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Born to Be Good

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Just last week I was lecturing to my students on the connection between genes and morality, so I'll probably mention the following article from today's New York Times in tonight's lecture at the University of Ottawa.

"Human beings, Haidt argues, are “the giraffes of altruism.” Just as giraffes got long necks to help them survive, humans developed moral minds that help them and their groups succeed. Humans build moral communities out of shared norms, habits, emotions and gods, and then will fight and even sometimes die to defend their communities.

Different interpretations of evolution produce different ways of analyzing the world. The selfish-competitor model fostered the utility-maximizing model that is so prevalent in the social sciences, particularly economics. The new, more cooperative view will complicate all that."

Moral codes may have their roots in the genome, which in turn was probably shaped by our moral choices.

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  1. Flarfignuggen's Avatar
    Evolution rarely wastes resources. If an animal has some feature now (in this case, humans with a concept of morality), the success of the species demanded it in the past. Sometimes those changes are relatively minor but only show their oddities when so heavily emphasized. A modern human's morality only appears so complicated due to the increasingly complicated systems we've built around ourselves--perhaps in the past it was something as simple as sharing food or water with a companion's child (or orphan) without any specific benefit to your own genetic legacy.
  2. E-Male's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Flarfignuggen
    ... perhaps in the past it was something as simple as sharing food or water with a companion's child (or orphan) without any specific benefit to your own genetic legacy.
    But don't overlook what the article notes -- chimpanzees and other animals rarely share food. Sharing creates community -- community enhances survival -- genes promoting that 'morality' get enhanced and passed on.

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