Where does good come from?

April 20, 2011

The alternative theory holds that the origins of altruism and teamwork have nothing to do with kinship or the degree of relatedness between individuals. The key, Wilson said, is the group: Under certain circumstances, groups of cooperators can out-compete groups of non-cooperators, thereby ensuring that their genes -- including the ones that predispose them to cooperation -- are handed down to future generations.

This stuff kind of gets to the heart of some of the books I've been reading lately. Curiously, the article says nothing of religion (or at least its predecessors), which was, especially as respects the theory of group selection, a big factor in binding tribal (and eventually larger) groups together around a common cause, and convincing individuals to marginalize their interests for the sake of the group (usually through fear of divine punishment).

(Though somewhat tangential, you may want to check out Sam Harris' The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values , which argues, more or less, that the foundations of an objective moral framework can be built by examining how particular actions (or inactions) affect human well-being. Relatedly, I feel he makes his points a bit better in this debate than in the book.)

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