Wesley Wildman: Michael Tomasello’s Vision of Human Uniqueness and the Place of Human Religion
Michael Tomasello’s theory of human distinctiveness, with its emphasis on the cognitive and social conditions for advanced cooperation, is a progressive research program. It is particularly well placed to subsume insights from other theories related to human thinking and morality. It is less well placed to make sense of human religion. Some central arcs within the scientific study of religious beliefs and behaviors fit Tomasello’s theory quite well, particularly central planks in the platform of the cognitive science of religion. Other arcs within the scientific study of religion call for revisions and enhancements in Tomasello’s theory, particularly the human sensitivity to the axiological dimensions of natural affordances in our environment. At least as distinctive within human nature as cooperation is, human axiological sensitivity gives rise to intense experiences that are a generative and sustaining force for religion, and this capacity has cognitive requirements that cannot be reduced to the cognitive requirements for advanced cooperation. Thus, if it is to come to terms with religion, and indeed with aesthetics, Tomasello’s theory needs to be broadened in its hard-core hypothesis to recognize the role of sensory awareness and affordance detection. Subsequently, as this cognitive capacity gives rise to potent new forms of human life around 50kYA, a third step is needed in the account of the phylogenetic emergence of human distinctiveness.