International Society for History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology

twitter 2015
     facebook 2015


THURSDAY, JULY 9  /  15:30 - 17:00  /  DS-R520
Organized session / standard talks
Cooperation, signals, and moral norms

Ben Fraser (Australian National University, Australia)

Human social life has changed significantly over time. This session investigates the role norms play in human social life, from three different yet interlocking perspectivies. Justin Bruner discusses the stability of egalitarian hunter-gather social norms, drawing on game theoretic models. Kim Sterelny discusses the role of norms in the economic and social transition from hunter-gather to agrarian life, with an eye to the 'Big Gods' account of social complexity. And, Ben Fraser discusses the current role of moral norms, suggesting there is significant mismatch between evolved human moral psychology and modern social contexts.

The stability of the egalitarian social contract: Bully control and social cohesion in early man

Justin Bruner (Australian National University, Australia)

Explaining the transition from small roaming egalitarian bands to large sedentary farming communities has generated considerable interest in recent years. Yet any account of this transition must first importantly explain how the original hunter-gatherer social contract was stabilized. Predatory bullies, among a variety of other things, are a constant threat to the tranquility of the community and can often only be successfully dealt with through the coordinated action of a number of individuals. We consider two game-theoretic models which capture this strategic situation and outline under what conditions the egalitarian social contract can be upheld.

Norms, gods, and social complexity

Kim Sterelny (Australian National University, Australia)

In previous work, I have argued that normative thinking emerged (or perhaps became much more important) in response to economic and social transition in human forager life in the later Pleistocene. On this model of the evolution of normative thought, the emphasis was on the reduction of transaction costs and in the solution of coordination problems, as forager lives became more complex at and over time, rather than on the control of cheating, and on amplifying prosocial motivation (the main factors emphasised in other views of the evolution of normative thought). The aim of this paper is to test these ideas through consideration of a somewhat later social transformation, the transition to complex sedentary societies in the Neolithic revolution, and to compare and contrast this approach to the Neolithic with the currently salient “Big Gods” account of the cognitive and motivational foundations of social complexity.

Mismatch and moral conflict

Ben Fraser (Australian National University, Australia)

Evolutionary mismatch occurs when a trait that evolved in one environment proves deleterious in a new environment. Some elements of our evolved moral psychology may be cases of current moral mismatch. Our tendency toward in-group bias, our taste for retributivist punishment, and our inclination to objectify moral norms: all have a plausible adaptive explanation, yet each presents problems in our modern context. This moral mismatch hypothesis has interesting implications for debates about moral abolitionism, the view that we are better off without morality.