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A Natural History of Human Morality

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A Natural History of Human Morality offers the most detailed account to date of the evolution of human moral psychology. Based on extensive experimental data comparing great apes and human children, Michael Tomasello reconstructs how early humans gradually became an ultra-cooperative and, eventually, a moral species.

There were two key evolutionary steps, each founded on a new way that individuals could act together as a plural agent “we”. The first step occurred as ecological challenges forced early humans to forage together collaboratively or die. To coordinate these collaborative activities, humans evolved cognitive skills of joint intentionality, ensuring that both partners knew together the normative standards governing each role. To reduce risk, individuals could make an explicit joint commitment that “we” forage together and share the spoils together as equally deserving partners, based on shared senses of trust, respect, and responsibility. The second step occurred as human populations grew and the division of labor became more complex. Distinct cultural groups emerged that demanded from members loyalty, conformity, and cultural identity. In becoming members of a new cultural “we”, modern humans evolved cognitive skills of collective intentionality, resulting in culturally created and objectified norms of right and wrong that everyone in the group saw as legitimate morals for anyone who would be one of “us”.

As a result of this two-stage process, contemporary humans possess both a second-personal morality for face-to-face engagement with individuals and a group-minded “objective” morality that obliges them to the moral community as a whole.

180 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2016

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About the author

Michael Tomasello

43 books139 followers
Michael Tomasello is an American developmental and comparative psychologist. He is a co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

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Profile Image for Simon Lavoie.
124 reviews14 followers
October 3, 2016
Tomasello's much acclaimed works address the perennial question of what makes human thinking unique, by using evidences drawn, mostly, from experimental devices of his making at the Max Planck Institute; settings meant to compare child's (toddlers and preschoolers) and apes' skills at spatial, instrumental and social cognition. The thesis he builds and sustains is, at core, Piagetian : our most cherished feats (notably language and cumulative culture) are contingent products of our hypersocial tendency to share goals and intentions with others through collaborative activities, comprising role-switching and joint commitment.

A Natural History of Human Thinking offered an extensive account of the most likely evolutionary pathway going from individual intentionality, to joint and collective intentionality, while showing what objectivity, normativity, and perspective-taking (notably the view from nowhere) owe to the latter form of intentionality, and while updating the practical (use based) language theory that Tomasello is championing against Chomsky (from 2003 onward).

A Natural History of Human Morality is, pace Tomasello, a companion to the former. It builds on the same two steps evolutionary process to show what changes in the proximate psychological mechanisms have occured to get from chimpanzee's sense of sympathy and instrumental helping (for kin and friends), to our moral ought at treating other group members (be it humanity) as equally valuable, contra our self-, or more closely delimited other-, regarding interest. According to the more global thesis that is supported throughout, viewing evolution by natural selection as an individualizing, conflict bolstering force that renders altruistic and moral acts all the more unlikely (if not miraculous) is tantamount to endorse too limited, hence ill-guiding, premises (p.14).

Hereafter I give each chapter a detailed summary, before indulging in two critical remarks.

In "The Interdependence Hypothesis" Tomasello states which cooperative patterns are commonly found in nature. The distinction between morality of sympathy / morality of fairness is then made clear as being human specific, with a view to what amounts to their respective lack, and hinging on, obligations. The remaining part of the chapter sketches the overall thesis of the book, and gives an insight to the evolutionary meaning that can be given to the mutually conflicting character of our three inherited moralities (comprising our joint morality of collaboration).

