Phil. 490:The Evolution of Morality (Vailati)Spring 2014

Office: PH 2412; phone x3376


Office hours: MW 2-3; T 5-6, and by appointment.


This course presents some accounts and models of the evolution of prosociality and morality, and evaluates their success in terms of their empirical adequacy.Supposing we could produce a satisfactory account of how evolution brought about morality, what philosophical consequences, if any, should we infer?That morality has been debunked?That moral relativism is correct?That morality is innate in the same way in which universal grammar is taken to be?



1.       Frans De Waal, Primates and Philosophers (Princeton University Press, 2006)(FDW)

2.       Samuel Bowles & Herbert Gintis, A Cooperative Species (Princeton University Press, 2011) (B&G).At times, B&G can be quite technical, with substantial amounts of mathematical manipulation.Itís perfectly reasonable to skip the math and read the conclusions.

3.       Assorted handouts and downloads

An interesting, although only substantially partial, short text on the evolution of morality written by a biologist is here.


Week topics and readings

Week 1: Introduction to the topic.Reading: B&G chs. 1-2.Classical game theory.

Week 2: More on classical game theory. Do exercises 1-5 and check your answers by clicking at the bottom of the exercise page.

Weeks 3-4: Evolutionary game theory.

Feb 4: First quiz

Week 5: Homo economicus, its problems and behavioral game theory; Reading: B&G, ch. 3.

Week 6: Possible models for the evolution of prosociality.Readings: B&G chs. 4-5.

Weeks 7-8: Hunter/gatherer societies, ancestral human society, altruist-parochialists and war; readings: Boehm, Hierarchy in the Forest, ch. 4 and ch. 8 (handout) and B&G chs. 6, 8.For todayís plight of hunter/gatherers and tribal people,

March 4: Second quiz

Week 9: Strong Reciprocity. B&G ch. 9; An agent based computer model.

Week 10: Socialization and social emotions.Reading: B&G chs. 10, 11, 12.

Week 11: Prosociality, morality and primates.Reading: De Waal, pp. 3-80.

Week 12: De Waalís philosophical critics and his replies.Readings: De Waal, pp. 81-181.(This topic is continued for part of next week).See Singerís lecture on evolution and morality.

April 8: Third quiz

Week 13: The two tracks of moral judgment:Readings:Waller, What Rationality Adds to Animal Morality; J. Haidt and S. Kasebir, Morality (both handouts).

Week 14: An innate morality?Readings: R. Joyce, The Evolution of Morality ch. 4 (handout); J. Prinz, Is Morality Innate?If morality is an evolutionary product, should we expect relativism?

Week 15: The debunking of morality?Reading:Joyce, Evolution, truth tracking, and moral skepticism. Supplementary reading, Kahane, Evolutionary Debunking Arguments

April 29: Fourth quiz




1.       Regular attendance.Missing one meeting without a good reason will result in a loss of 5% of the total grade.

2.       In-class presentation, worth 20% of course grade.The presentation will be assigned by me by the third or fourth week.Make sure you discuss with me your presentation before you present.

3.       4 quizzes, some in class some take-home, each worth 5% of the total grade

4.       2 pop quizzes, each worth 5% of the total grade

5.       A paper of at least 3,000 words due the last class, worth 40% of course grade.I very strongly encourage you to give me rough drafts up to week 14.

6.       Participation to discussion is worth up to 10% of the total grade

7.       There may be some bonus points quizzes


NOTE:The material in this course is both complex and multidisciplinary.Make sure you come to all meetings and study regularly.