Morality and the elephant. Prosocial behaviour, normativity and fluctuating allegiances

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Human morality is composed of three elements: prosocial behaviour, a normative imperative, and the tendency to adjust the boundaries of the social network to which these apply in a flexible, self-interested fashion. A credible case for human uniqueness can be made for the last element only. Because defining social boundaries can be done rationally (though rational thought is not required), the intersection of this tactical approach with the psychological bases (i.e., emotions) underlying the first two elements can help resolve the conflict between emotion and Kant cited by Flack and de Waal. They make a solid case for prosociality, though their discussion of reciprocal sharing has some problems. The perspectives of Boehm and of Sober and Wilson are needed to understand our boundary-adjusting (though Sober and Wilson needlessly cloud the issue by over-extending group selection). A satisfying theory of morality's evolution should integrate, not distinguish amongst, the three elements.

Document Type: Review Article

Affiliations: Anthropology Dept., University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093-0532.

Publication date: January 1, 2000

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