The naked emperor: Seeking a more plausible genetic basis for psychological altruism

Economics and Philosophy 26 (2):149-164 (2010)
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The adequacy of currently popular accounts of the genetic basis for psychological altruism, including inclusive fitness, reciprocal altruism, sociality, and group selection, is questioned. Problems exist both with the evidence cited as supporting these accounts and with the relevance of the accounts to what is being explained. Based on the empathy-altruism hypothesis, a more plausible account is proposed: generalized parental nurturance. It is suggested that four evolutionary developments combined to provide a genetic basis for psychological altruism. First is the evolution in mammals of parental nurturance. Second is the evolution in humans of the ability to see others as sentient, intentional agents and, thereby, to recognize other's needs, even subtle ones. Third is the evolution in humans of tender, empathic emotions as an important component of parental nurturance. Fourth is the evolution in humans of cognitive capacities that make it possible to generalize tender, empathic feelings and, thereby, altruism beyond offspring.



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