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A mutualistic approach to morality: The evolution of fairness by partner choice

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 February 2013

Nicolas Baumard
Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, University of Oxford, Oxford OX2 6PN, United Kingdom; and Philosophy, Politics, and Economics Program, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104.
Jean-Baptiste André
Laboratoire Ecologie et Evolution, UMR 7625, CNRS – Ecole Normale Supérieure, 75005 Paris, France. jeanbaptisteandre@gmail.com
Dan Sperber
Institut Jean Nicod, ENS, EHESS, CNRS, 75005 Paris, France; and Department of Cognitive Science and Department of Philosophy, Central European University, 1051 Budapest, Hungary. dan@sperber.fr


What makes humans moral beings? This question can be understood either as a proximate “how” question or as an ultimate “why” question. The “how” question is about the mental and social mechanisms that produce moral judgments and interactions, and has been investigated by psychologists and social scientists. The “why” question is about the fitness consequences that explain why humans have morality, and has been discussed by evolutionary biologists in the context of the evolution of cooperation. Our goal here is to contribute to a fruitful articulation of such proximate and ultimate explanations of human morality. We develop an approach to morality as an adaptation to an environment in which individuals were in competition to be chosen and recruited in mutually advantageous cooperative interactions. In this environment, the best strategy is to treat others with impartiality and to share the costs and benefits of cooperation equally. Those who offer less than others will be left out of cooperation; conversely, those who offer more will be exploited by their partners. In line with this mutualistic approach, the study of a range of economic games involving property rights, collective actions, mutual help and punishment shows that participants' distributions aim at sharing the costs and benefits of interactions in an impartial way. In particular, the distribution of resources is influenced by effort and talent, and the perception of each participant's rights on the resources to be distributed.

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Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2013

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