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The difference between ice cream and Nazis: Moral externalization and the evolution of human cooperation

  • P. Kyle Stanford (a1)

A range of empirical findings is first used to more precisely characterize our distinctive tendency to objectify or externalize moral demands and obligations, and it is then argued that this salient feature of our moral cognition represents a profound puzzle for evolutionary approaches to human moral psychology that existing proposals do not help resolve. It is then proposed that such externalization facilitated a broader shift to a vastly more cooperative form of social life by establishing and maintaining a connection between the extent to which an agent is herself motivated by a given moral norm and the extent to which she uses conformity to that same norm as a criterion in evaluating candidate partners in social interaction generally. This connection ensures the correlated interaction necessary to protect those prepared to adopt increasingly cooperative, altruistic, and other prosocial norms of interaction from exploitation, especially as such norms were applied in novel ways and/or to novel circumstances and as the rapid establishment of new norms allowed us to reap still greater rewards from hypercooperation. A wide range of empirical findings is then used to support this hypothesis, showing why the status we ascribe to moral demands and considerations exhibits the otherwise puzzling combination of objective and subjective elements that it does, as well as showing how the need to effectively advertise our externalization of particular moral commitments generates features of our social interaction so familiar that they rarely strike us as standing in need of any explanation in the first place.

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