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

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WEDNESDAY, JULY 8  /  09:00 - 10:30  /  DS-M320
Individual papers
Morality, Altruism and Commnunication between Groups

The evolution of morality as a cluster of nonmoral capacities and practices

Tomi Kokkonen (University of Helsinki, Finland)

This paper takes a look at some of the recent work on the evolution of morality (empirical work on "evolutionary building blocks" of morality in non-human animals, human moral psychology, and connected philosophical literature) and offers a (somewhat revisionist) philosophical analysis of how morality should be understood as a biologically rooted but probably uniquely human phenomenon. The main thesis is that human morality is a cluster of pychological capacities and tendencies, social practices etc., partly connected to culture and language, that cannot be bundled together as one phenomenon from an evolutionary point of view, nor can the constituent parts be understood from the moral point of view only. This has consequences for both empirical and philosophical study of morality. The cluster of capacities relevant for what we perceive "morality" evolved for various social functions. It is argued that there are four major evolutionary steps in the evolution of morality that all change, in part, the function and interaction of these capacities. The first step involves the evolution of basic pro-social tendencies and simple theory of mind. Second step involves comparative perspective to behavior (rudimentary fairness and normativity) and more advanced theory of mind. The third step has to do with reflection and negotiations on norms, which requires full-blown theory of mind and language and marks the beginning of cultural evolution of norms that perhaps may not yet be considered moral. The fourth step is into full-blown morality, which is a biologically rooted cultural evolutionary step. It will be argued that only after the last step we can talk about true morality in a philosopher's sense, but most of what is actually involved in moral practices is strictly speaking non-moral. This is important for scientific understanding of morality as well as for metaethics, but not for normative ethics or moral practices.

Strong altruism and the egalitarian transitions

Johannes Martens (University of Bristol, United Kingdom)

In the biological literature, it is common to distinguish between two kinds of evolutionary transitions from lower levels to higher levels of organization, namely fraternal and egalitarian transitions (Queller 1997). In a fraternal transition, a higher level unit evolves through the operation of kin selection, and emerges on the basis of the altruistic cooperation of the lower level entities (like in an ant colony), while in an egalitarian transition, the cooperation of unrelated entities leads to the emergence of a functional whole (e.g. the physiological integration of a host and his symbionts). Though both of these processes have led to evolution of highly integrated entities (like multicellular organisms and endosymbioses), the fact that both of them are referred to as transitions is problematic. Indeed, a transition typically refers to a process during which the fitnesses of the lower level entities (e.g. unicellular entities) are transferred to the higher level (e.g. the multicellular organism), i.e. during which fitnesses of the lower level entities are progressively decoupled from their phenotypes. But this type of transfer can occur only when some form of division of labor evolved among the parts of the newly emerging collective, which, in turn, presupposes the evolution of strong altruism at the lower level. Therefore, the so-called egalitarian transitions should not be viewed as evolutionary transitions at all, since strong altruism can only evolve between related individuals, i.e. members of the same species (Hamilton 1964). Here, however, I show that such a fitness transfer can occur in cases of endosymbioses, thanks to the evolution of some form of multigenerational altruism. To this end, I demonstrate that strong altruism can evolve between members of different species, provided that behaving altruistically toward an unrelated partner increases the probability that the latter acts positively toward the descendants of the altruist.

Communication between groups and collective entities

Shawn Simpson (City University of New York, United States)

Signaling arises and is maintained at a number of levels of biological life, occurring not only within organisms but also between them. But what about signaling at a "higher" level, at the level of groups and collective entities? People talk about groups engaging communicating all the time, so there's at least some precedent for thinking communication happens at this level. But how should we interpret such talk? Should it be taken literally? Or is there perhaps some better way of understanding this way of speaking - e.g. as metaphor or pragmatic shorthand? In this talk, I answer these questions by using the sender-receiver model of David Lewis and Brian Skyrms. After introducing the model and the general problem, I first show that groups indeed can play the role of the senders and receivers. I then apply the model to a few real-world cases. I finish the talk with a more speculative discussion on how to understand the relation between the sender-receiver model and the world.