Friday, February 04, 2005

Can Evolutionary considerations account for the origins of human morality?


... from a draft introduction for my essay on this topic

There is a popular understanding that morality is relative – that the particular ideals and concerns of one society might be different to those of another society, and that there is no reason to privilege one over the other. At the most basic level, one need look only at the various religious groups in our society. Few people suggest that one is a morally better human for following one religion over another, or even at all.

This idea is in direct conflict with the idea that morality might confer some kind of evolutionary advantage. One might want to respond that particular moralities, or more generally particular classes of morality might be morally equal, yet still be differentiated according to survival benefit and social attractiveness.

As far back in human history as it is possible, one can find clear evidence of moral concepts as complex and diverse as the ones we know today. For the last 200, 000 years (10,000 generations) morality has changed only in the context of society – the capacity for morality if you will has remained constant.

Morality in humans is something that has been with them from the beginning. Evolution has continued to select for a particular level of respect for societal norms outside of the simple pain-avoidance instinct. However, there is also much wrongdoing in the world, and it would seem that certain levels of opportunistic and retributive behaviour remain a part of human nature.



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