The other cooperation problem: Generating benefit

Biology and Philosophy 23 (2):179-203 (2008)
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Understanding how cooperation evolves is central to explaining some core features of our biological world. Many important evolutionary events, such as the arrival of multicellularity or the origins of eusociality, are cooperative ventures between formerly solitary individuals. Explanations of the evolution of cooperation have primarily involved showing how cooperation can be maintained in the face of free-riding individuals whose success gradually undermines cooperation. In this paper I argue that there is a second, distinct, and less well explored, problem of cooperation that I call the generation of benefit. Focusing on how benefit is generated within a group poses a different problem: how is it that individuals in a group can (at least in principle) do better than those who remain solitary? I present several different ways that benefit may be generated, each with different implications for how cooperation might be initiated, how it might further evolve, and how it might interact with different ways of maintaining cooperation. I argue that in some cases of cooperation, the most important underlying “problem” of cooperation may be how to generate benefit, rather than how to reduce conflict or prevent free-riding.



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Brett Calcott
University of Sydney

Citations of this work

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