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Alfonso Troisi

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date: 25 July 2021

Are we naturally good or bad? This chapter addresses the long-standing question by applying the fresh perspective of evolutionary behavioral biology and introducing the reader to the biological concept of ethical discrimination. From an evolutionary perspective, we are usually good with “us” and usually bad with “them,” whereby us and them are colloquial terms to indicate different degrees of genetic relatedness. With the evolution of complex social structures, genetic relatedness has progressively expanded to include ethnic bonds and common ideological and cultural values. The chapter then reviews the evolution of moral systems, analyzes recent findings from neuroscience on the neural bases of moral behaviors, and illustrates the complex psychological adaptations that have evolved to inform moral choices, including the crucial role of social emotions such as shame, guilt, pride, and empathy. The final section of the chapter faces a problem that many evolutionary scientists have found to be an embarrassment: the cultural evolution of moral and religious systems that have progressively reduced the discriminative limits of goodness, cancelling any distinction between “us” and “them.”

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