Moral thinking pervades our practical lives, but where did this way of thinking come from, and what purpose does it serve? Is it to be explained by environmental pressures on our ancestors a million years ago, or is it a cultural invention of more recent origin? In The Evolution of Morality, Richard Joyce takes up these controversial questions, finding that the evidence supports an innate basis to human morality. As a moral philosopher, Joyce is interested in whether (...) any implications follow from this hypothesis. Might the fact that the human brain has been biologically prepared by natural selection to engage in moral judgment serve in some sense to vindicate this way of thinking--staving off the threat of moral skepticism, or even undergirding some version of moral realism? Or if morality has an adaptive explanation in genetic terms--if it is, as Joyce writes, "just something that helped our ancestors make more babies"--might such an explanation actually undermine morality's central role in our lives? He carefully examines both the evolutionary "vindication of morality" and the evolutionary "debunking of morality," considering the skeptical view more seriously than have others who have treated the subject.Interdisciplinary and combining the latest results from the empirical sciences with philosophical discussion, The Evolution of Morality is one of the few books in this area written from the perspective of moral philosophy. Concise and without technical jargon, the arguments are rigorous but accessible to readers from different academic backgrounds. Joyce discusses complex issues in plain language while advocating subtle and sometimes radical views. The Evolution of Morality lays the philosophical foundations for further research into the biological understanding of human morality. (shrink)
Abstract: In The Evolution of Morality, Richard Joyce argues there is good reason to think that the “moral sense” is a biological adaptation, and that this provides a genealogy of the moral sense that has a debunking effect, driving us to the conclusion that “our moral beliefs are products of a process that is entirely independent of their truth, … we have no grounds one way or the other for maintaining these beliefs.” I argue that Joyce's skeptical conclusion (...) is not warranted. Even if the moral sense is a biological adaptation, developed moralities (such as Aristotelian eudaimonism) can “co-opt” it into new roles so that the moral judgments it makes possible can come to transcend the evolutionary process that is “entirely independent of their truth.” While evolutionary theory can shed much light on our shared human nature, moral theories must still be vindicated, or debunked, by moral arguments. (shrink)
What makes humans moral beings? This question can be understood either as a proximate question or as an ultimate question. The question is about the mental and social mechanisms that produce moral judgments and interactions, and has been investigated by psychologists and social scientists. The question is about the fitness consequences that explain why humans have morality, and has been discussed by evolutionary biologists in the context of the evolution of cooperation. Our goal here is to contribute to (...) a fruitful articulation of such proximate and ultimate explanations of human morality. We develop an approach to morality as an adaptation to an environment in which individuals were in competition to be chosen and recruited in mutually advantageous cooperative interactions. In this environment, the best strategy is to treat others with impartiality and to share the costs and benefits of cooperation equally. Those who offer less than others will be left out of cooperation; conversely, those who offer more will be exploited by their partners. In line with this mutualistic approach, the study of a range of economic games involving property rights, collective actions, mutual help and punishment shows that participants' distributions aim at sharing the costs and benefits of interactions in an impartial way. In particular, the distribution of resources is influenced by effort and talent, and the perception of each participant's rights on the resources to be distributed. (shrink)
This paper is about evolutionary explanations. They come in different kinds but mostly need traits and functions. Evolutionary theory requires traits to be inheritable although not in a strong genetic sense: ideas of “inheritance pattern” and “inheritable pattern” are explored. Function is also a necessary concept, but complex and diverse, and it lacks causal power on traits. The debate on the evolution of morality is cautious and already far from naive “just-‐so story” explanations, but theoretical analysis fleshed into (...)morality-‐related examples can aid towards the development of critically conscious and up-‐to-‐date explanatory hypotheses in this field. (shrink)
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.
Machery & Mallon [The moral psychology handbook (pp. 3–47). New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010] argue that existing evidence does not support the claim that moral cognition, understood as a specific form of normative cognition, is a product of evolution. Instead, they suggest that the evidence only supports the more modest claim that a general capacity for normative cognition evolved. They argue that if this is the case then the prospects for evolutionary debunking arguments are bleak. A debunking (...) argument which relied on the fact that normative cognition in general evolved might threaten all areas of normative belief, including the epistemic norms upon which the argument relies. For the sake of argument, we accept their claim that specifically moral cognition did not evolve. However, we reject their contention that this critically undermines evolutionary debunking arguments of morality. A number of strategies are available to solve what we call the “containment problem,” or how to effectively debunk morality without thereby debunking normative cognition tout court. Furthermore, debunking arguments need not rely on the claim that normative cognition in general evolved. So long as at least some aspects of moral cognition have evolved, this may be sufficient to support an evolutionary debunking argument against many of our moral beliefs. Thus, even if Machery & Mallon are right that specifically moral cognition did not evolve, research in evolutionary psychology may have radical implications for moral philosophy. (shrink)
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.
