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Summary This category includes work on two main questions: (1) Can morality be given an evolutionary explanation? (2) What implications for moral philosophy would such an explanation have? Work addressing (1) must clearly specify the explanatory target. An important challenge here is to distinguish morality from related notions: altruism (biological and psychological), cooperation, prosocial emotions, and the capacity to follow norms more generally. Such work must also specify the relevant evolutionary mechanism(s). Options include kin selection, reciprocity, cultural group selection, sexual selection, costly signaling, and evolutionary constraint or accident. A useful broad distinction here is between adaptationist accounts, on which morality was selected for, and non-adaptationist accounts, on which morality is a by-product of some other trait(s). Work addressing (2) can be divided into that which considers implications for normative ethics, and for metaethics. The former is widely claimed to fall foul of the is/ought gap and the naturalistic fallacy, but the latter is immune to such charges (whatever they ultimately amount to). Work of the latter sort can be roughly but usefully divided into vindicating and debunking accounts. On the former, an evolutionary explanation for morality is at least compatible with - and may even positively support - the existence of moral facts and our possession of moral knowledge. On the latter, such an explanation somehow undermines morality, by giving reason to doubt the existence of moral facts, or our reliability as moral judgment makers, or both.
Key works Ruse & Wilson 1986 made an early, flawed but still instructive attempt to link evolutionary biology with moral philosophy. More recently, Kitcher 2005 and Joyce 2006 have offered adaptationist accounts of the evolution of morality; see Prinz 2008 for a non-adaptationist account. Kahane 2011 provides a useful framework for considering the metaethical implications of an evolutionary explanation for morality. Joyce 2006 and Street 2006 are two prominent evolutionary debunkers of morality. For a vindicating account, see Copp 2008.
Introductions Encyclopedia entries include Fitzpatrick 2008 and Schroeder 2002. For article-length overviews of the empirical and metaethical issues, see Allchin 2009 and Levy 2010, respectively. For a book-length treatment, see James 2011.
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  1. Linda Abarbanell & Marc D. Hauser (2010). Mayan Morality: An Exploration of Permissible Harms. Cognition 115 (2):207-224.
    Anthropologists have provided rich field descriptions of the norms and conventions governing behavior and interactions in small-scale societies. Here, we add a further dimension to this work by presenting hypothetical moral dilemmas involving harm, to a small-scale, agrarian Mayan population, with the specific goal of exploring the hypothesis that certain moral principles apply universally. We presented Mayan participants with moral dilemmas translated into their native language, Tseltal. Paralleling several studies carried out with educated subjects living in large-scale, developed nations, the (...)
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  2. Zed Adams (2007). The Evolution of Morality by Joyce, Richard. [REVIEW] Ethics 117 (2).
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  3. Zed Adams (2007). Frans de Waal, Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved:Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved. Ethics 117 (3):552-555.
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  4. Zed Adams (2007). Richard Joyce, The Evolution of Morality. [REVIEW] Ethics 117 (2):363-369.
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  5. Nicholas Agar (2002). Agar's Review of Katz. [REVIEW] Biology and Philosophy 17 (1):123-139.
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  6. Nicholas Agar (2001). Book Review. Beyond Evolution: Human Nature and the Limits of Evolutionary Explanation Anthony O'Hear. [REVIEW] Mind 110 (438):534-537.
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  7. Arif Ahmed (2013). From Game Theoretical Accounts of Cooperation to Meta-Ethical Choices. Studies in Christian Ethics 26 (2):176-183.
    This paper argues briefly that game theory in general, and evolutionary game theory in particular, are (1) ethically neutral (2) theologically irrelevant. By ‘game theory’ I mean the abstract mathematical theory of interacting agents that are ‘rational’ in the sense of the von Neumann-Morgenstern axioms. By ‘evolutionary game theory’ I mean the attempt to explain observed features of actual populations on an interpretation of game theory that equates utility with evolutionary fitness.
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  8. Max Albert & Hannes Rusch, Indirect Reciprocity, Golden Opportunities for Defection, and Inclusive Reputation. MAGKS Discussion Paper Series in Economics.
    In evolutionary models of indirect reciprocity, reputation mechanisms can stabilize cooperation even in severe cooperation problems like the prisoner’s dilemma. Under certain circumstances, conditionally cooperative strategies, which cooperate iff their partner has a good reputation, cannot be invaded by any other strategy that conditions behavior only on own and partner reputation. The first point of this paper is to show that an evolutionary version of backward induction can lead to a breakdown of this kind of indirectly reciprocal cooperation. Backward induction, (...)
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  9. John Alcock (1990). Review: Evolutionary Cynicism and Moral Realities. [REVIEW] Behavior and Philosophy 18 (2):89 - 96.
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  10. J. McKenzie Alexander, Reconciling Morality with the Theory of Rational Choice Via Evolution.
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  11. J. McKenzie Alexander (2007). The Structural Evolution of Morality. Cambridge University Press.
    It is certainly the case that morality governs the interactions that take place between individuals. But what if morality exists because of these interactions? This book argues for the claim that much of the behaviour we view as 'moral' exists because acting in that way benefits each of us to the greatest extent possible, given the socially structured nature of society. Drawing upon aspects of evolutionary game theory, the theory of bounded rationality, and computational models of social networks, it shows (...)
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  12. J. McKenzie Alexander (2000). Evolutionary Explanations of Distributive Justice. Philosophy of Science 67 (3):490-516.
    Evolutionary game theoretic accounts of justice attempt to explain our willingness to follow certain principles of justice by appealing to robustness properties possessed by those principles. Skyrms (1996) offers one sketch of how such an account might go for divide-the-dollar, the simplest version of the Nash bargaining game, using the replicator dynamics of Taylor and Jonker (1978). In a recent article, D'Arms et al. (1998) criticize his account and describe a model which, they allege, undermines his theory. I sketch a (...)
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  13. Richard Alexander (1987). The Biology of Moral Systems. Aldine de Gruyter.
    Despite wide acceptance that the attributes of living creatures have appeared through a cumulative evolutionary process guided chiefly by natural selection, many human activities have seemed analytically inaccessible through such an approach. Prominent evolutionary biologists, for example, have described morality as contrary to the direction of biological evolution, and moral philosophers rarely regard evolution as relevant to their discussions. -/- The Biology of Moral Systems adopts the position that moral questions arise out of conflicts of interest, and that moral systems (...)
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  14. Richard D. Alexander (1993). Biological Considerations in the Analysis of Morality. In Matthew Nitecki & Doris Nitecki (eds.), Evolutionary Ethics. Suny Press 163--196.
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  15. Douglas Allchin (2009). The Evolution of Morality. Evolution 2 (4):590-601.
    Here, in textbook style, is a concise biological account of the evolution of morality. It addresses morality on three levels: moral outcomes (behavioral genetics), moral motivation or intent (psychology and neurology), and moral systems (sociality). The rationale for teaching this material is addressed in Allchin (2009). Classroom resources (including accompanying images and video links) and a discussion of teaching strategies are provided online at: http://EvolutionOfMorality.net.
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  16. Douglas Allchin (2009). Teaching the Evolution of Morality: Status and Resources. Evolution 2 (4):629-635.
    Recent studies now provide a relatively robust explanation of how moral behavior evolved, perhaps not just in humans. An analysis of current biology textbooks shows that they fail to address this critical topic fully. Here, I survey resources—books, images, and videos—that can guide educators in meeting the challenge of teaching the biology of morality.
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  17. Alldredge (2000). Rethinking the Origin of Morality and Moral Development. Journal of Mind and Behavior 21 (1-2):105-128.
    This article discusses moral development in light of recent advances in biofunctional cognition. We begin by discussing moral development from three contemporary approaches, namely, the cognitive-developmental, narrative, and educational perspectives. Clearly, these perspectives have changed substantially our understanding of moral development. However, they also share the limitation that they have each focused on some aspect of moral development in isolation. To try to unify what is already known without losing sight of the holistic essence of morality, one must address moral (...)
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  18. Colin Allen & Marc Bekoff (2005). Animal Play and the Evolution of Morality: An Ethological Approach. Topoi 24 (2):125-135.
    In this paper we argue that there is much to learn about “wild justice” and the evolutionary origins of morality – behaving fairly – by studying social play behavior in group-living mammals. Because of its relatively wide distribution among the mammals, ethological investigation of play, informed by interdisciplinary cooperation, can provide a comparative perspective on the evolution of ethical behavior that is broader than is provided by the usual focus on primate sociality. Careful analysis of social play reveals rules of (...)
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  19. Fritz Allhoff (2009). The Evolution of the Moral Sentiments and the Metaphysics of Morals. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 12 (1):97 - 114.
    So-called evolutionary error theorists, such as Michael Ruse and Richard Joyce, have argued that naturalistic accounts of the moral sentiments lead us to adopt an error theory approach to morality. Roughly, the argument is that an appreciation of the etiology of those sentiments undermines any reason to think that they track moral truth and, furthermore, undermines any reason to think that moral truth actually exists. I argue that this approach offers us a false dichotomy between error theory and some form (...)
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  20. Fritz Allhoff (2003). Evolutionary Ethics From Darwin to Moore. History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 25 (1):51 - 79.
    Evolutionary ethics has a long history, dating all the way back to Charles Darwin.1 Almost immediately after the publication of the Origin, an immense interest arose in the moral implications of Darwinism and whether the truth of Darwinism would undermine traditional ethics. Though the biological thesis was certainly exciting, nobody suspected that the impact of the Origin would be confined to the scientific arena. As one historian wrote, 'whether or not ancient populations of armadillos were transformed into the species that (...)
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  21. Kevin A. Ameriks, Tad R. Brennan, Ann E. Cudd, Kirk A. Greer, Bart Gruzalski, David P. McCabe, John McCumber, Richard Sherlock & Ira J. Singer (2003). 10. Richard Joyce, The Myth of Morality Richard Joyce, The Myth of Morality (Pp. 182-184). Ethics 114 (1).
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  22. Keith Ansell-Pearson (2014). Morality and the Philosophy of Life in Guyau and Bergson. Continental Philosophy Review 47 (1):59-85.
    In this essay I examine the contribution a philosophy of life is able to make to our understanding of morality, including our appreciation of its evolution or development and its future. I focus on two contributions, namely, those of Jean-Marie Guyau and Henri Bergson. In the case of Guyau I show that he pioneers the naturalistic study of morality through a conception of life; for him the moral progress of humanity is bound up with an increasing sociability, involving both the (...)
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  23. Thomas Kent Appleberry (1996). Intuition in Moral Theory. Dissertation, The University of Texas at Austin
    I argue that an examination of the nature of moral intuition shows it to be unsuitable as a basis for moral theory. I draw a comparison between moral and mathematical intuition based on theories concerning the evolutionary formation of the capacities for each. In this context I develop a theory of the evolutionary origin of guilt that serves as a model for some general proposals about the origin of moral experience and intuition. I conclude from the comparison that the capacities (...)
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  24. Larry Arnhart (2001). Thomistic Natural Law as Darwinian Natural Right. Social Philosophy and Policy 18 (1):1-33.
    The publication in 1975 of Edward O. Wilson's Sociobiology provoked a great controversy, for in that work Wilson claimed that ethics was rooted in human biology. On the first page of the book, he asserted that our deepest intuitions of right and wrong are guided by the emotional control centers of the brain, which evolved via natural selection to help the human animal exploit opportunities and avoid threats in the natural environment. In 1998, the publication of Wilson's Consilience renewed the (...)
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  25. Larry Arnhart (2001). The Truth, Goodness, and Beauty of Darwinism. Zygon 36 (1):77-92.
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  26. Larry Arnhart (1998). Darwinian Natural Right: The Biological Ethics of Human Nature. State University of New York Press.
    This book shows how Darwinian biology supports an Aristotelian view of ethics as rooted in human nature. Defending a conception of "Darwinian natural right" based on the claim that the good is the desirable, the author argues that there are at least twenty natural desires that are universal to all human societies because they are based in human biology. The satisfaction of these natural desires constitutes a universal standard for judging social practice as either fulfilling or frustrating human nature, although (...)
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  27. Larry Arnhart (1998). The New Darwinian Naturalism in Political Theory. Zygon 33 (3):369-393.
  28. Marc Artiga (2015). Rescuing Tracking Theories of Morality. Philosophical Studies 172 (12):3357-3374.
    Street’s :109–166, 2006) Darwinian Dilemma purports to show that evolutionary considerations are in tension with realist theories of value, which include moral realism. According to this argument, moral realism can only be defended by assuming an implausible tracking relation between moral attitudes and moral facts. In this essay, I argue that this tracking relation is not as implausible as most people have assumed by showing that the three main objections against it are flawed. Since this is a key premise in (...)
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  29. Robert Axelrod (1984). The Evolution of Cooperation. Basic Books.
    The 'Evolution of Cooperation' addresses a simple yet age-old question; If living things evolve through competition, how can cooperation ever emerge? Despite the abundant evidence of cooperation all around us, there existed no purely naturalistic answer to this question until 1979, when Robert Axelrod famously ran a computer tournament featuring a standard game-theory exercise called The Prisoner's Dilemma. To everyone's surprise, the program that won the tournament, named Tit for Tat, was not only the simplest but the most "cooperative" entrant. (...)
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  30. Francisco Ayala (2010). What the Biological Sciences Can and Cannot Contribute to Ethics. In Francisco José Ayala & Robert Arp (eds.), Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Biology. Wiley-Blackwell Pub.
