Tuesday 9
Psychological Altruism from a Biological Point of View A
Chair: Christine Sachse
› 9:00 - 9:30 (30min)
› 005
Why there might not be an evolutionary explanation for psychological altruism
Stephen Stich  1@  
1 : Rutgers University

Session: Psychological Altruism from a Biological Point of View - Some Recent Perspectives (Christine Clavien, Justin Garson, Armin Schulz, Elliott Sober, Chandra Sripada, Stephen Stich)

Following Batson and Sober & Wilson, I will use “psychological altruism” for the claim that people have ultimate (or non-instrumental) desires for the well-being of others. Behavior is psychologically altruistic if it is motivated, at least in part, by such an altruistic desire. The first claim I will defend is that it may be premature to seek evolutionary explanations of psychological altruism, since it is far from clear that psychological altruism exists. Batson and colleagues have set out what is perhaps the best case for the existence of psychological altruism. However, their work has focused almost entirely on a cultural group – WEIRD American college students – who are known to be outliers in many psychological tasks. If psychological altruism is a culturally local phenomenon, then it is far from clear that we should expect an evolutionary explanation. The second claim I will defend is that almost all of the psychological work on altruism is compatible with the hypothesis that the ultimate desire motivating putatively altruistic behavior is actually a desire to comply with norms. The third claim I will defend is that the work of Boyd, Henrich and others has provided a compelling account of the evolution of norm psychology which suggests that non-self-interested, group-beneficial norms should be widespread, though the details should differ from culture to culture. This is not an account of the evolution of psychological altruism, but it does provide an evolutionary explanation of the behavior that may have been mistakenly taken to be altruistic.

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