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Selfish, altruistic, or groupish? Natural selection and human moralities

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Sober and Wilson's enthusiasm for a multi-level perspective in evolutionary biology leads to conceptualizations which appropriate all sources of bio-altruistic traits as products of ‘group’ selection. The key biological issue is whether genes enhancing one sub-population's viability in competition with others can thrive, despite inducing some members to lose fitness in intra-group terms. The case for such selection amongst primates remains unproven. Flexible social loyalties required prior evolution of subjective self-definition and self-identification with others. But normative readiness for truly group-serving sacrifices of ego-interests presupposes entitative conceptions of in-groups as collective social units -- only made possible with the emergence of human symbolic language.

Document Type: Review Article

Affiliations: Dept. of Interdisciplinary Human Studies, University of Bradford, Bradford, West Yorkshire, BD7 1DP, UK.

Publication date: January 1, 2000

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