Introduction to "Universal Goods," a chapter in the coursebook for "Healing the Moral Animal: Lessons from Evolution"
This essay is concerned largely with Darwinian morality which focuses on relationships within and between species. Other systems exist. I will not review traditional religious derivations or "natural law," because both theology and natural law are themselves Darwinian outcomes. Understanding Darwinian morality is a valued if sometimes limited tool for assisting each other and other creatures. Imagine a centrifuge tube filled with a complex liquid and spun rapidly in a circle, the bottom of the tube pointed toward the outside. The artificial gravity of centrifugal force separates the mix into layers. In many regards, examining Darwinian morality is like appreciating one, and only one, layer of the original broth.
K/r models and complexity theory will be introduced in the final sections of the coursebook. K/r models anchor shifts in moral behavior of any species to shifts in the environment. Complexity theory applies to the unspun centrifuge tube and uses common principles for morality and for the reciprocal relations between life and nonlife. Finally, the Barkley-Bronowski theory about neuropsychological Executive Functions also has significant implications for understanding variations in the application of morality -- we appear to vary in our Free Will. Moral dilemmas -- "shoulds" facing "should nots" -- are often a component of emotional distress.
This essay explores the view that moral behavior is a cluster of psychological adaptations; designed by natural selection. Morality is not a culturally defined, arbitrary system; rather it is one that reflects substantial consistency -- design features -- between cultures and between species. Carl Sagan's Martian would put all of them into the "hominid" case for display.
Morality and emotions -- both are mechanisms to attain continuity through time and exist because they improve reproductive fitness. Morality adjusts the balance between our short and long term self interests; it also addresses the balance between our personal survival interests and those of our genes, between choices that have an immediate benefit to an individual and those that sacrifice him for the survival of his genetic material that is common to other individuals.3 Emotions are sometimes the enforcer -- the anger, indignation, or fear that inspires and compels us to "do the right thing" in spite of our logical analyses and competing motives.
Finally, we experience morality when we rely on friends, parents, and mates to reduce our erratic behavior. By providing rules and examples, morality increases the degree of mutual influence between people. Planning, cooperation, encouragement and discouragement, and the formation of alliances stabilize erratic conduct. Verbal morality internalizes influences from our group, through oral or written codes and personal examples from other people, stabilizing our momentary choices. Thus, morality usually leads to fewer extreme decisions, even in the absence of larger social groups. Consulting rules and memories varies response choice and intensity, perhaps resulting in a closer match between behavior choices and reinforcement probability.