Evolution and Ethics

  • David SteinbergEmail author


Evolutionary biological antecedents have an important influence on our moral dispositions. Because of evolutionary adaptations we share moral behaviors with cooperative social primates such as chimpanzees. It’s been claimed that our genes have created an illusion of objectivity to morality. Ruse and Wilson, who have studied social primates, claim there is no objective morality and ethical standards are relative to what a particular society or culture believes are right or wrong; they provocatively add, “morality is a collective illusion foisted on us by our genes”. Moral capacities observed in animals have similarities to what is ordinarily considered moral behavior in humans. These behaviors include respect for authority, caring and cooperation, empathy, reciprocity, monogamy, conflict resolution, limitations on aggression, respect for the possessions of others, guilt, a sense of justice and moral indignation. We cannot fully understand human morality without being cognizant of its biological origins and the shape given by natural selection.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Harvard Medical SchoolBostonUSA
  2. 2.Lahey Hospital and Medical Center, Emeritus StaffBurlingtonUSA

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