    The question whether ethical behavior is biologically determined may refer either to the capacity for ethics (i.e., the proclivity to judge human actions as either right or wrong), or to the moral norms accepted by human beings for guiding their actions. I herein propose: (1) that the capacity for ethics is a necessary attribute of human nature; and (2) that moral norms are products of cultural evolution, not of biological evolution. Humans exhibit ethical behavior by nature because their biological makeup (...)
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  31. Francisco Ayala (2006). Biology to Ethics: An Evolutionist's View of Human Nature. In Giovanni Boniolo & Gabriele De Anna (eds.), Evolutionary Ethics and Contemporary Biology. Cambridge University Press 141--158.
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  32. Francisco J. Ayala (2010). The Biological Foundations of Ethics. Revista Portuguesa de Filosofia 66 (3):523 - 537.
    Erect posture and large brain are two of the most significant anatomical traits that distinguish us from nonhuman primates. But humans are also different from chimpanzees and other animals, and no less importantly, in their behavior, both as individuals and socially. Distinctive human behavioral attributes include tool-making and technology; abstract thinking, categorizing, and reasoning; symbolic (creative) language; self-awareness and death-awareness; science, literature, and art; legal codes, ethics and religion; complex social organization and political institutions. These traits may all be said (...)
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  33. Francisco J. Ayala (1987). The Biological Roots of Morality. Biology and Philosophy 2 (3):235-252.
    The question whether ethical behavior is biologically determined may refer either to thecapacity for ethics (e.i., the proclivity to judge human actions as either right or wrong), or to the moralnorms accepted by human beings for guiding their actions. My theses are: (1) that the capacity for ethics is a necessary attribute of human nature; and (2) that moral norms are products of cultural evolution, not of biological evolution.Humans exhibits ethical behavior by nature because their biological makeup determines the presence (...)
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  34. Francisco José Ayala (1967). Man in Evolution: A Scientific Statement and Some Theological and Ethical Implications. The Thomist 31:1-20.
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  35. Giovanni Felice Azzone (2003). The Dual Biological Identity of Human Beings and the Naturalization of Morality. History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 25 (2):211 - 241.
    The last two centuries have been the centuries of the discovery of the cell evolution: in the XIX century of the germinal cells and in the XX century of two groups of somatic cells, namely those of the brain-mind and of the immune systems. Since most cells do not behave in this way, the evolutionary character of the brain-mind and of the immune systems renders human beings formed by two different groups of somatic cells, one with a deterministic and another (...)
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  36. Elizabeth Baeten (2012). Another Defense of Naturalized Ethics. Metaphilosophy 43 (5):533-550.
    This essay argues against Richard Joyce, using him as an exemplar of a number of writers who purport to show that the best a naturalized ethics can provide are demands that we can hold only as moral agnostics; that is, that no moral claims can be shown to be epistemically warranted, hence no moral claims have the property of “inescapable authority” necessary for real moral discourse or deliberation. The prudent course of action is therefore to act as if moral claims (...)
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  37. Elizabeth Baeten (2007). Embedded and Embodied Moral Life. Contemporary Pragmatism 4 (2):77-92.
    Evolutionary biology and other fields presupposing humans as products of natural selection have much to contribute to philosophic inquiry. This seems especially true for American philosophy in a broad "pragmatist" or "naturalist" tradition. I examine sociality as a precondition of being human , embodied cognition, and culture as a product of ecological niche construction. I then make some suggestions, with Dewey in mind, as to the shape of our thinking about our moral lives once we recognize humans as squarely within (...)
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  38. Elizabeth Baeten (2004). Evolution and Ethics: Together Again? Studies in Practical Philosophy 4 (2):3-22.
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  39. Julian Baggini (1998). Darwin and Ethics. The Philosophers' Magazine 4:49-49.
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  40. Stephen W. Ball (1995). Gibbard's Evolutionary Theory of Rationality and its Ethical Implications. Biology and Philosophy 10 (2):129-180.
    Gibbard''s theory of rationality is evolutionary in terms of its result as well as its underpinning argument. The result is that judgments about what is rational are analyzed as being similar to judgments of morality — in view of what Darwin suggests concerning the latter. According to the Darwinian theory, moral judgments are based on sentiments which evolve to promote the survival and welfare of human societies. On Gibbard''s theory, rationality judgments should be similarly regarded as expressing emotional attachments to (...)
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  41. Stephen W. Ball (1992). Morality Among Nations: An Evolutionary View. [REVIEW] Biology and Philosophy 7 (3):361-377.
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  42. Stephen W. Ball (1988). Evolution, Explanation, and the Fact/Value Distinction. Biology and Philosophy 3 (3):317-348.
