Unraveling Moral Beginnings: Evolutionary Psychology

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Human Behavioral Biology - Robert Sapolsky. Entertaining lectures, explaining why and how we make decisions that he expands on in his book Behave by exploring human behavior from the factors that bear on a person's reaction in the moment the behavior occurs to factors in our evolutionary legacy.

The Structural Evolution of Morality - Jason McKenzie. Also as Foresight Institute podcast. Explains the structural evolution of human-typical morals, such as fairness norms. He builds on Bryan Skyrms’ Evolution and the Social Contract by not only taking natural selection into account but including cultural evolution as well. For more background info on Skyrms’ evolutionary explanations of morality, see Darwin Meets the Logic of Decision.

Game-theoretic Explanations and the Evolution of Justice - Justin D’Arms. Uses game-theory to show how our justice norms evolved from evolutionary stable strategies in resource distribution problems. For an expansion on this account, see Natural Justice  by Ken Binmore. 

The Evolution of Cooperation  by Robert Axelrod is an analysis of the success of “tit for tat”, based on his game theory tournament to test different strategies for cooperation. The Grammar of Society by Cristina Bicchieri is a more detailed analysis on the evolution of reciprocity, fairness, and cooperation norms.

Sense And Nonsense - Kevin Laland, Gilliam Brown. Introduction to five evolutionary psychology schools: sociobiology, human behavioral ecology, evolutionary psychology, cultural evolution, and gene-culture co-evolution. The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology - Leda Cosmides, John Tooby, Jerone Barkow. Slightly dated but good primer of evolutionary psychology by the pioneers of the field. Especially good is The Psychological Foundations of Culture. 

Bret Weinstein’s Interviews and Bret Weinstein’s Youtube Channel - Bret Weinstein. For more easily digestible bits on evolutionary psychology.

Darwin’s Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society - David Wilson. An evolutionary explanation of the cultural invention of religion.

The Enigma of Reason - Hugo Mercier. Argues that our shortcomings in thinking rationally are not surprising, because rather than having evolved as bayesian updaters, our reasoning evolved as an interactive tool to better cooperate in groups. The Secret of Our Success by Joseph Henrich makes a similar claim based on the importance of cultural evolution for human survival. Because the ability to think rationally may infringe on our ability to transmit cultural norms effectively, it was selected against.

The Elephant in the Brain - Hidden Motives in Everyday Life - Robin Hanson, Kevin Simler. Explains why the reasons we use to justify our actions to ourselves and others are not why we actually act in certain ways in areas like religion, health, politics, and education.

The Righteous Mind - Jonathan Haidt. Explains how our political differences can be explained by moral foundations that themselves have an evolutionarily adaptive origin. He also wrote The Emotional Dog and its Rational Tail on why moral reasoning does not cause moral judgment; rather, moral reasoning is usually a post hoc construction, generated after a judgment has been reached.

The Strange Order of Things - Antonio Damasio. On how emotions are essential for all living organisms, the formation of our culture, and a force toward life.

The Selfish Gene Richard Dawkins. Articulates a gene's eye view of evolution, in which organisms can be seen as vehicles for their replication. In The Blank Slate Steven Pinker shows the biological roots of human behavior and morality.


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