Logic and human morality. An attractive if untestable scenario

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Boehm reasons that human morality began when several heads of households formed a coalition to limit the despotic bullying of an alpha male. The logic is clear and the argument is persuasive. The premises require that: (1) dominant individuals behave like chimpanzees, bullying their subordinates, (2) early humans somehow developed one-male units from a chimpanzee like society and, (3) the power of a despot is limited by group consensus and political activities. Not all alpha males behave like chimpanzees; most primate societies show little evidence of bullying. One-male units are formed by some monkeys but there is little evidence of such tendencies in chimpanzees and bonobos. Hamadryas males do not compete with familiar males for females or possessions regardless of their dominance relationships, but this inhibition is not based on group consensus or coalitions repressing alpha males. Boehm's argument is, nonetheless, possible and plausible but cannot be empirically tested.

Document Type: Review Article

Affiliations: Dept. of Psychology, University of Georgia, Athens GA 30602-3013, USA.

Publication date: January 1, 2000

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