Toward good and evil. Evolutionary approaches to aspects of human morality

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Editorial Introduction to ‘Evolutionary Origins of Morality: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives’.

The four principal papers presented here, with interdisciplinary commentary discussion and their authors’ responses, represent contemporary approaches to an evolutionary understanding of morality -- of the origins from which, and the paths by which, aspects or components of human morality evolved and converged. Their authors come out of no single discipline or school, but represent rather a convergence of largely independent work in primate ethology, anthropology, evolutionary biology, and dynamic systems modelling on related problems, conjectures and tentative conclusions. In inviting contributions I deliberately made no attempt to define morality more sharply than common language and understanding have left it, including our ordinary responses to right and wrong, but not all of the very diverse thinking about this and other practical concerns -- and about what we should make of all these -- that ethics encompasses. This was not because of any lack of past definitions of morality, but because the history of controversy over these makes it advisable not to prejudge the question pending our inquiry's results. From these we may see some outlines of plausible answers begin to emerge, only a brief sketch of some of which I can attempt here, sampling the hypotheses, scientific support, critical discussion of this, and refinement of positions in authors’ responses.

Document Type: Review Article

Affiliations: Dept. of Linguistics and Philosophy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, E39-245, 77 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA.

Publication date: January 1, 2000

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