Sex Differences in Moral Interests: The Role of Kinship and the Nature of Reciprocity

Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 39 (1):111-119 (2009)
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Although moral psychologists and feminist moral theorists emphasize males’ interest in justice or fairness and females’ interest in care or empathy, recent work in evolutionary psychology links females’ interests in care and empathy for others with interests in fairness and equality. In an important work on sex differences in cognitive abilities, David Geary (1998) argues that the evolutionary mechanism of sexual selection drives the evolution of particular cognitive abilities and selection for particular interests. I mount two main challenges to Geary’s claims. First, I argue that female social and intrasexual competitive environments evolve, which challenges the assumption that such environments are largely nonkin-based and characterized by reciprocity. Second, I grant Geary’s entire characterization of female environments, but argue that the natures of reciprocal relationships themselves do not require and may not select for interests in fairness and equality. This analysis not only challenges claims regarding sex differences in moral interests, but also suggests the need for a diachronic model of male and female social and intrasexual competitive environments. In addition, I propose a return to Trivers’s (1971) focus on the suite of emotions underlying reciprocal altruism as properties and features of individuals as fodder for selection.



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Deborah Mower
University of Mississippi

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The Evolution of Reciprocal Altruism.Robert L. Trivers - 1971 - Quarterly Review of Biology 46 (1):35-57.

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