|Path Home: Empathy, Altruism and Agape | Presenters or Itinerary
This paper begins with the assumptions (1) that the human capacity for altruism is most likely many different capacities, each capable of producing acts of reproductive sacrifice singularly and in combination; and (2) that these capacities have been shaped by genetic evolution through some combination of sexual selection, kin selection, reciprocity selection (ie, selection for reciprocal altruism), and group selection. The point of this paper is to explore ways in which cultural evolution-that is, the process of cumulative change in socially transmitted information - extends and elaborates on these evolved human capacities. Other authors have discussed the role of culture, and particularly of social norms (ed. Boyd and Richerson) or secondary behaviors (Sober and Wilson), as a promoting or enabling force in the evolution of altruistic psychology. To complete the loop, I propose here that the evolving and evolved psychological processes, in turn, promote the cultural evolution of unselfish norms and values, propelling a true coevolution of genes, culture, and altruistic behavior.
The general argument of the paper is that the evolved human capacities for altruism contribute a selective context or environment in which varying cultural instructions for behavior (memes) differentially replicate over time. This selective environment may be thought of as a filtering device that preferentially favors (allows through) some replicating memes and not others. Just exactly how that environment filters and sorts among variants is a difficult issue and a matter of some debate among evolutionary culture theorists. The propositions of this paper are these: (A) that the main but not exclusive means of filtering is human preference, accomplished either through free choice (election) in a population or through force or coercion (imposition); (B) that human preference emerges from a complex weighting of many inputs or values in the minds of the decision-makers; and (C) that among those values are the intrinsic or primary values that are programmed into the human organism (and thus express themselves across a wide range of social environments), and any derived, socially-transmitted cultural standards (secondary values) that have themselves been shaped by past cultural evolution. (D) Drawing on the altruism literature, I would further propose that the evolved primary values of the human organism include (1) a desire to care for ones mates, (2) a desire to care for ones children and close kin, (3) a desire to care for reliable reciprocators, and (4) a desire to care for (interdependent) social group members.
Assuming, then, the efficacy of these four primary values (numbered above) in the environmental filtering over time of cultural instructions for behavior, one would then expect to find common cultural contexts of altruism of at least four basic kinds, singularly or in various combinations. First, one would expect to find cultural manifestations of altruism toward actual or potential mates, including individuals one believes might be actual or potential mates. In other, perhaps more cynical words, culturally-specific appeals to mating potential are an arena in which one expects to find altruistic human behavior. Second, culture-specific appeals to kinship status-as through the linguistic manipulation of local kin terms, particularly terms for close kin-are another domain in which one expects to find altruistic human behavior. Third, one expects to find altruism solicited by culture-specific appeals to actual or potential reciprocity. And fourth, one expects to find that altruistic behavior is also evoked by appeal to group membership and loyalty, particularly by appeals that emphasize a real or purported value to being part of a group which is in competition with one of more such groups. The paper concludes with a few provocative examples of such cultural contexts of altruism.
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