"Evolution of morality" is about picturing what cognitive, social-motivational, and self-regulation psychological mechanisms our last common ancestor with chimpanzees is likely to have had (6 million years ago); picture drawn from observations of wild and captive chimpanzees (mostly) and bonobos. Tomasello first delineates which of the multi-level selection theories available is best suited to fit his focus on the evolutionary changes in the proximate psychological mechanisms (kin selection - gene level; group selection - social group level; mutualism and reciprocity - individual level). He shows how mutualism, and an interdependence based concept of cooperation, can better account for (a) the motivational stability and (b) the initiating act of cooperation among individuals, than the classical, tit-for-tat, altruistic reciprocity (theorized by Thrivers) does. Notions of partner choice/control, and social selection (even "biological market") are brought to bear (18-9). The "stakeholder model" (Roberts), "group augmentation" principle (Clutter-Brocke), and emotional reciprocity proves helpful to overcome the reciprocal altruism's shortcomings, and to change the cost-benefit calculus in a much significant, and needed, way (p.17). As for chimpanzees' sociality, Tomasello takes position mid-way between Silk and Jensen, and Franz de Waal (p.36). The breadth and limits of Chimpanzees's sympathic feelings, skills at intention reading, at instrumental helping, at coordinating and at choosing partners (friends or coalitionary partners) are carefully documented, and shown to be enmeshed in an overall matrix of dominance and physical competition over foods and mates. Overall, as further demonstrated by both an adapted version of the ultimatum game, and by a counter-experiment to that of Brosnan et al. (the capucin that was made famous on youtube for throwing a cucumber back to the experimenter), with the proper control condition setted up, chimpanzees have no sense of fairness. To suggest what new psychological ingrediens were needed to get there, and to pave the way for the remaining part of the book, Tomasello brings some of philosopher David Hume's insights into the picture.

"Second-Personal Morality" depicts the first evolutionary step made by early humans (2 millions years to 150 000 years ago) beyond apes, against the background of ecological transformations and new adaptative challenges : global cooling, desertification, greater competition over ressources amidst terrestrial apes. Theses changes allegedly made mutualistic cooperative foraging urgent and obligatory, on a daily basis, so that agents had to become both tolerant in the sharing of food, good at coordinating, communicating, sharing goal, attention, commitment, creating common ground understanding of role ideals, filling their role, excluding free riders, sharing fairly, socializing their instrumental rationality, evaluating their potential cooperative partner, and managing their cooperative identity (knowing, through a self-other equivalence perspective on things, that they, too, are being evaluated as cooperative partners). Whoever failed at these would have been selected against and left to starvation. Prior self-domestication (described with reference to works of B. Chapais, 2008 Primeval Kinship: How Pair-Bonding Gave Birth to Human Society), and S.B. Hrdy, 2009, Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding) is taken as a necessary to get early human on the way to an increase sharing of intention. Social adaptations to obligate collaborative foraging acted as the main evolutionary driver of human essential, and distinctive, moral traits : (1) expansion of sympathy beyond kin and friends to collaborative partners, blossoming in a concern for partner welfare, through altruisictic and paternalistic helping (you > me); (2) sense of self-other equivalence, impartiality, respect, desservingness and fairness while dividing the spoils, while addressing a cooperative partner, and while protesting for unequal outcomes (you = me), (3) explicit joint commitment prior to joint intentional activities, acting as an external arbiter, as a view from the upper, agents took to judge their partner's and their own behavior, fostering guilt for wrong doing, and a sense responsibility (we > me). All this evolved skills would have not required verbal communication to emerge, would have occured within limited, face-to-face interactions, leaving the social group outside of the collaborative dyads quite ape- (if domesticated ape-) like. Throughout the chapter, Tomasello cite many studies showing that contemporary child and apes skills differ at joint intentionalty, cooperative communication, partner choice and control, joint commitment, in ways that support his evolutionary hypothesis.

