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The Evolution of Spite, Recognition, and Morality

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2022


Recognition of and responsiveness to the behavioral dispositions of others are key features of moral systems for facilitating social cooperation and the mediation of punishment. Here we investigate the coevolutionary possibilities of recognition and conditional social behavior with respect to both altruism and spite. Using two evolutionary models, we find that recognition abilities can support both spite and altruism but that some can only coevolve with spite. These results show that it is essential to consider harmful social behaviors as both a product of and an influence on the core features of our moral systems.

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Both authors contributed equally to the article. We would like to thank Kevin Zollman for comments on an earlier version of the project as well as the audiences at the PSA 2014 Biennial Meeting and the Carnegie Mellon University Philosophy colloquium series for valuable feedback.


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