The Evolution of Morality attempts to accomplish two tasks. The first is to clarify and provisionally advocate the thesis that human morality is a distinct adaptation wrought by biological natural selection. The second is to inquire whether this empirical thesis would, if true, have any metaethical implications.
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 engagement that guide animals in their social encounters. Because of its significance in development, play may provide a foundation of fairness for other forms of cooperation that are advantageous to group living. Questions about the evolutionary roots of cooperation, fairness, trust, forgiveness, and morality are best answered by attention to the details of what animals do when they engage in social play – how they negotiate agreements to cooperate, to forgive, to behave fairly, and to develop trust. We consider questions such as why play fairly? Why did play evolve as it has? Does “being fair” mean being more fit? Do individual variations in play influence an individual’s reproductive fitness? Can we use information about the foundations of moral behavior in animals to help us understand ourselves? We conclude that there is likely to be strong selection for cooperative fair play because there are mutual benefits when individuals adopt this strategy and group stability may also be fostered. Numerous mechanisms have evolved to facilitate the initiation and maintenance of social play, to keep others engaged, so that agreeing to play fairly and the resulting benefits of doing so can be readily achieved. (shrink)
In recent years a number of biologists, anthropologists, and animal scientists have tried to explain the biological evolution of morality, and claim to have found the rudiments of morality in the altruistic behavior of our nearest nonhuman relatives. I argue that there is one feature of morality to which these accounts do not pay adequate attention: normative self-government, the capacity to be motivated to do something by the thought that you ought to do it. This is (...) a feature of the form of moral motivation rather than merely of its content, one that I believe we do not share with non-rational animals. Unlike his more recent followers, Darwin did try to explain how this capacity evolved. I explain Darwin's account and the way it drew on sentimentalist philosophy, and argue that such accounts are unsatisfactory. Drawing on the more radical accounts of the evolution of morality found in thinkers like Nietzsche and Freud, I speculate that moral motivation may have originated with the internalization of the dominance instincts, and sketch the beginnings of the path that the development of reason in both its theoretical and practical employments might have followed. (shrink)
Much good work has been done on the evolution of human morality by focusing on how “selfish genes‘ can give rise to altruistic human beings. A richer research program is needed, however, to take into account the ambivalence of naturally evolved biopsychological motivators and the historical pluralism of human morality in religious systems. Such a program is described here. A first step is to distinguish the ultimate cause of natural selection from proximate causes that are the results (...) of natural selection. Next, some proximate causes are suggested as possible conditions of biological and emotional valuing as well as of customary social morality and individual rational ethical thought. Finally, different moral perspectives of Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity are briefly presented in order to illustrate how one might inquire about the selection of a variety of biopsychological and cultural proximate causes that enable the evolution of a plurality of religious moral systems. (shrink)
Baumard et al. attribute to humans a sense of fairness. However, the properties of this sense are so underspecified that the evolutionary account offered is not well-motivated. We contrast this with the framework of Universal Moral Grammar, which has sought a descriptively adequate account of the structure of the moral domain as a precondition for understanding the evolution of morality.