"Objective morality" is built on the same pattern as "Second-Personal Morality" : ecological changes foster new in social relations of increased, obligate mutualistic cooperation, with proximal psychological mechanisms (cognition, social-motivation/interaction, self-regulation) evolving extra features to meet the new challenges. From ecological, the relevant adaptive puzzle became demographic, at around 150 000 ago years ago, before modern humans spread out of Africa. Thanks to their successful collaborative dyads, groups grew large enough to bump into one another, thereby igniting conflicts over resources and territory. Interpersonal, common-ground knowledge proved insufficient to coordinate group members cognitively beyond a certain threshold (presumably the 'Dunbar number'). Groups began to split while retaining a tribal hinging. Similarity in behaviors, followed by similarity in the dressing and bodily markings, allowed for demarcating ingroup / outgroup, who to trust and who to help / who to distrust and keep at bay. With its groupal components gathering on different occasions (feast, wedding, warfare), the tribe, its survival and maintaining, became the one, big, collaborative commitment (common goal level) that agents were born in. Conformity became a necessity. Sympathy grew into loyalty, personal common ground into group-level, hence cultural, ground, through additional means along the behavior and dressing similarity, namely conventionalization, social normative control, and intentional pedagogy. Agents could commonly assumed their cultural peers were commonly knowing the righ ways. Following and enforcing rules toward one's relational vis-à-vis, and toward third party became part of each agent's cultural identity. Cultural common ground would have allowed a fully, group-wide, self-other-equivalence way of understanding situations. Group members self-identified with their tribe's making, taking this supraindividual cultural "We" as a standpoint to relate with others, to build and manage their social-personal identities. Cultural agent typically engaged in reflective endorsement , judging their own moral judgments, and judging people "for how they judged the nonconformity of others" (p.108). Cultural agents also felt guilt for past judgements that proven misguided and false after being seen right and just, and lent themselves to creative interpretation of their new and unpredictable ways (be it light norms deviation) in order to ground these in the shared values and common justificatory scheme of the group. Easing the "transactional cost" to third party punishment may have been the upshot of creating institutions, meaning status function and deontic status. It may have accounted for the sacralization of institutions as already envisioned by Durkheim (likewise for solidarity by similarity in behaviors). The advent of sedentarisation with the domestication of plants and animals, around 10 000 years ago, brought even larger demographic growth, plus immigration of foreign cultural groups, and with them new coordination problems that were met by contemporary humans's (up to the presennt) specific cooperation enforcing layers : second-order laws, and organized religion.

Cultural group selection, acting from between and from inside groups, is purported to make sense of how our different, inherited moralities (our different voices) are conjoined and displaced throughout times : you > me concerns (morality of sympathy), you = me concerns (morality of fairness), we-concern (cultural, legal, religion, group-minded morality). The moralisation of social norms beyond mere conformity is presented as resulting from the grounding, within a growing portion of a population, of the former norms to second-personal, sympathy and fairness, natural morality. Tomasello puts special emphasis in claiming that conforming to norms does not itself make morality; only relation among equals, underlain by feeling of responsibility, desservingness and concern for welfare does. The differential level of grounding of norms into second-personal morality could help, together with cultural group selection, explain why group delimitation (who counts as one of us?), and group of reference reference ("which 'We' must we identify to?") changed so much though times and places.

In "Human Morality as Cooperation-Plus", Tomasello re-states what distinctive features second-personal, and groupal thinking has, and what, in terms of "distinct set of biological adaptations" (p.137), make them qualitatively distinct. The alternative theories of human morality and cooperation are on offer are reviewed ; theories that fall under one of three broad categories : evolutionary ethics, moral psychology, gene-culture coevolution (p.137). Despite their meaningful contributions, each has specific lacking that help Tomasello credits his theory of being more comprensive and beget more explanatory power. Further sections of the chapter synthesizes each the evolutionary steps that have been hypothesized, before restating how interdependence can account for ape's instrumental cooperation evolving into human's genuine, moral-adaptive motivation at helping and treating I and You on the same plane. The question of how biological adaptations to shared intentionality express themselves through development in social contexts is addressed. A specific attention is given to how contemporary children, cross-culturally, appear to first behave morally through their interaction engine, second-personally, without acknowleding any group reference as being the "shared expectations of ''our'' social group", before age three, at which age they both engage in conformiy, rule enforcing, and show cultural variability in their decision and actions.

