Evolutionary games and morality

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The implications of game theory models of the evolution of strategies of exchange are explored with respect to the evolution of moral dispositions. I argue that dispositions to practice tit for tat strategies could have evolved, but the moral behaviours to which they give rise do not fare well on criteria of morality. Inasmuch as the strategy implicit in the Golden Rule is unconditional, it could not have evolved in environments containing strategies that exploit it. However, dispositions to invoke conditional principles such as those that prescribe that people cooperate with those they observe cooperating and shun those they observe behaving selfishly, could have been selected in some conditions and may have given rise to the evolution of indirect reciprocity. The key to the evolution of morality is discrimination in favour of cooperators and against cheaters and selfish individualists. The limitations of game theory in the explanation of human morality are acknowledged.

Document Type: Review Article

Affiliations: Department of Psychology, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby BC, Canada.

Publication date: January 1, 2000

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