The Priority of Social Morality

  • Gerald Gaus


In a number of works, I have argued that social morality—a system of internalized “social-moral rules”—is fundamental to human social cooperation. Russell Hardin disputed this, arguing instead for the primacy of conventions, based largely on self-interest, in developing cooperative social order. This chapter considers three challenges for my view raised by Hardin. The chapter commences by considering small-scale cooperation; I believe that the evidence indicates that even in very small groups of face-to-face cooperators, the internalization of moral rules is fundamental to their cooperation and cheater suppression. I then consider Hardin’s charge that accounts of social cooperation based on moral rules, in which individuals act on the rules despite their interests, are stuck with invoking a variety of somewhat dubious and weak “claims of moral commitment or shared values through [to] Rawls’s magical ‘addition of the sense of justice and moral sentiment’ to make justice work at a large scale.” I argue that the evidence in support of internalized rule compliance, even in the face of high costs to personal interests, is impressive, and the underlying mechanisms are not mysterious. Lastly, I briefly turn to the fundamental issue of how social morality functions in large-scale settings and, importantly, whether it is largely displaced by formal legal and political institutions.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gerald Gaus
    • 1
  1. 1.Philosophy DepartmentUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA

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