Concluding remarks are responding to Homo œconomicus-type objections to the natural history of morality as being mistaken, for not putting self-interest at the steering wheel, and for being rosy in hypothesizing that humans are "evolved biologically to value others and to invest in their well-being" (159). Another objection responded to amounts to defining equality among human as the recent output of Enlightenment.

In all, A Natural History of Human Morality is a powerful, dense book that is likely to set cognitive and moral psychology to new heights.

I would nonetheless join Moll's (2016) review of the 2014 book by pointing one issue that pertains to the causal scheme underlying Tomasello's thesis : 1. ecological changes 2. bring new, urgent and obligatory mutualistic cooperative activities (foraging, group-defense), 3. which triggers new cognitive adaptations for shared intentionality. When agents envision their self and others from the standpoint of their new plural agent "we" (common / cultural goal level), they reframe their own self-control in terms of what "We" commonly know and expect (Tomasello goes as far as to say agents relinquish their self-regulation to the supraindividual entity), and they discover their mutual roles, perspectives, responsibility and self-other equivalence. But how did 2.), being new social-cooperative relations could possibly hang together ? Since these relations seems to have evolved prior to cognition, were they tantamout to behaving without knowing?

I should also point out that it is unclear how much learning mechanisms with domain specificity (how much skills are learned through mechanisms specialized for that learning) Tomasello's overall hypothesis requires. One simple answer would be to equate every unique features that child have and apes don't have with innate mechanisms, but that would likely lead to a long list (bestowing on Tomasello the same flaws of the nativist approach he endeavored to overcome, from The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition on). Tomasello do not engage in discussing this issue as such. He admits of all the morality traits he describe as being structural adaptative , that is : as being the outcome of a functional mechanism not dedicated to uniquely moral thinking. With the self-other equivalence described as a "spandrel" of the dual level structure inherent to joint intentionality, we are left with joint intentionality as the only innate mechanisms, likely that have evolved in the two steps of second-personal and cultural intentionality. When looked closely, neither of these two steps seems to involved a lot more than what the early human and modern human were realizing, understanding, finding - be it that they were interdependent, held accountable, evaluated by others, and so forth. The most likely (if not the only) way that learned (understood, realized) things are transmitted is through culture. So the question becomes : where, if necessary, should we admit of self-regulational, social-interactional, and cognitive (joint intentional) skills that are not learnable, teachable, and that needs biological inheritance ? As Carol Dweck already mentioned in her commentary to Why We Cooperate, the young age of children can not be taken too quickly as a proof of their lack of learning.
Profile Image for Aykut Karabay.
104 reviews6 followers
October 30, 2021
Yazar insan ahlakının maymun atalarımızdan itibaren oluşumunu ve gelişimini evrimsel tarih perspektifinden inceliyor.

İnsanın maymundan ayrılan en temel işlevinin işbirliğinin ve kültürün oluşumu olduğunu savunuyor. Maymunların karşısındakini ezmesi yerine, İlk insanların başkalarının çıkarlarını kendi çıkarlarından üstün Ya da eşit gördüğünü, bunun işbirliği ve medeniyetin gelişimine yol açtığını ve bunların hepsinin ahlaki kararların sonucu olduğunu savunuyor.

Bizim (Homo Sapiens’in) karşılıklı bağımlı bir Tür olduğumuzu, fedakarlıkta bulunan özgeci bir tür olduğumuzu ve karşılıklı yarara dayalı işbirliği yapmamız sayesinde medeniyeti kurabildiğimizi savunuyor. Bunun da temelinde duygudaşlık olduğunu belirtiliyor.

İnsanların yeryüzündeki varlığının ilk %95’lik kısmında eşitlikçi ve komünal avcı toplayıcı bir tür olduğunu ve kapitalist piyasaların işbirliği temelli kültürel kurumlar olduğunu belirtiyor. Ancak bireylerin paradoksal şekilde kişisel kazanç peşinden gitme yetkisi veren bir grup kurala uymayı kabul ettiğini belirtiyor.

