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Moral Origins: The Evolution of Virtue, Altruism, and Shame
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Basic Books 2012
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From the age of Darwin to the present day, biologists have been grappling with the origins of our moral sense. Why, if the human instinct to survive and reproduce is “selfish,” do people engage in self-sacrifice, and even develop ideas like virtue and shame to justify that altruism? Many theories have been put forth, some emphasizing the role of nepotism, others emphasizing the advantages of reciprocation or group selection effects. But evolutionary anthropologist Christopher Boehm finds existing explanations lacking, and in Moral Origins, he offers an elegant new theory.

Tracing the development of altruism and group social control over 6 million years, Boehm argues that our moral sense is a sophisticated defense mechanism that enables individuals to survive and thrive in groups. One of the biggest risks of group living is the possibility of being punished for our misdeeds by those around us. Bullies, thieves, free-riders, and especially psychopaths—those who make it difficult for others to go about their lives—are the most likely to suffer this fate. Getting by requires getting along, and this social type of selection, Boehm shows, singles out altruists for survival. This selection pressure has been unique in shaping human nature, and it bred the first stirrings of conscience in the human species. Ultimately, it led to the fully developed sense of virtue and shame that we know today.

A groundbreaking exploration of the evolution of human generosity and cooperation, Moral Origins offers profound insight into humanity’s moral past—and how it might shape our moral future.

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Adobe EPUB eBook, OverDrive Read
Street Date:
05/01/2012
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780465029198
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APA Citation (style guide)

Christopher Boehm. (2012). Moral Origins: The Evolution of Virtue, Altruism, and Shame. Basic Books.

Chicago / Turabian - Author Date Citation (style guide)

Christopher Boehm. 2012. Moral Origins: The Evolution of Virtue, Altruism, and Shame. Basic Books.

Chicago / Turabian - Humanities Citation (style guide)

Christopher Boehm, Moral Origins: The Evolution of Virtue, Altruism, and Shame. Basic Books, 2012.

MLA Citation (style guide)

Christopher Boehm. Moral Origins: The Evolution of Virtue, Altruism, and Shame. Basic Books, 2012.

Note! Citation formats are based on standards as of July 2010. Citations contain only title, author, edition, publisher, and year published. Citations should be used as a guideline and should be double checked for accuracy.
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        Christopher Boehm is Director of the Jane Goodall Research Center and Professor of Anthropology and Biological Sciences at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Boehm's work has been featured in such publications as New Scientist, the New York Times, The Times (London), Natural History, Science News, and in films for National Geographic, Wild Kingdom, and the Discovery Channel. He has lectured widely to groups as diverse as the Human Behavior and Evolution Society, the Chicago Academy of Sciences, the Sante Fe Institute, the Los Angeles and Cincinnati Zoos, and the Naval War College. Boehm is the author of many scientific articles and several previous books, including Hierarchy in the Forest (Harvard). He divides his time between Los Angeles and Santa Fe.

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Moral Origins
fullDescription

From the age of Darwin to the present day, biologists have been grappling with the origins of our moral sense. Why, if the human instinct to survive and reproduce is “selfish,” do people engage in self-sacrifice, and even develop ideas like virtue and shame to justify that altruism? Many theories have been put forth, some emphasizing the role of nepotism, others emphasizing the advantages of reciprocation or group selection effects. But evolutionary anthropologist Christopher Boehm finds existing explanations lacking, and in Moral Origins, he offers an elegant new theory.

Tracing the development of altruism and group social control over 6 million years, Boehm argues that our moral sense is a sophisticated defense mechanism that enables individuals to survive and thrive in groups. One of the biggest risks of group living is the possibility of being punished for our misdeeds by those around us. Bullies, thieves, free-riders, and especially psychopaths—those who make it difficult for others to go about their lives—are the most likely to suffer this fate. Getting by requires getting along, and this social type of selection, Boehm shows, singles out altruists for survival. This selection pressure has been unique in shaping human nature, and it bred the first stirrings of conscience in the human species. Ultimately, it led to the fully developed sense of virtue and shame that we know today.

A groundbreaking exploration of the evolution of human generosity and cooperation, Moral Origins offers profound insight into humanity’s moral past—and how it might shape our moral future.

reviews
      • premium: True
      • source: Publisher's Weekly
      • content:

        Starred review from February 20, 2012
        The evolutionary origins of morals in humans has been a concern of scientists since Darwin. As Boehm, director of the Jane Goodall Research Center and professor of anthropology and biology at the University of Southern California, points out in his engrossing work, the issue is far from settled. Boehm does a remarkable job of extending previous work and incorporating a historical approach. He deftly combines studies of earlier hominids with ethological work on primates and ethnographic analyses of contemporary human hunter-gatherer groups to offer a new explanation for moral behavior. Boehm argues that social selection, or “intense social control” in prehistoric humans worked so well because “intense social control” meant “that individuals who were better at inhibiting their own antisocial tendencies, either through fear of punishment or through absorbing and identifying with their group’s rules, gained superior fitness.” His thesis, clearly articulated and well supported by available data, encompasses the egalitarian nature of most hunter-gatherer groups, their need to share large but rarely killed prey, and the human penchant for gossiping about the reputation of others. Social control explains how both dominance and free-loading behavior will be less favored than altruism. Boehm himself notes that this may not be the last word, but his ideas are provocative, thoughtful, and worth considering. Agent: Deirdre Mullane, Mullane Literary Associates.

