By Robert Hinde
The place do our ethical ideals come from? Theologians and scientists supply usually conflicting solutions. Robert Hinde resolves those conflicts to provide a groundbreaking, multidisciplinary reaction, drawing on psychology, philosophy, evolutionary biology and social anthropology.
Hinde argues that knowing the origins of our morality can make clear the debates surrounding modern moral dilemmas resembling genetic amendment, expanding consumerism and globalisation. Well-chosen examples and precious summaries make this an available quantity for college students, pros and others drawn to modern and historic ethics.
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In the following chapters I shall at times discuss both proximate and ultimate factors: for instance, the ultimate cause for status-seeking may be access to resources, but status is not always consciously motivated with the intention of gaining resources. Rather, the individual is impelled to seek status because selection has ensured that it has become part of human nature to do so, and natural selection has acted in that way because status-seeking brought access to resources to our ancestors. There is a strong presumption that the basic pan-cultural psychological processes that are concerned with proximate causation have arisen through Darwinian selection, and that they are or have been adaptive in a biological sense – that is, that they are or were such as to contribute to the survival and reproduction of individuals or their close relatives.
Of course issues may not be that simple, and we must bear in mind that it is often a case of ‘I’d like to do that, but it would not feel right’, or ‘My conscience is not happy’. 2 In that moral precepts are incorporated into one’s sense of self, the violation of a precept may impinge on that sense of self. In the Western world each individual assumes that he or she is a unique individual, with a mind in some sense distinct from the body, with an inner private self, with emotions, with memories stored in the mind, and with a will capable of acting on the world.
The question is, in what sense do they have anything in common? Is aggressiveness simply an extreme negative expression of assertiveness? Do the more positive aspects of assertiveness share a common base – causally, ontogenetically, or both – with the egoistic ones? If so, one might expect individuals who were frequently assertive in one way also to be assertive in the other; that is certainly not always the case. Or is ‘assertiveness’ to be seen as only a post hoc descriptive phrase for tendencies for behaviours whose consequences have something in common – namely the promotion of one’s own interests, whether their consequences to others be positive or negative?