Dünyadaki yaşam formlarının büyük çoğunluğunun amaçları doğrultusunda araçsal hareket ettiklerini ve bu amaçların sadece yaşama ve üremeye uyumlu olduğunu belirtiyor.

Sosyal açıdan karmaşık hayvanlarda primatlarda Çıkar söz konusu olduğunu savunuyor. Genel olarak büyük maymunların kendilerine fayda sağlayacak şekilde Çıkarları doğrultusunda hareket ettiklerini belirtiyor.

İnsanlarında çıkarları doğrultusunda hareket ettiğini ancak aynı zamanda küçük çocukların bile başkalarının iyiliğini düşünebildiğini, kaynakları adilane bölüştüğünü, Ortaklıklar geliştirdiğini, grup yanlısı ve biz olarak hareket ettiğini belirtiyor. Bunların sosyal bağlılık ile yaratılan bir biz duygusu ve ahlaki yükümlülükleri yarattığını belirtiyor

Toplumdaki İnsanların bencil güdüleriyle ahlak dışı davranabileceklerini, ancak bencil güdüleri olmadığında başkalarına yardım edecek, adil davranacak ve kendilerini ahlaki toplumun parçası olarak göreceklerini savunuyor ve bunların bütün kültürlerde ki insanlar için geçerli olduğunu belirtiyor. Tek farkın, farklı kültürlerden insanların, farklı sosyal ve kurumsal ortamlarla neyin doğru, neyin yanlış olduğunu savunuyor.

Avcı toplayıcı toplumların bile son derece eşitlikçi olduğunu ama aynı zamanda bireylerin bencil güdülere de sahip olduğunu belirtiyor

Sonuç olarak bizim şüphesiz bencil güdülere sahip olduğumuzu ancak buna rağmen mucizevi bir şekilde ahlaklı olduğumuzu, bunun zorunluluk olmamasına rağmen ahlakın Medeni toplumumuzda i genel kabul gördüğünü belirtiyor.
Profile Image for Otto Lehto.
437 reviews160 followers
February 5, 2020
Tomasello's book presents a fascinating mixture of evolutionary biology, experimental psychology, speculative anthropology, and moral philosophy. His basic argument is that morality evolved through various stages as a function of the evolving social relationships between human ancestors, from kinship and reciprocal altruism to dyadic strategic cooperation to group morality to objective morality. He sprinkles in sufficient experimental data from various sciences to buttress his more speculative theorizing. This makes it plausible enough to warrant consideration even in the absence of empirical verification.

I expected more of a straightforward case of evolutionary theorizing but this book is more eclectic and speculative. Few books can handle Hegel and Darwin in the same chapter. And neither can this book, to be honest. This kind of intellectual syncretism carries the danger of dilettantism, but the few excerpts are handled with moderate competence and one leaves with a better understanding of how evolutionary insights support various philosophical insights. However, the philosophical insights are only the icing on the cake. The core is based on science. And on purely scientific (empirical and theoretical) front, I don't think the "stages of morality" narrative of the book is quite as robust as the author claims. It is based on various hypothetical assumptions about psychological, sociological, and environmental data that do not (yet) exist. These may, or may not, turn out to support his theory one day. We simply don't have the evidence. (And distressingly enough, may never will, in which case we are forced to forever rely on speculative history.)

As it stands, Tomasello's speculative history remains a "just-so" story with various gaping holes. However, as interdisciplinary armchair theorizing, Tomasello's book is a noble effort that reflects some of the best natural and moral science available to man. It even dips into philosophical waters with better than expected results. It shall serve as a plausible story. For the time being.
Profile Image for Ezgi Aydın.
17 reviews4 followers
May 5, 2019
Ahlakın esasen biyolojik evrime dayandığını, herhangi bir duygudaşlıktan çok rasyonel nedenlerle olduğunu savunan bir kuram üzerineydi. Maymunlarla ilgili kısımda belgesel izliyor gibiydim.
November 7, 2022
A unique and tour-de-force kind book. Just awesome. No wonder why the author is the co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. When it comes to understand the nature of the human being as a species, we turn to this place; the same place that gave us the Nobel Laureate Svante Paabo on the paleogenetic research for the Neanderthal.

