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Our Sense of Morality Has Evolutionary Origins

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 2/5/2015 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 3 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 623 times Debate No: 69492
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (4)
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As usual, the first round is for acceptance.


Evolution - The descent of different species from a common ancestor over many generations. [1]

Morality - a code of conduct that, given specified conditions, would be put forward by all rational persons [2]

Sense of Morality - The feelings we have about the morality of our actions





If a sense of morality was the result of evolution then there would be more evidence to suggest the development of basic moral thought processes in human's closest relatives. EG. chimpanzees, neanderthals, and earlier forms of human beings. There is little evidence to support this however and disproves the theory put forth.
Debate Round No. 1


I did specify that the first round was for acceptance only, but my opponent has already posted their opening argument. I shall do the same.

Contention One: Evolution of Human Cooperation

Evolutionary processes, as is well known, tend toward whichever species is the most able to survive. Game theory analysis of survival scenarios has shown that cooperation is essential to survival. Further, the idea that humans only developed cooperative capabilities after they left behind their simian ancestors is blatantly false. Francis Fukuyama writes:

"We might label this the Hobbesian fallacy: the idea that human beings were primordially individualistic and that they entered into society at a later stage in their development only as a result of a rational calculation that social cooperation was the best way for them to achieve their individual ends...but it is in fact individualism and not sociability that developed over the course of human individualistic understanding of human not the most helpful way to understand the early evolution of human politics.
Everything that modern biology and anthropology tell us about the state of nature suggests the opposite: there was
never a period in human evolution when human beings existed as isolated individuals; the primate precursors of the human species had already developed extensive social, and indeed political, skills; and the human brain is hardwired with faculties that facilitate many forms of social cooperation...human beings do not enter into society and political life as a result of conscious, rational decision. Communal organization comes to them naturally..." [1]

Here it can be clearly seen that cooperation and sociality are human facets that have been with our ancestors far longer than we could consciously think about them, and are clearly anything but the result of deduction.

Contention Two: Cooperation in Human Ancestors

While it can be clearly seen that cooperative behaviors have been evident in early humans, were they evident in the predecessors of those humans? Frans de Waal writes:

"Our 'Good Nature' is inherited, along with much else, from our nonhuman ancestors through the ordinary Darwinian process of natural selection...while the human behavioral goodness is more fully developed than the nonhuman behavioral goodness, the simpler nonhuman morality must be regarded, in a substantial sense, as the foundation of a more complex human morality. The empirical evidence for this theory linking human and nonhuman morality consists of careful observations of the behavior of humanity's relatives. De Waal has spent a long and extremely successful career minutely observing primate behavior and he has seen and recorded much goodness...
...De Waal concludes that the human capacity to act well at least some times, rather than badly all the time, has its evolutionary origins in emotions we share with other animals. A fundamentally important form of emotional response is empathy. The empathetic reaction is, in the first instance, a matter of 'emotional contagion'. Creature A identifies directly with the circumstances of Creature B, coming, as it were, to 'feel his or her pain'. At this level, empathy is still in a sense selfish - A seeks to comfort B because A has 'caught' B's pain and is himself seeking comfort. At a more advanced level, however, emotional empathy can yield sympathy...De Waal offers the lovely and telling example of a chimpanzee helping an injured bird to fly away. Since flying is an action the chimpanzee herself could obviously never perform, the ape is responding to the bird's particular needs and its distinctive way of being in the world."

Clearly it can be seen that cooperation and empathy are not exclusive to humans and early humans, but are shared with many primate species from whom humans have evolved.

Contention Three: Cooperation's Role in Human Morality

As has already been seen, cooperative behaviors permeate both early humans and their primate ancestors. But is cooperative behavior the driving force of morality? Game theory says yes. Cooperative behaviors are ones that tend toward fairness and avoid the concentration of happiness in the individual (as Fukuyama discussed earlier). Herego, individuals with a predisposition to fairness will try to punish those who seek to concentrate material wealth for themselves. This brings us to the game theory scenario known as the Ultimatum Game.

In the Ultimatum Game, two people, A and B, are agreeing on a way to divide up a large sum of money, say, one thousand dollars. The money is first given to A, who must decide what percent they will offer to B. The offer is shown to B, who must accept it or reject it. If B accepts, the money is divided as A planned it. If B rejects, then neither A or B receives any money. One would expect that A would save as much money as possible for themselves, and that B would accept whatever A offers, because it would be better than nothing. However, in most cases A leaves a substantial sum for B, and whenever B is left with tiny amounts they reject it, even though they are losing money. If human beings did not have a sense of fairness, this could not be the case. Len Fisher writes:

"Interviews with people who have rejected low offers reveal that they have done it for a reason - to punish the one who has made the low offer. The researchers who studied brain activity during the game deduced that 'the areas of anterior insula and DLPFC represent the twin demands of the Ultimatum Game task, the emotional goal of resisting unfairness and the cognitive goal of accumulating money,' and sagely concluded that 'models of decision-making cannot afford to ignore emotion as a vital and dynamic component of our decisions and choices in the real world...researchers have found that raising the stakes in the Ultimatum Game generally produces offers that are closer to a 50:50 split, which is hardly what one would expect if the player's motivation was based on the concrete rewards alone." [3]

As can be clearly seen, the hardwiring of cooperation into the human brain has inexorably lead to a bias for fairness and moral justice burned into our skulls.

Final Argument

Point One: Evidence of cooperative behavior as natural to the human mindset is found in early humans.

Point Two: Evidence of cooperative behavior as natural to the brain is found in human's evolutionary ancestors.

Point Three: Cooperative behavior inevitably leads to the development of moral faculties.

Conclusion: Our sense of morality has evolutionary origins.


[1]Fukuyama, Francis, and Francis Fukuyama. "The State of Nature." The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman times to the French Revolution. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011. 29,30. Print.

[2]Waal, F. B. M. De, and Stephen Macedo. "Introduction." Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton UP, 2006. Xii,xiii. Print.

[3]Fisher, Len. "Let's Get Together." Rock, Paper, Scissors: Game Theory in Everyday Life. 124. Print.


daniel.m forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 2


Extend all arguments and award conduct to me.


daniel.m forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3


daniel.m forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 4
4 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 4 records.
Posted by Seeginomikata 3 years ago
I can't believe someone would try to argue con. Even bacteria have altruism.
Posted by Surrealism 3 years ago
Give me a little credit on this one, I had to copy the text from those books by hand.
Posted by NoMagic 3 years ago
One of the books on my book shelf, "The Bonobo and the Atheist, in search of humanism among the primates." Should be a good debate, assuming both parties follow it through.
Posted by TBR 3 years ago
Very good topic. I don't want to take con, but look forward to the debate.
2 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Vote Placed by NoMagic 3 years ago
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Total points awarded:70 
Reasons for voting decision: You know what, I'm giving grammar and spelling to Pro also. He had more grammar and spelling correct than did Con. Forfeiture.
Vote Placed by Zarroette 3 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: ff