Indirect reciprocity and the evolution of “moral signals”

Biology and Philosophy 25 (1):33-51 (2010)
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Abstract

Signals regarding the behavior of others are an essential element of human moral systems and there are important evolutionary connections between language and large-scale cooperation. In particular, social communication may be required for the reputation tracking needed to stabilize indirect reciprocity. Additionally, scholars have suggested that the benefits of indirect reciprocity may have been important for the evolution of language and that social signals may have coevolved with large-scale cooperation. This paper investigates the possibility of such a coevolution. Using the tools of evolutionary game theory, we present a model that incorporates primitive “moral signaling” into a simple setting of indirect reciprocity. This model reveals some potential difficulties for the evolution of “moral signals.” We find that it is possible for “moral signals” to evolve alongside indirect reciprocity, but without some external pressure aiding the evolution of a signaling system, such a coevolution is unlikely.

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