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Morality and Altruism

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Moral reasoning and altruism evolved together. Both of these traits are beneficial to human survival, so they got selected for in human populations. I will show today how moral reasoning and altruism evolved side by side to increase fitness. 

As discussed previously in my post The Evolution of Morality, moral reasoning is a post hoc search for reasons to justify judgements we already made. Moral reasoning evolved, according to Jonathan Haidt (2012) because of a bigger brain. Those with bigger brains can better process the environment around them and increase fitness for that population. As the brain grows more complex, more sophisticated thinking emerges. Since rapid and automatic processes drive our brain, those populations with bigger brains show more cognitive sophistication due to more cortical neurons as well as bigger overall brain areas which lead to increases in intelligence. 

Both altruism and morality evolved hand-in-hand. Post hoc moral reasoning helps altruistic acts occur. Since “judgement” and “justification” are separate processes, one does not have to justify a moral act, instead relying on his innate judgement that this is the most beneficial act. The “judgement” that’s made is really the *genes* doing what is best to survive. What survives when self-sacrifice occurs aren’t the bodies, the vehicles for the genes, obviously. The gene only cares about the proliferation of more copies of itself.

Darwin said that those who have the altruistic trait are more evolutionarily successful than those who do not have it. Thus, those populations that have more alleles for altruism will be more evolutionarily successful than those populations without it. 

Darwin held that morality evolved in humans because it was a beneficial trait for human social cohesiveness. Without even having a good reason for morale reasoning, just going on gut instinct (which I believe the gut instinct in these situations is the our selfish genes), altruistic acts can then occur without second thought. 

If a trait is beneficial to a population, then it will be selected for in that group. Moral reasoning was a trait that was selected for since those with the trait could better aid the group they were apart of by being ‘selfless’. 

For instance, when animals care for their babes, we don’t say that it’s ‘animal culture’ that causes them to care for their offspring. It’s obviously a trait evolved over time. When an immediate threat occurs, the animal will engage in what looks to be a ‘selfless act’, when in actuality the *selfish genes* are making sure the *copies* of themselves survive. 

All human traits are heritable. So those blank slaters who believe that all of our behavioral traits are molded by the environment, there is a considerable genetic component involved. Thus, it would take us further away from the truth of why altruism and morality occurred in human populations. 

We can see some altruistic-like traits in nonhuman animals. For instance, in bees. The worker bees inherit the queen’s matrigenes, which direct the altruistic behavior of the worker bees to their female kin. These genes inherited from the queen bee have the worker bees forgo their own reproduction to help rear their siblings. So when the queen does, the workers can begin to selfishly compete with one another to lay eggs. This behavior is inherited from the father. 

Emotional intelligence can also be said to be a form of social intelligence. Though, it has been recently discovered that EQ is a mix of high IQ and the Big Five Personality Traits. Traits that enhanced human social cohesiveness get selected for. For instance, in Eurasia, the Big Five Personality Traits evolved since those who are more altruistic were better able to survive in the harsh Eurasian winters due to an increase of frequency in altruistic alleles. 

The moral reasoning is the ‘gut instinct’, where the person *knows* something is ‘wrong’, they just can’t explain it rationally. This human behavior has an evolutionary basis, which increased human social cohesiveness and eventually led to our complex societies. Altruism would not have evolved without moral reasoning (which the reasoning we construct is post hoc to justify judgements we already made). 

Thus, when when speaking of mortality with someone attempting to figure out truth, you will hear nonsensical answers. But thinking of moral reasoning as a skill that evolved to further our own agenda, moral reasoning makes a lot more sense. By keeping your eye on the intuition (what their *genes* want), you can see a person’s motivations for holding these views they do, even though they cannot think of a reason for their belief. 

So, I’m proposing that moral reasoning evolved to increase human fitness and social cohesiveness, going hand-in-hand with altruism.

Without these two traits, we wouldn’t be able to build these complex societies, which moral reasoning (post hoc or not) and altruism are two of the driving force forces behind our both our evolution as well as our societal evolution. 


1 Comment

  1. Santoculto says:

    How you define “more altruistic” and “more evolutionary successful” in this Darwinian context???

    And examples from the real world??

    Seems hard to see much more of this cause “be nice and altruistic” and effect “evolutionary successful” in the human story …

    Nice guys generally are not more attractive to the opposite sex nor to be professionally successful than not so nice guys as well nasty ones.


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