Monday, May 14, 2018

Evolutionary moral sentiments

From this blog post at the Evolution Institute:

"Ever since Adam Smith, economists have recognized that our self-interest is bounded by moral sentiments. Nevertheless, the dominant narrative in economics holds that human welfare is optimized in a system that maximally exploits our self-interest. This economic narrative casts us in the role of Homo economicus, a rational agent that single-mindedly pursues its self-interest without any regard for social norms or the welfare of others. Moreover, it reduces our social interactions to arm’s length exchanges mediated by an impersonal price mechanism. The resulting picture is of a system in which we are guided, ‘as if by an invisible hand’, towards a collectively optimal outcome despite, or rather precisely because of, the fact that we pursue our self-interest in the face of ‘perfect competition’."

"But on an evolutionary view of human nature, it is immediately clear that this cannot be the whole story of our welfare. The fundamental flaw of the economic narrative is that it discounts the central role of our ability to solve social dilemmas in explaining our welfare. [...] Evolutionary social science [...] explains how the cognitive mechanisms that help us solve social dilemmas evolved – moral sentiments such as empathy, indignation and shame. These sentiments are the result of an evolutionary dynamic in which a combination of multi-level selection and gene-culture co-evolution conferred fitness advantages to members of groups in which these sentiments became more widespread. [...] Appeals to our self-interest exacerbate these dilemmas. To solve them, we should appeal to the moral sentiments that we evolved specifically for this purpose.

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