The book takes many references of many sciences, such as evolutionary biology, moral psychology and many more, including ethics. The book manages to clearly explain why the Homo Sapiens is a moral species, thus a moral animal. At first, we had a natural connection with our kin (family), then it required (thanks to changes in the ecosystem) a joint venture with more people. We started to work together in pairs, then in more numbers. We had a common goal. We developed a conscience of responsibility, we ought to comply to -another one-, turning to second person thought and thus, a small scope morality. Another evolutionary mismatch happened, when we turned to agriculture. We just become more and more, and morality -had to- at some point, adapt to our ways of behavior, we were no longer a tribe, or a pair of hunters searching for a mammot; we became empires, nations, and finally a globalized world. Morality started to adapt to every niche, religion flourished in the Axial Age, and morality adapted to it too, or the other way around. We no longer were endebted to a tribe, but to a society, we needed attitudes that managed to show were our groups belonged, in-group and out-group cognitive biases that already were in our brains started to payoff.

Or sort of. Morality started as a joint venture. Something that tied more than to individuals for a goal, no matter what about, food, or defense, or rape; as horrible as it may sound, the human mind creates, and manages to eficiently operate via -coalitionary proactive agression- groups. We have war, and cruzades, and sects everywhere; no matter what they do, they still have the same cerebral wiring to cooperate. Homo Sapiens is a complex species, and as complex as it is, the author using many sources, including a way-long bibliography, explains our bases for morality.

Awesome book, really recommended.
10 reviews59 followers
July 25, 2018
The book is very dense and makes a lot of claims that are not well supported. I Tried to read it several times but failed. The idea of morality as a form of cooperation was quite interesting though. The book could have been written better, it’s too dry.
Profile Image for Riley Haas.
473 reviews9 followers
August 11, 2017
For the vast majority of recorded human history, we humans have believed that morality comes from somewhere outside of us; from “above,” from the ether, from some kind of benevolent creator, etc. Even as we have learned more and more about how humans evolved from apes who evolved from “lower” animals who evolved from “lower” lifeforms who evolved from, essentially, “ooze” we have still maintained that human morality comes from outside of human beings. The idea is that morality has been bestowed on us by something, or existed before we did, and we access it. When I was growing up in the early 1980s, this is what I was taught even though it was (more than likely) not supported by the scientific consensus of the time. It may never have been explicitly said to me that morality came from outside the species, but this idea underlies so much of what we believe that it was truly everywhere; not just in my church but in my family life, in my school, in my interaction with friends.
We've had plenty of hints, even before evolutionary biology, that this view was incorrect. As human cultures have encountered each other we have encountered different moralities. If, indeed, morality was bestowed upon us, or is accessible to us, then why do we all interpret it differently?
Fortunately, advances in the hard and social sciences now have a clear view of where morality comes from and that is what this book is about.
Tomasello's history of morality is a review of data about chimps and bonobos, toddlers and pre-school children, and hunter-gatherer societies, to create a coherent theory of how human morality (really, moralities) evolved over hundreds of thousands of years. Basically, what current human knowledge says is that human moralities come from us, via human evolution.
I say moralities because one of the most fascinating parts of this book is how at least three distinct moralities have been identified. They are:
1. The morality of sympathy, i.e. not wanting some living thing to feel harm, which is present in great apes such as chimps and bonobos, and which is evolutionarily prior to
2. The morality of fairness, i.e. wanting some other to be treated the same as you (or vice versa), which is not present in great apes but which was likely present in human ancestors as far back as hundreds of thousands of years ago, which is evolutionarily prior to
3. The morality of justice, i.e. believing everyone in your society/culture should follow the same rules.
These three moralities all still exist within us, which is easy to see if we analyze any one of the many moral decisions we make each day, with one winning out over the others, depending upon the circumstance. Tomasello's account of these moralities is a lot more complicated than what I have mentioned here, and the theory he presents, based on a review of tons of evidence, seems pretty compelling to me.
Tomasello argues that these moralities are all social and at least the latter two are based on the interdependence of humans within a society. The third (“objective” morality) is also very much culturally determined.
This is a thorough, dense account, taking both hard science (biology, psychology) and social science and philosophy into consideration. It's hard for me to criticise it because I am not an expert in any of those areas, but it feels extremely comprehensive. It is also extremely well-argued, with a number of criticisms anticipated and shot down.
Though I am not up on the latest in evolutionary biology or psychology, I have a hard time imagining a more thorough, well-argued and convincing account of where human morality comes from (and why it is the way it is) than this book (at least until further research improves the picture, as it is likely doing as you read this).
Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Adam.
996 reviews196 followers
February 2, 2019
There's an idea in psychology that you learn things better if they're presented in a less approachable way, because you have to activate more critical thinking skills to parse them in the first place. If that's true, then this book is great. It's kind of astonishing how much about morality we take for granted, especially as atheists, and this book at least starts to fill in some of those gaps with concrete and realistic hypotheses. So many questions in issues I've been thinking about a lot lately, from relativist moral epistemology to reified morality in fantasy, go from these vague, intangible questions floating off in the ether, unrelated to anything in the material or ecological world, to simple and comprehensible products of evolution not fundamentally different than fear or teaching or toolmaking. It feels revolutionary: along the way, they casually reframe the Social Contract in comprehensible terms, sort out the relationship between human morality and biological market theory, and most importantly, finds a way to discuss morality as an outcome of evolution without getting bogged down by the question of altruism or even the implication that that's a real question.

