Re: Chimps may lack altruism

From: Philip Sutton (
Date: Mon Nov 07 2005 - 07:16:43 MST

Hi Jeff,

> Since when do humans behave altruistically?

???? You must live with a sad group of people if you've never seen non-
reciprocal atruism in operation. Most of the people I've associated with
over the last 30 years or so have been active non-reciprocal altruists -
helping with over seas aid or species protection or nearer at home social
welfare projects.

And I reckon there might even be a few non-reciprocal altruists lurking on
this list!

It's not just me who's noticed this tendency of humans. Have a read of:

Not by genes alone: how culture transformed human evolution by Peter J
Richerson and Robert Boyd University of Chicago Press 2005. Their thesis
is that the creation of language and complex culture (other species have
culture too ie. socially transmitted behaviours) by humans created a setting
in which new evolutionary pressures could be set in motion, resulting in
biological evolutionary changes in humans that support altruism beyond
reciprocal altruism that benfits kin.

> Non-reciprocal altruism is so uncommon in humans as to be more easily
> categorized as a disorder (!!!??) than some sort of higher, grand trait of
> humanity that puts us on a moral pedestal above the non-human animals.

A bit of evidence about rarity would be good. And why on earth classify it as
a disorder??? Do you think the world would be a better place without non-
reciprocal altruism? You're thesis is not even very well framed. Rarity of
behaviours is not a good indicator of the fitness of the behaviour. Life is
complex and mixes common patterns with rarer environmental
circumstances. Survival through an array of circumstances favours
behaviours that might be exercised with varying degrees of frequency but
which get people through extended periods of time.

Cheers, Philip

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