Evolutionary Roots of Altruism
Posted by Jerry on June 26, 2007
Either there are more empirical studies being conducted these days that attempt to reveal an evolutionary basis for altruism or such studies are merely getting significant media attention. I have come across several news articles recently that report on scientific studies on altruistic behavior in animals–particularly, chimpanzees–and thus hinting at the idea that humans are innately altruistic or have biologically evolved to retain an altruistic tendency.
Whatever the case is, I hardly see these studies on the possible evolutionary roots of altruism as a philosophical claim to holding altruism as a moral principle. There is a difference between saying “we have biologically evolved to have a characteristic” and “we must act in accordance to our biological tendencies.” Every action open to our choice and within the realms of our conscious awareness falls under the domain of morality and is therefore also open to moral scrutiny.
While some of us may have a greater predilection for anger, depression, addiction, or emotional volatility–which may be rooted in our genes to some extent–these actions are also at the disposal of our consciousness and require the use of our volitional faculty.
As another analogy, I believe pedophilia has causes similar to homosexuality (be it biological, environmental, or both); nonetheless, the former is fully immoral whereas the latter is not, and both are open to our conscious choice in manifesting the actual behavior.
Thus, claiming to find evolutionary roots to altruism–an area that is still highly unclear and adulterated with moral and political agendas–does not give logical credence to the claim that altruism is a categorically moral principle to be followed. To make that judgment, the principle of altruism will need to be subjected to the scrutiny of consciously rational, logical, and philosophical analysis, which is the domain of philosophers not evolutionary scientists.
[HT: John’s Rhyme of the day]