Réponse à Gérard Lenclud. Communications 66, 185-192.

Dan Sperber & Deirdre Wilson (1997) Remarks on relevance theory and the social sciences. Multilingua 16, 145-51.

“Some commentators have described the relevance-theoretic approach to communication as psychological rather than sociological. Often, this is intended as a criticism. We would like to respond by reflecting in very general terms about possible interactions between relevance theory and research programmes in the social sciences…” [PDF version]

Dan Sperber (1997) Intuitive and reflective beliefs. Mind and Language 12(1), 67-83.

Abstract: Humans have two kinds of beliefs, intuitive beliefs and reflective beliefs. Intuitive beliefs are a most fundamental category of cognition, defined in the architecture of the mind. They are formulated in an intuitive mental lexicon. Humans are also capable of entertaining an indefinite variety of higher-order or “reflective” propositional attitudes, many of which are of a credal sort. Reasons to hold “reflective beliefs” are provided by other beliefs that describe the source of the reflective belief as reliable, or that provide explicit arguments in favour of the reflective belief. The mental lexicon of reflective beliefs includes not only intuitive, but also reflective concepts. [PDF version]

Dan Sperber (1997) Methodological individualism and cognitivism in the social sciences. Unpublished English version of “Individualisme méthodologique et cognitivisme.” In R. Boudon, F. Chazel & A. Bouvier (eds.), Cognition et sciences sociales (Presse Universitaires de France), 123-136.

“I would like to contrast two interpretations, a weak one and a strong one, of the notion of methodological individualism, and two interpretations, a weak one and a strong one, of the notion of cognitivism. This double contrast determines four ways in which one might choose to be at the same time a methodological individualist and a cognitivist in the social sciences. One way, where both positions are adopted with a weak interpretation, is of little interest. I will argue that another way, where both positions are adopted with a strong interpretation, is incoherent. I will compare the two other possibilities…”

Dan Sperber (1997) Individualisme méthodologique et cognitivisme. In R. Boudon, F. Chazel & A. Bouvier (eds.), Cognition et sciences sociales (Presse Universitaires de France), 123-136.

“Je voudrai ici contraster deux interprétations, l’une faible, l’autre forte, de la notion d’individualisme méthodologique, et deux interprétations, l’une faible, l’autre forte, de la notion de cognitivisme. Des quatres façons dont il serait concevable de se vouloir individualiste et cognitiviste à la fois, l’une (où l’on adopte les deux positions dans leur interpétation faible) est de peu d’intérêt. Je soutiendrai qu’une autre façon (où l’on adopte les deux positions dans leur interprétation forte) est incohérente. Je comparerai les deux autres possibilités…” [PDF version]

Dan Sperber (1997) Selection and attraction in cultural evolution. In M. L. Dalla Chiara et al. (eds.), Structure and Norms in Science (Kluwer), 409-426.

Dan Sperber (1996) Author’s presentation of Explaining Culture

The six essays collected in Explaining Culture: A Naturalistic Approach (Blackwell, 1996) are all arguments for, and contributions to an epidemiology of representations.

Dan Sperber & Deirdre Wilson (1996) Fodor’s Frame Problem and Relevance Theory: reply to Chiappe & Kukla. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 19(3) 530-532.

“…Since it cannot have foreknowledge of relevance, how can the mind have, at least, non-arbitrary expectations of relevance?…” [PDF version]

Dan Sperber (1996/1975) Why are perfect animals, hybrids, and monsters food for symbolic thought? Method & Theory in the Study of Religion 8(2), 143-169.

Abstract. Work on animal symbolism, in particular that of Mary Douglas, suggests that the symbolic value of some animals is grounded in taxonomic anomaly. Yet the work of ethno-zoologists tends to show that folk-taxonomies are consistent and devoid of true anomalies. This raises a first problem. Moreover, not only anomalous animals, but also exemplary animals often take on a symbolic value, thus raising a second problem. A solution to both problems is suggested, based on an examination of the cognitive organization of folk-taxonomies, and with illustrations drawn from Ethiopian, Biblical, and Western culture. (Revised in 1980, English version of “Pourquoi les animaux parfaits, les hybrides et les monstres sont-ils bons à penser symboliquement?”L’Homme, XV (2) (1975) 5-24). [PDF version])

Dan Sperber, Francesco Cara & Vittorio Girotto (1995) Relevance Theory explains the Selection Task. Cognition 57, 31-95.

Abstract: We propose a general and predictive explanation of the Wason Selection Task (where subjects are asked to select evidence for testing a conditional “rule”). Our explanation is based on a reanalysis of the task, and on Relevance Theory. We argue that subjects’ selections in all true versions of the Selection Task result from the following procedure. Subjects infer from the rule directly testable consequences. They infer them in their order of accessibility, and stop when the resulting interpretation of the rule meets their expectations of relevance. Subjects then select the cards that may test the consequences they have inferred from the rule. Order of accessibility of consequences and expectations of relevance vary with rule and context, and so, therefore, does subjects’ performance. By devising appropriate rule-context pairs, we predict that correct performance can be elicited in any conceptual domain. We corroborate this prediction with four experiments. We argue that past results properly reanalyzed confirm our account. We discuss the relevance of the Selection Task to the study of reasoning.

