A Natural History of Human Morality offers the most detailed account to date of the evolution of human moral psychology. Based on extensive experimental data comparing great apes and human children, Michael Tomasello reconstructs how early humans gradually became an ultra-cooperative and, eventually, a moral species.
There were two key evolutionary steps, each founded on a new way that individuals could act together as a plural agent “we”. The first step occurred as ecological challenges forced early humans to forage together collaboratively or die. To coordinate these collaborative activities, humans evolved cognitive skills of joint intentionality, ensuring that both partners knew together the normative standards governing each role. To reduce risk, individuals could make an explicit joint commitment that “we” forage together and share the spoils together as equally deserving partners, based on shared senses of trust, respect, and responsibility. The second step occurred as human populations grew and the division of labor became more complex. Distinct cultural groups emerged that demanded from members loyalty, conformity, and cultural identity. In becoming members of a new cultural “we”, modern humans evolved cognitive skills of collective intentionality, resulting in culturally created and objectified norms of right and wrong that everyone in the group saw as legitimate morals for anyone who would be one of “us”.
As a result of this two-stage process, contemporary humans possess both a second-personal morality for face-to-face engagement with individuals and a group-minded “objective” morality that obliges them to the moral community as a whole.
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About the Author
Michael Tomasello is Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University. From 1998 to 2018 he was Co-Director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, and in 2017 he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His scientific work has been recognized by institutions around the world, including the Guggenheim Foundation, the British Academy, the Royal Academy of Netherlands, and the German National Academy of Sciences.
Table of Contents
1 The Interdependence Hypothesis 1
2 Evolution of Cooperation 9
Foundations of Cooperation 10
Great Ape Cooperation 20
Kin- and Friend-Based Prosociality 34
3 Second-Personal Morality 39
Collaboration and Helping 42
Joint Intentionality 50
Second-Personal Agency 57
Joint Commitment 64
The Original "Ought" 78
4 "Objective" Morality 85
Culture and Loyalty 88
Collective Intentionality 92
Cultural Agency 97
Moral Self-Governance 107
The Original Right and Wrong 121
Coda: After the Garden of Eden 129
5 Human Morality as Cooperation-Plus 135
Theories of the Evolution of Morality 137
Shared Intentionality: and Morality 143
The Role of Ontogeny 154