Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 30, Issue 3, pp 405–421 | Cite as

Evolution and the classification of social behavior

  • Patrick ForberEmail author
  • Rory Smead


Recent studies in the evolution of cooperation have shifted focus from altruistic to mutualistic cooperation. This change in focus is purported to reveal new explanations for the evolution of prosocial behavior. We argue that the common classification scheme for social behavior used to distinguish between altruistic and mutualistic cooperation is flawed because it fails to take into account dynamically relevant game-theoretic features. This leads some arguments about the evolution of cooperation to conflate dynamical scenarios that differ regarding the basic conditions on the emergence and maintenance of cooperation. We use the tools of evolutionary game theory to increase the resolution of the classification scheme and analyze what evolutionary inferences classifying social behavior can license.


Evolution Cooperation Hamilton’s rule Social behavior Evolutionary game theory 



Thanks to Elliott Sober, Marty Barrett, Malcolm Forster, two anonymous referees, and the audience at POBAM 2014 for valuable feedback and discussion.


  1. Alexander R (1987) The biology of moral systems. Aldine Transaction, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  2. Allen B, Nowak MA, Wilson EO (2013) Limitations of inclusive fitness. Proc Natl Acad Sci 110:20135–20139CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Ariew A, Lewontin RC (2004) The confusions of fitness. Br J Philos Sci 55:347–363CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Baumard N, André JB, Sperber D (2013) A mutualistic approach to morality: the evolution of fairness by partner choice. Behav Brain Sci 36:59–122CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Beatty J (1992) Fitness: theoretical contexts. In: Keller EF, Lloyd EA (eds) Keywords in evolutionary biology. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, pp 115–119Google Scholar
  6. Beatty J, Finsen S (1989) Rethinking the propensity interpretation: a peek inside pandora’s box. In: Ruse M (ed) What philosophy of biology is. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, pp 17–30Google Scholar
  7. Bednar J, Page S (2007) Can game(s) theory explain culture? The emergence of cultural behavior within multiple games. Ration Soc 19:65–97CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bomze IM (1983) Lotka–Volterra equation and replicator dynamics: a two-dimensional classification. Biol Cybern 48:201–211CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cavalli-Sforza LL, Feldman MW (1978) Darwinian selection and “altruism”. Theor Popul Biol 14:268–280CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Eshel I, Cavalli-Sforza LL (1982) Assortment of encounters and the evolution of cooperativeness. Proc Natl Acad Sci 79:1331–1335CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Feldman MW, Otto SP, Christiansen FB (1997) Population genetic perspectives on the evolution of recombination. Annu Rev Genet 30:261–295CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Forber P, Smead R (2014) An evolutionary paradox for prosocial behavior. J Philos 111:151–166Google Scholar
  13. Frank SA (1998) Foundations of social evolution. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  14. Hamilton WD (1964a) The genetical evolution of social behaviour, I. J Theor Biol 7:1–16CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hamilton WD (1964b) The genetical evolution of social behaviour, II. J Theor Biol 7:17–52CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hamilton WD (1970) Selfish and spiteful behavior in an evolutionary model. Nature 228:1218–1220CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Harsanyi J (1967) Games with incomplete information played by “Bayesian” players. Manag Sci 14(3):159–182CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hashimoto T, Kumagi Y (2003) Meta-evolutionary game dynamics for mathematical modeling of rules dynamics. In: Banzhaf B, Christaller T, Ziegler J (eds) Advances in artificial life. Springer, Berlin, pp 107–117CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hauert C, Michor F, Nowak MA, Doebeli M (2006) Synergy and discounting of cooperation in social dilemmas. J Theor Biol 239(2):195–202CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Lehmann L, Bargum K, Reuter M (2006) An evolutionary analysis of the relationship between spite and altruism. J Evol Biol 19:1507–1516CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lehmann L, Feldman MW, Rousset F (2009) On the evolution of harming and recognition in finite panmictic and infinite structured populations. Evolution 63:2896–2913CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Maynard Smith J, Price GR (1973) The logic of animal conflict. Nature 246:15–18CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Nowak MA, Sigmund K (2005) Evolution of indirect reciprocity. Nature 437:1291–1298CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Okasha S (2007) Evolution and the levels of selection. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  25. Price GR (1970) Selection and covariance. Nature 277:520–521CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Queller D (1985) Kinship, reciprocity and synergism in the evolution of social behavior. Nature 318:366–367CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Skyrms B (1996) Evolution of the social contract. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Skyrms B (2004) The stag hunt and the evolution of social structure. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  29. Smead R (2014) Evolving games and the social contract. In: Youngman PA, Hadzikadic M (eds) Complexity and the human experience. Pan Stanford, Singapore, pp 61–80CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Smead R, Forber P (2013) The evolutionary dynamics of spite in finite populations. Evolution 67(3):698–707CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Sober E (2001) The two faces of fitness. In: Singh RS, Krimbas CB, Paul DP, Beatty J (eds) Thinking about evolution. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  32. Sober E, Wilson DS (1998) Unto others. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  33. Sterelny K (2012) The evolved apprentice: how evolution made humans unique. MIT Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Sterelny K, Joyce R, Calcott B, Fraser B (2013) Cooperation and its evolution. MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  35. Taylor HM, Gourley RS, Lawrence CE, Kaplan RS (1974) Natural selection of life history attributes: an analytical approach. Theor Popul Biol 5:104–122CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Tomasello M, Vaish A (2013) Origins of human cooperation and morality. Annu Rev Psychol 64:231–255CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Tomasello M, Melis AP, Tennie C, Wyman E, Herrmann E (2012) Two key steps in the evolution of human cooperation: the interdependence hypothesis. Curr Anthropol 53:673–692CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. van Veelen M (2009) Group selection, kin selection, altruism and cooperation: when inclusive fitness is right and when it can be wrong. J Theor Biol 259:589–600CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Weibull JW (1995) Evolutionary game theory. MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  40. West SA, Gardner A (2010) Altruism, spite, and greenbeards. Science 327:1341–1344CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. West SA, Griffin AS, Gardner A (2007) Social semantics: altruism, cooperation, mutualism, strong reciprocity and group selection. J Evol Biol 20:415–432CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Worden L, Levin SA (2007) Evolutionary escape from the prisoner’s dilemma. J Theor Biol 245:411–411CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Zollman KJS (2008) Explaining fairness in complex environments. Polit Philos Econ 7(1):81–98CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyTufts UniversityMedfordUSA
  2. 2.Department of Philosophy and ReligionNortheastern UniversityBostonUSA

Personalised recommendations