    Though modern non-cognitivists in ethics characteristically believe that values are irreducible to facts, they nevertheless believe that values are determined by facts, viz., those specified in functionalist, explanatory theories of the evolutionary origin of morality. The present paper probes the consistency of this position. The conventionalist theories of Hume and Harman are examined, and are seen not to establish a tight determinative reduction of values to facts. This result is illustrated by reference to recent theories of the sociobiological mechanisms involved (...)
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  43. Terence Ball (1981). Book Review:Darwinism and Human Affairs. Richard D. Alexander. [REVIEW] Ethics 92 (1):161-.
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  44. Albert G. A. Balz (1926). Evolution in Morals or the Evolution of Morals? Journal of Philosophy 23 (13):337-348.
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  45. H. Clark Barrett, Alexander Bolyanatz, Alyssa N. Crittenden, Daniel M. T. Fessler, Simon Fitzpatrick, Michael Gurven, Joseph Henrich, Martin Kanovsky, Geoff Kushnick, Anne Pisor, Brooke A. Scelza, Stephen Stich, Chris von Rueden, Wanying Zhao & Stephen Laurence (forthcoming). Small-Scale Societies Exhibit Fundamental Variation in the Role of Intentions in Moral Judgment. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
    Intent and mitigating circumstances play a central role in moral and legal assessments in large-scale industrialized societies. Al- though these features of moral assessment are widely assumed to be universal, to date, they have only been studied in a narrow range of societies. We show that there is substantial cross-cultural variation among eight traditional small-scale societies (ranging from hunter-gatherer to pastoralist to horticulturalist) and two Western societies (one urban, one rural) in the extent to which intent and mitigating circumstances influence (...)
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  46. Jonathan Barrett (1991). Really Taking Darwin and the Naturalistic Fallacy Seriously: An Objection to Rottschaefer and Martinsen. [REVIEW] Biology and Philosophy 6 (4):433-437.
    Out of a concern to respect the naturalistic fallacy, Ruse (1986) argues for the possibility of causal, but not justificatory, explanations of morality in terms of evolutionary processes. In a discussion of Ruse's work, Rottschaefer and Martinsen (1990) claim that he erroneously limits the explanatory scope of evolutionary concepts, because he fails to see that one can have objective moral properties without committing either of two forms of the naturalistic fallacy, if one holds that moral properties supervene on non-moral properties. (...)
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  47. L. A. Barricelli (1997). The Interaction Between Morality and Society--Its Evolutionary Mechanism. Journal of Human Values 3 (2):173-180.
    An interaction between the ways morality and society develop in the face of the challenges they are exposed to seems consistent with empirical evidence. However, within this frame man's instinct of self preservation and his individualism seem to play an important part. The former by its influence on the evolution of what I refer to as 'our social morality'. The latter by finding its expression in conservative and radical ideologies whose political confrontation appears to give rise to an evolutionary develop (...)
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  48. Patrick Bateson (1989). Does Evolutionary Biology Contribute to Ethics? Biology and Philosophy 4 (3):287-301.
    Human propensities that are the products of Darwinian evolution may combine to generate a form of social behavior that is not itself a direct result of such pressure. This possibility may provide a satisfying explanation for the origin of socially transmitted rules such as the incest taboo. Similarly, the regulatory processes of development that generated adaptations to the environment in the circumstances in which they evolved can produce surprising and sometimes maladaptive consequences for the individual in modern conditions. These combinatorial (...)
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  49. Nicolas Baumard (2011). Punishment is Not a Group Adaptation. Mind and Society 10 (1):1-26.
    Punitive behaviours are often assumed to be the result of an instinct for punishment. This instinct would have evolved to punish wrongdoers and it would be the evidence that cooperation has evolved by group selection. Here, I propose an alternative theory according to which punishment is a not an adaptation and that there was no specific selective pressure to inflict costs on wrongdoers in the ancestral environment. In this theory, cooperation evolved through partner choice for mutual advantage. In the ancestral (...)
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  50. Nicolas Baumard (2010). Has Punishment Played a Role in the Evolution of Cooperation? A Critical Review. Mind and Society 9 (2):171-192.
    In the past decade, experiments on altruistic punishment have played a central role in the study of the evolution of cooperation. By showing that people are ready to incur a cost to punish cheaters and that punishment help to stabilise cooperation, these experiments have greatly contributed to the rise of group selection theory. However, despite its experimental robustness, it is not clear whether altruistic punishment really exists. Here, I review the anthropological literature and show that hunter-gatherers rarely punish cheaters. Instead, (...)
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