Strong Reciprocity and the Roots of Human Morality

Abstract

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.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Readers not acquainted with the range of evidence can consult Henrich et al. (2006), Gintis, Bowles, Boyd, and Fehr (2003), and Fehr, Fischbacher, and Gächter (2002).

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Correspondence to Herbert Gintis.

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Gintis, H., Henrich, J., Bowles, S. et al. Strong Reciprocity and the Roots of Human Morality. Soc Just Res 21, 241–253 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11211-008-0067-y

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Keywords

  • Morality
  • Human nature
  • Evolution
  • Reciprocity
  • Sociobiology
  • Altruism