Social Justice Research

, Volume 21, Issue 2, pp 241–253

Strong Reciprocity and the Roots of Human Morality

  • Herbert Gintis
  • Joseph Henrich
  • Samuel Bowles
  • Robert Boyd
  • Ernst Fehr

DOI: 10.1007/s11211-008-0067-y

Cite this article as:
Gintis, H., Henrich, J., Bowles, S. et al. Soc Just Res (2008) 21: 241. doi:10.1007/s11211-008-0067-y


Human morality is a key evolutionary adaptation on which human social behavior has been based since the Pleistocene era. Ethical behavior is constitutive of human nature, we argue, and human morality is as important an adaptation as human cognition and speech. Ethical behavior, we assert, need not be a means toward personal gain. Because of our nature as moral beings, humans take pleasure in acting ethically and are pained when acting unethically. From an evolutionary viewpoint, we argue that ethical behavior was fitness-enhancing in the years marking the emergence of Homo sapiens because human groups with many altruists fared better than groups of selfish individuals, and the fitness losses sustained by altruists were more than compensated by the superior performance of the groups in which they congregated.


Morality Human nature Evolution Reciprocity Sociobiology Altruism 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Herbert Gintis
    • 1
  • Joseph Henrich
    • 2
  • Samuel Bowles
    • 3
  • Robert Boyd
    • 4
  • Ernst Fehr
    • 5
  1. 1.Santa Fe InstituteSanta Fe, New Mexico and, The Central European UniversityBudapestHungary
  2. 2.University of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada
  3. 3.Santa Fe InstituteSanta FeUSA
  4. 4.University of CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA
  5. 5.University of ZurichZurichSwitzerland

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