Beyond the Sociobiological Dilemma: Social Emotions and the Evolution of Morality

Zygon 42 (3):685-700 (2007)
Abstract
Is morality biologically altruistic? Does it imply a disadvantage in the struggle for existence? A positive answer puts morality at odds with natural selection, unless natural selection operates at the level of groups. In this case, a trait that is good for groups though bad (reproductively) for individuals can evolve. Sociobiologists reject group selection and have adopted one of two horns of a dilemma. Either morality is based on an egoistic calculus, compatible with natural selection; or morality continues tied to psychological and biological altruism but not as a product of natural selection. The dilemma denies a third possibility—that psychological altruism evolves as a biologically selfish trait. I discuss the classical treatments of the paradox by Charles Darwin ([1871] 1989) and Robert Trivers (1971), focusing on the role they attribute to social emotions. The upshot is that both Darwin and Trivers sketch a natural-selection process relying on innate emotional mechanisms that render morality adaptive for individuals as well as for groups. I give additional reasons for viewing it as a form of natural, instead of only cultural, selection.
Keywords Altruism  Group selection  Morality
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