For much of the twentieth century, philosophy and science went their separate ways. In moral philosophy, fear of the so-called naturalistic fallacy kept moral philosophers from incorporating developments in biology and psychology. Since the 1990s, however, many philosophers have drawn on recent advances in cognitive psychology, brain science, and evolutionary psychology to inform their work. This collaborative trend is especially strong in moral philosophy, and these volumes bring together some of the most innovative work by both philosophers and psychologists in (...) this emerging interdisciplinary field. The contributors to volume 1 discuss recent work on the evolution of moral beliefs, attitudes, and emotions. Each chapter includes an essay, comments on the essay by other scholars, and a reply by the author of the original essay. Topics include a version of naturalism that avoids supposed fallacies, distinct neurocomputational systems for deontic reasoning, the evolutionary psychology of moral sentiments regarding incest, the sexual selection of moral virtues, the evolution of symbolic thought, and arguments both for and against innate morality. Taken together, the chapters demonstrate the value for both philosophy and psychology of collaborative efforts to understand the many complex aspects of morality. Contributors: William Casebeer, Leda Cosmides, Oliver Curry, Michael Dietrich, Catherine Driscoll, Susan Dwyer, Owen Flanagan, Jerry Fodor, Gilbert Harman, Richard Joyce, Debra Lieberman, Ron Mallon, John Mikhail, Geoffrey Miller, Jesse Prinz, Peter Railton, Michael Ruse, Hagop Sarkissian, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Chandra Sekhar Sripada, Valerie Tiberius, John Tooby, Peter Tse, Kathleen Wallace, Arthur Wolf, David Wong Walter Sinnott-Armstrong is Professor of Philosophy and Hardy Professor of Legal Studies at Dartmouth College. (shrink)
Some have supposed that morality has its basis in altruistic emotions implanted in accordance with the standard principles of natural selection. It is argued, to the contrary, that the falsity of group selection theory precludes founding genuine altruism on such a basis, and that the correct theory of evolution renders morality possible only if a cognitivist conception of moral psychology is accepted. Some independent reasons are given for favouring that conception over its noncognitivist rival. Morality is (...) then claimed to be a necessary corollary of advanced intelligence, so that morality cannot easily be selected against. Finally, the bearing of the foregoing considerations on the normative contention commonly labelled 'species-ism' is assessed; it is concluded that a proper view of morality suggests the inclusion of (other) animals within its domain of concern. (shrink)
Donald Broom argues that morality and the central components of religion are of great value, and presents two central ideas. He asserts that morality has a biological foundation and has evolved as a consequence of natural selection, and that religions are essentially the structures supporting morality. Many philosophers and theologians write about morality and its origins without reference to biological processes such as evolution. Likewise, biologists discuss phenomena of importance to human morality and religion (...) without taking account of the thoughts of others on these subjects. (shrink)
Boehm's model conceptualizes a common ancestor to humans, chimpanzees, and bonobos at several million years B.P., followed by a model of prehistoric foragers at 25,000-50,000 B.P. based on ethnographic data from twentieth-century hunters and gatherers. By putting processes of complex communication into the picture, we can refine Boehm's model considerably by filling in significant scenarios for humans beginning at perhaps 2 million years ago. These include a suite of features that include constraints on sexual behaviour, a rudimentary division of labour, (...) the gendering of morality, socialized control over junior males, increased group size, increased home range size, the reduction of bullying behaviour, and a reverse dominance hierarchy that promotes egalitarianism among fully adult males. Boehm's model emphasizes the last two of these, but it is consistent with the others as well. Cultural or proto-cultural elaboration of beliefs and associated practices is the symbolic dimension of morality and is an important component of human evolution. Boehm's model is extremely important for outlining socio-political mechanisms and concomitants in the formation of adult male egalitarian groups, and, in the process, identifying a key element in the evolution of human morality. (shrink)
Evolutionary explanations of altruism and human cooperation, first set forth by pioneers such as Darwin, Hamilton and Trivers, suggest that biology might be capable of offering a plausible scientific explanation of the core of human morality. According to this project, morality and human cooperation arise when resourcesare scarce; they cannot be exploited by isolated individuals; and individuals cannot maintain a long-term position of domination over others in order to advance their selfish ends. An important philosophical question that arises (...) with respect to this project has to do with the concepts of de morality and moral motivation that itpresupposes. The evolutionary project has not been clear in this respect. The article argues in favor of two theses: 1) evolutionary explanations of cooperation suggest a contractual type of morality, but they are ambiguous regarding the motivations favored by natural selection, thus reflecting, without resolving it, a traditionaldisagreement between Hobbes’s moral contractualism and that of Kant ; 2) in their current form, these explanations cannot resolve that disagreement, but a reflection on the role of the capacity to interpret the motivations and character of others in the evolution of morality could provide arguments in favor of Kantian contractualism. (shrink)
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 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 and Robert Trivers, 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. (shrink)