Dan Sperber (1995) How do we communicate? In J. Brockman & K. Matson (eds.), How things are: A science toolkit for the mind (Morrow), 191-199.

“…The old ‘we-communicate-thanks-to-an-common-language’ story is clever and simple. It would make a great explanation if only it were true….” [PDF version]

Dan Sperber & Deirdre Wilson (1995) Postface. In Relevance: Communication and Cognition, Second Edition (Blackwell), 255-280.

Dan Sperber (1994) Understanding verbal understanding. In J. Khalfa (ed.), What is Intelligence? (Cambridge University Press), 179-198.

“…Full-fledged communicative competence involves, for the speaker, being capable of having at least third-order meta-representational communicative intentions, and, for the hearer, being capable of making at least fourth-order meta-representational attributions of such communicative intentions. … This does not imply that communicators are conscious of the complexity of their mental representations. What it does imply is that every tier of these representations may play a role in inference…” [PDF version]

Dan Sperber (1994) The modularity of thought and the epidemiology of representations. In L. A. Hirschfeld & S. A. Gelman (eds.), Mapping the Mind: Domain Specificity in Cognition and Culture (Cambridge University Press), 39-67.

Dan Sperber (1993) Remarques anthropologiques sur le relativisme moral. In J-P. Changeux (ed.), Fondements naturels de l’éthique (Odile Jacob), 319-334.

Résumé : On considère une série de distinctions : entre relativisme métaphysique et relativisme anthropologique, entre relativisme cognitif et relativisme moral, entre états mentaux et doctrines culturelles, entre justification et choix, entre morale et pratique, entre morale et convention, entre communauté morale et humanité, toutes pertinentes pour une évaluation du relativisme anthropologique en matière de morale. Faire ces distinctions permet montrer que le relativisme anthropologique classique souffrait de graves faiblesses conceptuelles et méthodologiques. Cependant, pour pouvoir évaluer la thèse relativiste elle même, il faudrait des recherches empiriques conceptuellement et méthodologiquement bien conçues qui sont bien trop rares en la matière.

Portuguese version: [PDF]

Deirdre Wilson & Dan Sperber (1993) Linguistic form and relevance. Lingua 90, 1-25.

“…An utterance can thus be expected to encode two basic types of information: representational and computational, or conceptual and procedural – that is, information about the representations to be manipulated, and information about how to manipulate them…”

Deirdre Wilson & Dan Sperber (1993) Pragmatique et temps. Langages 112, 8-25.

Dan Sperber (1993) Interpreting and explaining cultural representations. In G. Palsson (ed.), Beyond Boundaries: Understanding, Translation and Anthropological Discourse (Berg), 162-183.

Scott Atran & Dan Sperber (1991) Learning without teaching: its place in culture. In L. Landsmann (ed), Culture, schooling and psychological development (Ablex), 39-55.

Dan Sperber & Deirdre Wilson (1990) Rhetoric and relevance. In D. Wellbery & J. Bender (eds.), The Ends of Rhetoric: History, Theory , Practice (Stanford University Press), 140-155.

“…If relevance theory is right, then it offers a solution to the rhetorician’s dilemma, a way of being precise about vagueness, of making literal claims about metaphors and ironies, without abandoning any of the Romantics’ intuitions. However, rhetoricians could not adopt this solution without jeopardizing the very foundations of rhetoric. For what this solution implies is that metaphor and irony are ordinary exploitations of basic processes of verbal communication, rather than devices based on codified departures from the ordinary use of language. Moreover metaphor and irony exploit quite different basic processes and are more closely related, the former to loose talk, the latter to a variety of echoic uses, than to one another. The very notion of a trope is better dispensed with. If so, then rhetoric has no subject matter to study, or to teach…”  [PDF version]

Deirdre Wilson & Dan Sperber (1990) Forme linguistique et pertinence. Cahiers de linguistique francaise 11: Marquage linguistique, inférence et interprétation dans le discours, 13-35.

Dan Sperber (1990) The evolution of the language faculty: A paradox and its solution. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 13(4), 756-758.

Dan Sperber (1989) L’étude anthropologique des représentations: problèmes et perspectives. In D. Jodelet (ed.), Les représentations sociales (Presses Universitaires de France), 115-130.

(1988) Le Relativisme en Anthropologie: Débat entre Paul Jorion et Dan Sperber. Revue du MAUSS Nouvelle série 1, 12-26.

Paul Jorion et moi étions plus jeunes, mais le débat était déjà vieux!

Deirdre Wilson & Dan Sperber (1988) Mood and the Analysis of non-declarative sentences. In J. Dancy, J.Moravcsik & C. Taylor (eds.), Human agency: Language, duty and value (Stanford University Press), 77-101.