And again, if that idea about denser texts leading to more retention is correct, then the way they chose to present all of that stuff is pretty great. It's basically like a big review article for the findings of Tomasello's research group for the past ten years. The problem is that it kept making me think of Kevin Laland's Darwin's Unfinished Symphony, which is also a summary of his research group's findings over many years and even covers related conceptual ground, but he somehow managed to make it captivating to read. A Natural History, by contrast, is as dull as it could be without sacrificing clarity. It's not badly written, but it doesn't do *anything* to make its material more interesting than it already is based on the reader's interest, and it doesn't tell any of the stories behind the research questions involved. It's just a summary of findings. That's fine and it's still a great and worthwhile book (and time will tell if it actually sticks any better, though I'm being a bit tongue in cheek on that obv) but one wonders if it is actually the best version of itself.

Otherwise the only thing missing is an integration with semiotics. Guess that'll have to wait for somebody else!
Profile Image for Wing.
267 reviews3 followers
April 8, 2019
Through experimental evidence in primatology, anthropology, child development and psychology, Tomasello describes how cognitive and psychological sophistication engenders interdependence-based sympathy. Mutualistic collaboration and self-projective perspectival cogitation are uniquely human and further consolidate our sympathetic concern, while shared intentionality gestates the sense of fairness and the mechanics of justice. These proximate motivations, innate and genuine, are the foundations of morality. They are however not what morality can be reduced to. They have more explanatory power than mere reciprocity. They sublimate the contractarian to the contractualist, mitigate dominance, modulate competitions, and suppress Machiavellian free riding. The formations of cultural groups introduce unreflective conformity and loyalty (to the group), if not even homophily, to the equation. Long-standing deontic institutionalisation creates an impression of an objective supraindividual ontological reality of morality, and facilitates its internalisation. However, it also entails open-ended and conflicting deliberations. Moral discourses will always be never-ending, cultural moralities perpetually evolve, and dilemmas are perennial. All the aforementioned phenomena are compatible with and indeed predicted by natural selection, but the socioecological circumstances and complexities are always relevant. Tomasello very successfully explains what psychological attitudinal processes are required for morality and why. He convincingly marvels that the very possibility of morality is itself a miracle. His account supplements those of a neuroscientific bend. At times repetitive, it is nevertheless a very rewarding read.
61 reviews
March 20, 2020