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, first published in 2007, 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 both how moral behaviour can emerge in socially structured environments, and how it can persist even when it is not typically viewed as 'rational' from a traditional economic perspective. This book also provides a theory of how moral principles and the moral sentiments play an indispensable role in effective choice, acting as 'fast and frugal heuristics' in social decision contexts. (shrink)
This essay examines the recent Planet of the Apes films through the lens of recent research in primatology. The films lend imaginary support to primatologist Frans de Waal’s evolutionary moral sentimentalism; however, the movies also show that truly moral motions outstrip the cognitive capacities of the great apes. The abstract moral principles employed by the ape community in the movie require the ability to understand and apply a common underlying explanation to perceptually disparate situations; in contrast, recent research in comparative (...) psychology demonstrates that the great apes lack this capacity. Since the capacity for abstraction is required on even the most basic version of moral sentimentalism—Shaun Nichols’ sentimental rules account—the lack of the capacity for abstraction reveals a qualitative distinction between primate social behavior and human morality. (shrink)
Here I briefly discuss some comparative data on social play behaviour in hope of broadening the array of species in which researchers attempt to study animal morality. I am specifically concerned with the notion of ‘behaving fairly'. In the term ‘behaving fairly’ I use as a working guide the notion that animals often have social expectations when they engage in various sorts of social encounters the violation of which constitutes being treated unfairly because of a lapse in social etiquette. (...) I will cash this out below in my discussion of social play behaviour. (shrink)
Los sociobiólogos han defendido una posición "calvinista" que se resume en la siguiente fórmula: si la selección natural explica las actitudes morales, no hay altruismo genuino en la moral; si la moral es altruista, entonces la selección natural no puede explicarla. En este ensayo desenmascaro los presupuestos erróneos de esta posición y defiendo que el altruismo como equidad no es incompatible con la selección natural. Rechazo una concepción hobbesiana de la moral, pero sugiero su empleo en la interpretación de la (...) psicología de los primates no humanos y en un modelo de progresión evolutiva que habría llevado a la moralidad como adaptación pasando por la razón instrumental. /// Sociobiologists have endorsed a "Calvinist" position captured in the following formula: if natural selection explains moral attitudes, morality is not genuinely altruistic; if morality is altruistic, then natural selection cannot explain it. I expose the false presuppositions behind this claim and argüe that altruism as fairness is not incompatible with natural selection. I reject a Hobbesian view of morality as an instrumental endorsement of fairness norms, but suggest its use to interpret primate psychology and to model an evolutionary progression ending in moral capacities as adaptations. (shrink)
Evolutionary debunking arguments purport to undercut the justification of our moral judgments by showing why a tendency to make moral judgments would evolve regardless of the truth of those judgments. Machery and Mallon (2010. Evolution of morality. In J.M. Doris and The Moral Psychology Research Group (Eds.), The Moral Psychology Handbook (pp. 3-46). Oxford: Oxford University Press) have recently tried to disarm these arguments by showing that moral cognition – in the sense that is relevant to debunking – (...) is not the product of natural selection. Specifically, they present a barrage of increasingly influential challenges against reciprocity-based approaches to moral nativism. In the present paper I defend the nativist account of moral cognition against these criticisms, thereby bolstering the skeptical conclusions of evolutionary debunking arguments. However, Machery and Mallon's critique does successfully highlight several vulnerabilities in Richard Joyce's approach to debunking, suggesting several ways in which it can be revised toward generating a more robust version of the argument. (shrink)
Let me begin with a stylized contrast between two ways of thinking about morality. On the one hand, morality can be understood as the dictate of, or uncovered by, impartial reason. That which is (truly) moral must be capable of being verified by everyone’s reasoning from a suitably impartial perspective. If we are to respect the free and equal nature of each person, each must (in some sense) rationally validate the requirements of morality. If we take this (...) view, the genuine requirements of morality are a matter of rational reflection and self-imposed law. For Kant it seemed to be a matter of reflection by a rational individual, testing the impartiality of his maxims. For Rousseau, who was an important influence on Kant, under the proper conditions collective deliberation could yield impartial rules of justice that are willed by all. From another point of view moralities are social facts with histories. The heroes of this tradition are Hume, Ferguson and, perhaps surprisingly given his “deductive” method, Hobbes. The moral codes — or if “code” implies too much systematization, moral “practices” — we have ended up with are, to some extent, a matter of chance. This is by no means to say that morality is entirely arbitrary, but it does contain a significant arbitrary element. The morality we have ended up with is path-dependent: only because our moral codes have started somewhere, and have changed in response to unanticipated events, can we explain why we ended up where we have, and different societies end up in different places. The proponents of each view typically seek to discredit the other. Those who conceive of morality as the demand of impartial reason often insist the evolutionists confuse “positive morality” (the moral code that people actually follow) with justified (or true) morality, which is revealed by impartial reason. The positive morality that has evolved is simply what people think is morality, not what really is morality.. (shrink)
