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Evolutionary Origins of Morality: Cross Disciplinary Perspectives (Journal of consciousness studies) [Paperback]

Leonard D. Katz

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Book Description

17 Mar 2000 Journal of consciousness studies
To what extent is human morality the outcome of a continuous development from motives, emotions and social behaviour found in nonhuman animals? Psychologist Jerome Kagan, primatologist Hans Kummer, philosopher Peter Railton and others discuss the principal paper by primatologists Jessica Flack and Frans de Waal. Cultural anthropologist Christopher Boehm synthesizes social science and biological evidence to support his theory of how our hominid ancestors became moral by establishing purposeful social control over individual behaviour. Can an evolutionary understanding of human nature allow or predict sacrifice for others and ultimate desires for another's good? Philosopher Elliott Sober and evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson argue 'Yes' in their book Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior (Harvard, 1998), summarized here. How can fairness to others at one's own expense evolve or survive in competition with selfish strategies? Brian Skyrms (Evolution of the Social Contract, Cambridge, 1996) 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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"A fascinating set of essays" -- Human Nature Review

"Provides a wonderfully rich range of viewpoints from a variety of fields." -- Journal of Moral Education

"Psychologists will find much to enjoy in this meaty volume." -- APA Review of Books

"The papers are without exception excellent." -- Biology and Philosophy

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

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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
95 of 99 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exciting Overview of a Scientific Approach to Morality 29 May 2000
By Herbert Gintis - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
There are two virtually undiscussed background assumptions to this volume, which consists of four major papers, each with a set of ten or so expert, cross-disciplinary, commentaries. The first is that there is a characteristic human morality that is exhibited in almost all societies, from the simplest hunter-gatherer society to the most complex high-tech market society. The second is that one studies morality not by abstractly theorizing on the basis of logic and intuition alone, has has been the habit of philosophers, but by treating morality as a material force and studying it scientifically as an evolutionary and structural phenomenon.
The first paper, by Jessca Flack and Frans de Waal, argues that some basic elements of human morality are prefigured in primate behavior.
The second paper, by Chris Boehm, argues that the basis for our morality of cooperation and punishment come from the evolutionary history of humans in consciously egalitarian (though violent) foraging groups.
The third paper, by Eliot Sober and David Sloan Wilson, argues that human prosociality takes the form of evolutionary and psycholotical altruism that developed through a process of group selection over the history of hominid evolution.
The final paper, by Brian Skyrmes, studies evolutionary game theory, which underlies the arguments of each of the previous papers, contrasting this form of game theory from its classical counterpart.
Perhaps I am biased, since I contributed two of the commentaries, but I found the papers to be a fair reflection of the authors' often extensive writings on the subject, and I found the commentaries to be useful and at times extremely interesting in terms of their suggestions for future research.
This book is accessible to the general reader, while offering lots of interesting material for the professional researcher.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars State of the art 3 Aug 2002
By Bob Fancher - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This one is easy to review: If you want to know the state-of-the-art on scientifically-informed thinking about ethics, buy this book. It is superb.
Now, in one sense, science doesn't have a whole lot to say about ethics--science has to do with what is, while ethics has to do with what we ought to be and do. But to know what we ought to be and do, it helps to know something about what we are. If, for instance, we are all by nature altruistic and generous, we probably need a different kind of ethic than if we are rather more self-seeking.
By looking at the possible evolutionary and genetic bases of proto-ethical behaviors, these scientists and scholars help us get some intelligent orientation on the question of what we are, so far as our ethical proclivities go.
To understand ethics, you need to know more than our proto-moral genetic inclinations--you need to know a lot of history, cultural studies, and philosophy, for instance, not to mention religious studies. But in this day and age, you cannot rightly claim to understand the state of the art if you know less. This book is a treasure.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hard to draw conclusions. 30 May 2007
By J. Branson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Evolutionary Origins of Morality is packed with interesting science, but the format makes it difficult know what to make of it all. If the experts studying this stuff don't agree, then how am I supposed to make up my mind? Since I live with several animals, it's easy for me to pick a side of the argument even though half the chapters say I'm probably wrong. The format of presenting a paper followed by a critique of that paper is enightening and befuddling at the same time. It will certainly make you think.
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