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Evolutionary Origins of Morality

Leonard D. Katz (Imprint Academic: Mar 1, 2000), 352 pages.

Four principal papers and a total of 43 peer commentaries on the evolutionary origins of morality. To what extent is human morality the outcome of a continuous development from motives, emotions and social behaviour found in nonhuman animals? Jerome Kagan, Hans Kummer, Peter Railton and others discuss the first principal paper by primatologists Jessica Flack and Frans de Waal. The second paper, by cultural anthropologist Christopher Boehm, synthesizes social science and biological evidence to support his theory of how our hominid ancestors became moral. In the third paper philosopher Elliott Sober and evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson argue that an evolutionary understanding of human nature allows sacrifice for others and ultimate desires for another’s good. Finally Brian Skyrms argues that game theory based on adaptive dynamics must join the social scientist’s use of rational choice and classical game theory to explain cooperation.

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These studies and reflections on the evolution of psychological traits and the capacities for moral judgment-distinct if related topics-are a welcome contribution. Thoughtful and informative, they provide a good basis for appreciating what has been achieved, and what the prospects might be, in a domain of inquiry that is of fundamental importance for understanding of our essential nature. ~ Noam Chomsky, Massachusetts Institute of Technology • What would happen at a fictional dinner with the likes of Charles Darwin, Adam Smith, David Hume, and Friedrich Nietzsche debating and revising their views in the light of today’s science? Hard to say, perhaps, but one might well imagine that it would be great fun to listen in. Forget fiction. Pick up Evolutionary Origins of Morality and find out how moral psychology is being picked apart by evolutionists. The concise essays and critical exchanges are great fun — and a feast for the mind. ~ Marc Hauser, Harvard University