Darwin argued for the biological basis of morality in his Descent of Man (1871). Beginning with the thesis of the continuity of man and animals, he tried to explain the origin of the moral sense, or conscience, as understood as an ability to discern right and wrong, and to feel guilty if one realizes to have done wrong. His argument is that, in any animal with social instincts and sufficient intellectual powers, a moral sense would be developed. Although Darwin's (...) argument had some missing links, I try to show that his argument can be consistently reconstructed, in view of the recent development of evolutionary biology and behavioral ecology. As I understand, Darwin's basic tenet is reductionism via evolutionary processes (natural selection, in particular): morality can be reduced to a combination of non-moral factors, each of which can be shared with other animals; you do not have to assume that morality is sui generis. (shrink)
According to most Evolutionary Psychologists, human moral attitudes are rooted in cognitive modules that evolved in the Stone Age to solve problems of social interaction. A crucial component of their view is that such cognitive modules remain unchanged since the Stone Age, and I question that here. I appeal to evolutionary rollback, the phenomenon where an organ becomes non-functional and eventually atrophies or disappears—e.g. cave-dwelling fish losing their eyes. I argue that even if cognitive modules evolved in the Stone Age (...) to solve problems of social interaction, conditions since then have favoured rollback of those modules. This is because there are institutions that solve those problems—e.g. legal systems. Moreover, evidence suggests that where external resources are available to perform cognitive tasks, humans often use them instead of internal ones. In arguing that Stone Age cognitive modules are unchanged, Evolutionary Psychologists say that evolutionary change is necessarily slow, and that there is high genetic similarity between human populations worldwide. I counter-argue that what is necessarily slow is the building-up of complex mechanisms. Undoing this can be much quicker. Moreover, rollback of cognitive mechanisms need not require any genetic change. Finally, I argue that cross-cultural similarity in some trait need not be rooted in genetic similarity. This is not intended as decisive evidence that rollback has occurred. To finish, I suggest ways we might decide whether moral attitudes are likely to be rooted in unchanged Stone Age modules, given that I have argued that cross-cultural similarity is not enough. (shrink)
DARWIN’s (1859, 1871) discoveries have profound ethical implications that continue to be misrepresented and/or ignored. In contrast to socialdarwinistic misuses of his theory, Darwin was a great humanitarian who paved the way for an integrated scientific and ethical world view. As an ethical doctrine, socialdarwinism is long dead ever since its defeat by E. G. Moore although the socialdarwinistic thought is a hard-die in the biological community. The accusations of sociobiology for being socialdarwinistic are unfounded and stem from the moralistic (...) fallacy that is, a false assumption that morality is good by definition. Both social and developmental psychology demonstrate that the moral agency is a motivational device for executing reciprocity that remains at the core of any morality across all studied societies and throughout the ontogeny of moral judgment. The level of true universalizing ethical reflection (KOHLBERG’s postconvential stages or GIBBS’s existential phase) is achieved by a small minority of humans, thus showing that Homo sapiens is a moral but not an ethical animal. While the origin of reciprocity has been perfectly explained by sociobiology, the evolutionary assembly of affective and cognitive elements that make up the moral agency is being successfully studied by the social/personality/developmental psychology as extended to non-human primates. As DARWIN (1871) expected, the key innovation for the evolution of moral agency was the emergence of empathy that evolved independently at least three times: in elephants, dolphins and primates. Empathy has a motivational power of its own; it is also necessary for moral agency that requires two cognitive abilities: reflective self-consciousness and understanding of causality; the two make possible the attribution of responsibility. All these requirements are met by the chimpanzees whose moral agency operates in dyads. In contrast, the human moral agency allows for a third party intervention that opens up vast opportunities for ideologies, especially religions, to use and misuse the moral agency to enforce a reciprocation that may be harmful to both individuals and the entire group. Also, the moral agency is known to enforce enhanced intragroup cohesion and loyalty in response to conflict and war, which suggests that the two prima facie opposed human universals, morality and warfare, may have coevolved. The most important ethical consequence that follows from the increasing understanding of the primate moral agency is that every received morality is ethically flawed, none can be taken as a paragon of goodness, and each needs corrections by science-informed ethics. In fact, Darwin pioneered the integration of science and ethics, an approach that has come to be appreciated only recently under the heading of consilience. (shrink)
Abstract The neurological rewiring of the mammalian brain to activate a broader array of emotions was the critical breakthrough in the development of not only moral systems, but other features often considered unique to humans, such as the capacity to use language and to think abstractly and rationally. Data from African apes and from ethnographies of hunter?gatherers provide the best clues as to the selection forces operating on the hominid line to produce an increasingly emotional and moral primate, Homo sapiens.