      • premium: True
      • source: Kirkus
      • content:

        March 1, 2012
        Boehm (Anthropology and Biological Sciences/Univ. of Southern California in Los Angeles; Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior, 1999, etc.) probes the origins of human conscience and altruism. Trained as an evolutionary biologist, the author is the director of the Jane Goodall Research Center. He questions why altruistic behavior--"being generous to people lacking any blood ties to the generous party"--is a matter of everyday human practice, theorizing that generosity and other moral virtues evolved genetically according to the principle of natural selection as a byproduct of social selection, which rewarded impulse control and punished aggressive behavior. Boehm suggests that egalitarian hunter-gatherer groups would have needed strong social controls to ensure cooperation and equitable sharing of the kill. This, he contends, could have caused a biological shift. While highly competitive Chimpanzee alpha males dominate and receive disproportionate shares of food and sexual favors--thus gaining competitive advantage for the perpetuation of their genes--in hunter-gatherer societies such behavior could not be tolerated and would confer a reproductive disadvantage. The universal existence of blushing as an expression of shame exists only among humans; therefore, writes the author, it must be genetically based rather than just a cultural phenomenon. Boehm cites recent work establishing the existence of empathy, undoubtedly a precursor to morality, in primates, but he contends that altruism and shame are distinctly human qualities. People recognize virtue and feel shame; animals seek approval and fear disapproval. Boehm also cites instances in which Inuits and Pygmy tribes have used gossip and shaming to discipline would-be freeloaders, and even harsher methods to deal with bullies, thieves and murderers. A provocative though speculative thesis related in a chatty, occasionally repetitive style.

        COPYRIGHT(2012) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

      • premium: True
      • source: Library Journal
      • content:

        May 1, 2012

        This book asks the question, "Why is altruism present in modern human beings?" and explores whether altruism has a biological basis. Boehm (director, Jane Goodall Research Ctr., Univ. of Southern California, Los Angeles; Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior) argues that altruism is inborn and, after outlining three possible scenarios from which human "moral origins" could have arisen, explains which one is the best supported by the evidence. As part of his argument about the evolution of generosity and cooperation, Boehm discusses the nature of human social organizations and how this contributed to the modern human conscience. VERDICT Basing his work on thorough reading of anthropological literature and archaeological data, Boehm uses creditable sources to make his case. The scholarly language and concepts make this an unlikely choice for a lay reader. However, it is an excellent choice for university courses in anthropology, sociology, psychology, ethics/philosophy, or biology.--Rebecca M. Marrall, Western Washington Univ. Libs., Bellingham

        Copyright 2012 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

      • premium: True
      • source: Booklist
      • content:

        April 15, 2012
        How did evolution produce a species that blushes? To explain the uniquely human moral sense, Boehm teases a provocative neo-Darwinian theory out of cutting-edge archaeological, anthropological, and psychological research. In this theory, the human conscience emerges as prehistoric tribes learn to share the meat of mammoths and other large game. The constraints of sharing, Boehm believes, made early humans newly resistant to the demands of despotic alpha males but responsive to internalized rules for virtuous behavior. In placing group behavior at the very center of his account of moral rules and the reproductive success they foster, Boehm defies the egocentric, or selfish gene, bias that pervades much of evolutionary theorizing. But this defiance opens surprising insights into the hidden biological logic of altruistic acts that benefit nonkin and of harsh tribal punishments that hold free riders in check. Some readers may find Boehm's conception of morality, bereft of religious conviction or philosophic reflection, unsatisfyingly thin. But those looking for a daring new application of empirical science will find it here.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2012, American Library Association.)

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From the age of Darwin to the present day, biologists have been grappling with the origins of our moral sense. Why, if the human instinct to survive and reproduce is “selfish,” do people engage in self-sacrifice, and even develop ideas like virtue and shame to justify that altruism? Many theories have been put forth, some emphasizing the role of nepotism, others emphasizing the advantages of reciprocation or group selection effects. But evolutionary anthropologist Christopher Boehm finds existing explanations lacking, and in Moral Origins, he offers an elegant new theory.

Tracing the development of altruism and group social control over 6 million years, Boehm argues that our moral sense is a sophisticated defense mechanism that enables individuals to survive and thrive in groups. One of the biggest risks of group living is the possibility of being punished for our misdeeds by those around us. Bullies, thieves, free-riders, and especially...
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