The Evolved Apprentice

From Jean Nicod Lectures

The Evolved Apprentice

How Evolution Made Humans Unique

By Kim Sterelny

A new theory of the evolution of human cognition and human social life that emphasizes the role of information sharing across generations.

Bradford Books





A new theory of the evolution of human cognition and human social life that emphasizes the role of information sharing across generations.

Over the last three million years or so, our lineage has diverged sharply from those of our great ape relatives. Change has been rapid (in evolutionary terms) and pervasive. Morphology, life history, social life, sexual behavior, and foraging patterns have all shifted sharply away from those of the other great apes. In The Evolved Apprentice, Kim Sterelny argues that the divergence stems from the fact that humans gradually came to enrich the learning environment of the next generation. Humans came to cooperate in sharing information, and to cooperate ecologically and reproductively as well, and these changes initiated positive feedback loops that drove us further from other great apes.

Sterelny develops a new theory of the evolution of human cognition and human social life that emphasizes the gradual evolution of information-sharing practices across generations and how these practices transformed human minds and social lives. Sterelny proposes that humans developed a new form of ecological interaction with their environment, cooperative foraging. The ability to cope with the immense variety of human ancestral environments and social forms, he argues, depended not just on adapted minds but also on adapted developmental environments.

Bradford Books imprint


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262016797 264 pp. | 6 in x 9 in


$25.00 X ISBN: 9780262526661 264 pp. | 6 in x 9 in


  • The author's imposing scholarship, skill in philosophical analysis, and conscientious scientific methodology make this work a definitive critical discussion of current controversies concerning how humans evolved.


  • The Evolved Apprentice is a landmark in theorizing about human cognitive evolution. It should change the conversation. Its breadth of scope, richness of detail, and conceptual originality are unmatched in the recent literature. I recommend it highly.

    The European Legacy


  • Kim Sterelny has written a superb account of the evolution of humankind, remarkable for its breadth of vision and the range of evidence on which it draws. He reminds us how much natural selection can achieve, given vast enough stretches of time, from the accumulation of tiny physical and cultural changes too small to seem important to their immediate observers, but collectively adding up to nothing less than a revolution for our species and for our planet.

    Paul Seabright

    Toulouse School of Economics

  • InThe Evolved Apprentice, Kim Sterelny casts a sharp philosopher's eye on rather contentious ideas about how we evolved into a highly distinctive species over the last few million years. He wants to make these ideas square with the evidence, sorting genuine contributions of various scholars—from often too-strong claims based on an incomplete consideration—of all the available evidence. His apprentice learning proposal is a judicious distillation of both ideas and empiricism.

    Peter Richerson

    University of California-Davis

  • The Evolved Apprentice is first and foremost a hypothesis about the origins of the human mind. Sterelny—arguably the world's leading philosopher of biology—has produced a wonderfully informed and readable treatise detailing how the construction of a nurturing environment in which others can learn has generated the positive feedback that made the difference and rendered humanity cognitively special. And I, for one, think that he is right.

    Kevin N. Laland

    Professor of Biology, University of St. Andrews


  • Choice Outstanding Academic Title, 2012