Biology and Philosophy 33 (1-2):16 (2018)

In recent years, there has been growing awareness among evolutionary ethicists that systems of cooperation based upon “weak” reciprocity mechanisms lack scalability, and are therefore inadequate to explain human ultrasociality. This has produced a shift toward models that strengthen the cooperative mechanism, by adding various forms of commitment or punishment. Unfortunately, the most prominent versions of this hypothesis wind up positing a discredited mechanism as the basis of human ultrasociality, viz. a “greenbeard.” This paper begins by explaining what a greenbeard is, and why evolutionary theorists are doubtful that such a mechanism could play a significant role in explaining human prosociality. It goes on to analyze several recent philosophical works in evolutionary ethics, in order to show how the suggestion that morality acts as a commitment device tacitly relies upon a greenbeard mechanism to explain human cooperation. It concludes by showing how some early scientific models in the “evolution of cooperation” literature, which introduced punishment as a device to enhance cooperation, also tacitly relied upon a greenbeard mechanism.
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1007/s10539-018-9627-1
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 70,192
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Language, Truth and Logic.Alfred Jules Ayer - 1936 - London: V. Gollancz.
A Natural History of Human Morality.Michael Tomasello (ed.) - 2016 - Harvard University Press.

View all 27 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

The red-beard evolutionary explanation of human sociality.Vaios Koliofotis - 2021 - History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 43 (4):1-17.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

How Cooperation Became the Norm. [REVIEW]Jonathan Birch - 2014 - Biology and Philosophy 29 (3):433-444.
Evolutionary Studies of Cooperation.John Bock - 2009 - Human Nature 20 (4):351-353.
The Temptations of Evolutionary Ethics.Paul Lawrence Farber - 1994 - University of California Press.
Evolution and the Classification of Social Behavior.Patrick Forber & Rory Smead - 2015 - Biology and Philosophy 30 (3):405-421.


Added to PP index

Total views
72 ( #160,030 of 2,507,392 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
10 ( #73,796 of 2,507,392 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes