Morality as Cooperation: A Problem-Centred Approach

  • Oliver Scott CurryEmail author
Part of the Evolutionary Psychology book series (EVOLPSYCH)


What is morality, where does it come from, and how does it work? Scholars have struggled with these questions for millennia. But we now have a scientific answer. The theory of ‘morality as cooperation’ uses the mathematics of cooperation—the theory of nonzero-sum games—to identify the many distinct problems of cooperation and their solutions, and it predicts that it is the solutions employed by humans that constitute ‘morality’. Thus, morality turns out to be a collection of biological and cultural solutions to the problems of cooperation and conflict recurrent in human social life. This theory generates a comprehensive taxonomy of moral values—a Periodic Table of Ethics—that includes obligations to family, group loyalty, reciprocity, bravery, respect, fairness, and property rights. And because morality as cooperation makes principled predictions about the structure and content of human morality, which can be tested against those of rival theories, it reveals that the study of morality is simply another branch of science.


Morality Cooperation Game theory Evolution Culture Altruism Ethics 



I am very grateful to Helena Cronin and Daniel Mullins for their enormously helpful comments on numerous drafts of this chapter.


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© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Cognitive & Evolutionary Anthropology, University of OxfordOxfordUK

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