Moral Origins

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2012-05-01
  • Publisher: Basic Books

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Are we a selfish species, or are we altruistic? Do we help our neighbors when they are in trouble, or do we steal from them and prey on their weaknesses? For three decades, genetic altruism has been cited as the dominant theory to explain the paradox of human generosity; experts claim our altruism is limited to close kin. But Moral Originstells a different story. While most scientists continue to apply static evolutionary game theory models to the question of human morality, ethologist and anthropologist Christopher Boehm carefully traces our social evolution over time. By studying the social and natural environments of primates, Boehm has devised a convincing new hypothesis: as autonomy-loving humans became large game hunters, severe group punishment began to genetically favor individuals with superior self-control. Essentially, bullies and free-loader types were killed or expelled from social bands because they interfered with the survival of others in the group. This social bias singled out highly altruistic individuals as preferable marriage partners, political allies, and group leaders--what Boehm calls "social selection." The result was the first stirrings of conscience and the genetic effects eventually led to a fully-developed sense of shame. Rigorously researched and expertly argued, Moral Originsoffers a new evolutionary paradigm of human generosity and cooperation. With its new perspective on the forces that shaped human morality, it offers insight into some of the toughest problems of our time--dealing humanely with those who transgress, and, perhaps, realizing how to prevent them from going bad to begin with.

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