Evolution of Moral Norms

William Harms and Brian Skyrms

in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Biology

Published in print July 2008 | ISBN: 9780195182057
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Philosophy

Evolution of Moral Norms

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  • Philosophy
  • Moral Philosophy
  • Philosophy of Science



Moral norms are the rules of morality that people ought to follow. An evolutionary explanation of the emergence of moral norms proceeds in stages. Firstly, one must give an account of how behavior according to the norms can arise. Then, once the evolution of the behavior has been explained, the next question concerns the evolution of its normative status. Next, the evolution of the language of moral judgment, along with an evolutionary account of its meaning, is given. There are different norms for different kinds of social interaction: norms of justice, norms of cooperation, and norms prescribing various kinds of altruistic behavior. This can be explained on the basis of two models: Replicator dynamics with a small amount of mutation and Theoretical models of the evolution of enforcement and punishment. Considerable progress is being made in understanding the evolution of signals.

Keywords: morality; norms; evolution; social; progress; mutation; punishment

Article.  7582 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Moral Philosophy ; Philosophy of Science

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