Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 23, Issue 2, pp 179–203 | Cite as

The other cooperation problem: generating benefit

  • Brett CalcottEmail author


Understanding how cooperation evolves is central to explaining some core features of our biological world. Many important evolutionary events, such as the arrival of multicellularity or the origins of eusociality, are cooperative ventures between formerly solitary individuals. Explanations of the evolution of cooperation have primarily involved showing how cooperation can be maintained in the face of free-riding individuals whose success gradually undermines cooperation. In this paper I argue that there is a second, distinct, and less well explored, problem of cooperation that I call the generation of benefit. Focusing on how benefit is generated within a group poses a different problem: how is it that individuals in a group can (at least in principle) do better than those who remain solitary? I present several different ways that benefit may be generated, each with different implications for how cooperation might be initiated, how it might further evolve, and how it might interact with different ways of maintaining cooperation. I argue that in some cases of cooperation, the most important underlying “problem” of cooperation may be how to generate benefit, rather than how to reduce conflict or prevent free-riding.


Cooperation Major transitions Division of labour Plasticity 



Peter Godfrey-Smith, Kim Sterelny, and an anonymous reviewer provided guidance and many helpful suggestions on earlier drafts.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy Program, RSSS and Centre for Macroevolution & MacroecologyAustralian National UniversityCanberraAustralia

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