“How are non-declarative sentences understood? How do they differ semantically from their declarative counterparts? Answers to these questions once made direct appeal to the notion of illocutionary force. When they proved unsatisfactory, the fault was diagnosed as a failure to distinguish properly between mood and force…”

Dan Sperber & Deirdre Wilson (1987) Précis of Relevance Communication and Cognition, Behavioral and Brain Sciences 10, 697-754, with Commentaries and our response: Presumptions of relevance, Behavioral and Brain Sciences 10, 736-754.

 Abstract: In Relevance: Communication and Cognition, we outline a new approach to the study of human communication, one based on a general view of human cognition. Attention and thought processes, we argue, automatically turn toward information that seems relevant: that is, capable of yielding cognitive effects – the more, and the more economically, the greater the relevance. We analyse both the nature of cognitive effects and the inferential processes by which they are derived. …

Dan Sperber (1987) Les sciences cognitives, les sciences sociales et le matérialisme. Le Débat 47, 105-115.

Deirdre Wilson & Dan Sperber (1986) On defining relevance. In R. Grandy & R. Warner (eds.), Philosophical grounds of rationality (Oxford University Press), 243-258.

Dan Sperber & Deirdre Wilson (1986) Loose talk. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society New Series LXXXVI, 153-171.

Dan Sperber (1986) Issues in the ontology of culture. In R. B. Marcus et al. (eds.), Logic, Methodology and Philosophy of Science VII. (Elsevier), 557-571.

Dan Sperber (1985) On Anthropological Knowledge: Three Essays. Cambridge University Press.

Here is the whole book that had been out of print for a while.

Dan Sperber (1985) Anthropology and psychology: towards and epidemiology of representations (The Malinowski Memorial Lecture 1984). Man 20, 73-89.

Dan Sperber (1984) Verbal Irony: Pretense or Echoic Mention?. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 113(1), 130-136.

According to the mention theory of irony put forward by Sperber and Wilson and tested by Jorgensen, Miller, and Sperber, verbal ironies are implicit echoic mentions of meaning  conveying a derogatory attitude to the meaning mentioned. In their criticisms, Clark and Gerrig misrepresent mention theory. The pretense theory, which they offer as  a superior alternative, might provide a plausible description of parody, but it fails to account  for many types and many properties of irony proper.

Julia Jorgensen, George Miller, Dan Sperber (1984) Test of the Mention Theory of Irony. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 113(1), 112-120.

The traditional theory of irony, which assumes that an ironist uses a figurative meaning opposite to the literal meaning of the utterance, is shown to be inadequate; an alternative theory is presented, which assumes that the ironist mentions the literal meaning of the utterance and expresses an attitude toward it. Although the implications for understanding irony are difficult to test, the two theories do make testable predictions about the conditions under which irony is perceived: The mention theory requires antecedent material for the ironist to mention, whereas the standard theory does not. A reading comprehension test was conducted involving anecdotes that satisfied the traditional criterion for irony but could include or omit antecedents for echoic mention. Results favored the mention theory of irony.

Dan Sperber & Deirdre Wilson (1982) Mutual knowledge and relevance in theories of comprehension. In N. Smith (ed.), Mutual Knowledge (Academic Press), 61-131.

Dan Sperber (1982) Apparently irrational beliefs. In S. Lukes & M. Hollis (eds.), Rationality and relativism (Blackwell), 149-180.

Dan Sperber & Deirdre Wilson (1981) Irony and the Use-Mention Distinction. In Peter Cole (ed.), Radical Pragmatics, 295-318.

The first account in English of our theory of verbal irony as echoic mention.

Deirdre Wilson & Dan Sperber (1981) Pragmatics. Cognition X(1-3), 281-286.

Dan Sperber (1981) L’interprétation en anthropologie, L’Homme XXI(1), 69-92.

Deirdre Wilson & Dan Sperber (1981/1979) On Grice’s theory of conversation. In P. Werth (ed.), Conversation and discourse (Croom Helm), 155-178.

Deirdre Wilson & Dan Sperber (1979) Ordered entailments: an alternative to presuppositional theories. In Choon-Kyu Oh & D. A. Dineen (eds.), Syntax and semantics 11: Presuppositions (Academic Press), 299-323.

Dan Sperber (1975) Rethinking Symbolism. Cambridge University Press.

Here is the whole book that had been out of print for a while.


Dan Sperber (1975) Pourquoi les animaux parfaits, les hybrides et les monstres sont-ils bons à penser symboliquement? L’Homme XV(2), 5-24.

Dan Sperber (1974) Contre certains a priori anthropologiques. In E. Morin and M. Piatelli-Palmarini (éds.), L’unité de l’homme (Le Seuil), 491-512.

“…La spécificité générique de l’homme serait d’être, de tous les animaux, le moins génériquement spécifié, et l’ethnographie en apporterait la preuve….”

Dan Sperber (1974) La notion d’aînesse et ses paradoxes chez les Dorzé d’Ethiopie méridionale. Cahiers Internationaux de Sociologie LVI, 63-78.

Dan Sperber & Pierre Smith (1971) Mythologiques de Georges Dumézil. Annales XXVI, 559-586.

Dan Sperber (1967) Leach et les anthropologues. Cahiers Internationaux de Sociologie XLIII, 123-142.

Mon premier article de recherche. [PDF version]