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The moral capacity as a biological adaptation: A commentary on Tomasello


van Schaik, Carel P; Burkart, Judith M (2018). The moral capacity as a biological adaptation: A commentary on Tomasello. Philosophical Psychology, 31(5):703-721.

Abstract

We welcome Tomasello’s new book on the natural history of human morality as an important confirmation of the evolutionary approach, which sees adaptive behaviors and their psychological underpinnings as linked to a species’ socioecology (the package of subsistence, social, mating, and rearing systems). This perspective automatically leads to the conclusion that the basic set of moral preferences is a straightforward human adaptation to the derived cooperative foraging niche of nomadic foragers, which involves a high degree of interdependence. We provide more background information in support of this evolutionary approach, call for work on defining the contents of the innate core of moral preferences it implies, and urge philosophers to pursue its implications more seriously. Tomasello also offers a historical reconstruction, but his scenario is not compatible with recent comparative data showing a surprising overlap with aspects of human morality, nor does it fit the currently best-supported evolutionary scenario of hominin foraging. We offer a better-fitting alternative, but also call for more behavioral work in child development and on nonhuman primates to improve this reconstruction.

Abstract

We welcome Tomasello’s new book on the natural history of human morality as an important confirmation of the evolutionary approach, which sees adaptive behaviors and their psychological underpinnings as linked to a species’ socioecology (the package of subsistence, social, mating, and rearing systems). This perspective automatically leads to the conclusion that the basic set of moral preferences is a straightforward human adaptation to the derived cooperative foraging niche of nomadic foragers, which involves a high degree of interdependence. We provide more background information in support of this evolutionary approach, call for work on defining the contents of the innate core of moral preferences it implies, and urge philosophers to pursue its implications more seriously. Tomasello also offers a historical reconstruction, but his scenario is not compatible with recent comparative data showing a surprising overlap with aspects of human morality, nor does it fit the currently best-supported evolutionary scenario of hominin foraging. We offer a better-fitting alternative, but also call for more behavioral work in child development and on nonhuman primates to improve this reconstruction.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Department of Anthropology
Dewey Decimal Classification:300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology
Uncontrolled Keywords:Philosophy, Applied Psychology
Language:English
Date:4 July 2018
Deposited On:31 Oct 2018 11:27
Last Modified:31 Oct 2018 11:48
Publisher:Taylor & Francis
ISSN:0951-5089
OA Status:Closed
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1080/09515089.2018.1486608

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