This is the 'sequel' to 'A Natural History of Human Thinking' and, to me, it was more impressive. Its basic premise, that we have to understand the evolution of human morality based on their environmentally imposed interdependence, was an eye-opener to me, even though it is very simple. Much of the literature on human cooperation does not take this into account at all, instead focusing on argument of inclusive fitness or reciprocity - it is something of a blind spot. I also really enjoyed the descriptions of the initial stage of cognitive evolution in response to this, but was a bit less convinced by the stage where these initial cognitive faculties are then co-opted to apply to living in larger groups (cultures). There is a lot of handwaving there, although necessarily so of course. His argument aren't always equally rigorous, but I really like how he supports everything with empirical work (often his own) on chimpanzees and young children. It's not easy reading, but it brought me quite a few new insights.
Profile Image for Emre.
41 reviews4 followers
July 30, 2022

insan ahlakı olarak geçen olguyu insanlığın ortaya çıktığı ilk dönemde oluşmaya başlayan işbirliği, karşılıklı yardım ve grup aidiyeti vb. üzerinden açıklıyor yazar. primatları ve insanları veri olarak alan büyük çaplı niceliksel deneyleri kaynak olarak kullanmış.

temelde okuma sebebim -ve bi süre daha benzeri kitapları okumak isteme sebebim- mevcut kapitalist ekonomik sistemin insanın sadece bireysel çıkarlarını düşünen bi varlık olduğu yargısıyla, eserin temel fikirlerinin çatışması. tomasello, insanın ötekini düşünen, eşit dağılımı arzulayan kökleriyle geniş bi argüman listesi sunuyor.
1 review1 follower
January 20, 2018
Bel libro, molto chiaro nelle spiegazioni genealogiche, forse nell'ultimo capitolo rischia di essere leggermente ripetitivo
Profile Image for Zach Allison.
21 reviews
July 24, 2020
This was an exciting read about the evolution of human cognition and cooperation. I highly recommend if you have any interest in evolution and/or how/why humans work together the way we do.
Profile Image for Erin Moloney.
10 reviews1 follower
March 3, 2022
5 star content, 3 star writing style (why do nonfiction books have to be so academic-y???)
Profile Image for Per Kraulis.
125 reviews6 followers
January 23, 2018
A magisterial synthesis of empirical results and philosophical arguments concerning anthropology, sociology, human psychology and evolutionary history. How can human morality be the product of the seemingly amoral process of evolution? The discussion is grounded in empirical results concerning the common and divergent behaviors of human children and chimpanzees (our nearest evolutionary relative). The focus in this book is on how cooperation, joint intentionality and fairness based on other-self equivalence eventually has evolved into morality. The argument draws a long, winding curve through the dots provided by the empirical results and philosophical considerations.

This was not an easy read. I had to go slowly, carefully thinking about what the theory and arguments state. But it was certainly rewarding. I have changed my views on the "naturalness" of equality, and of how social norms work, and why they are so important.
2 reviews
November 26, 2022
Probably the only evopsych book I've found that seems to make claims which its arguments and data can back up to any extent and for that it earns an extra star. The argument is the same as has been around since at least Hobbes: obligate cooperation and competition between peoples out of self-interest creates a need for shared, 'objective', systems of values, lest the species wipe itself out. There's a rather strong bent towards group selection as an explanation, and particularly what is called "cultural group selection", as in selection of groups not for familial shared genes but for cultural practices that differed among subgroups of genetically identical/similar groups of humans.
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