Morality as cooperation

PXL_20240323_101412300~2 Via XitterMoral universals: A machine-reading analysis of 256 societies; which appears to be a project at the LSE.

As they say of their theory (edited), Recent research suggests that the function of morality is to promote cooperation: humans face, and have faced, a range of different nonzero-sum problems of cooperation, and have evolved and invented a range of solutions to them. These cooperative solutions take a variety of forms, including character traits, strategies, dispositions, behaviours, rules, norms, institutions, and technologies. Together, they motivate cooperative behaviour and provide the criteria by which we judge the behaviour, attitudes, and traits of ourselves and others. And it is this collection of cooperative solutions that philosophers and others have called morality. Because there are many types of cooperation, there will be many types of moral values. There are seven distinct types of cooperation: (1) the allocation of resources to kin; (2) coordination to mutual advantage; (3) social exchange; and conflict resolution through contests featuring (4) hawkish displays of dominance and (5) dovish displays of deference; (6) division of disputed resources; and (7) recognition of prior possession. And each of these types of cooperation gives rise to a corresponding type of morality: (1) family values, (2) group loyalty, (3) reciprocity, (4) heroism, (5) deference, (6) fairness, and (7) property rights.

This seems like a useful way of thinking of things; it makes morality a part of, and part conditioned by, what-makes-society-work; and since things need to be Darwinistically defensible, that fits. It also helpfully predicts that we will be less moral to strangers, other cultures, or people we perceive will be unlikely to cooperate with us.


Kant on Morality - a different and less successful approach: what morality should be, if you're an ever-so-slightly-whackjob-kraut.
* ACX has a post on Covid origins, which ends with general musing: "although the X theory is inherently plausible and didn’t start as pseudoscience, it gradually accreted a community around it with bad epistemic norms. Once X became A Thing - after people became obsessed with getting one over on the experts - they developed dozens of further arguments which ranged from flawed to completely false..." which seems nicely applicable to GW.


Tom said...

Methods of increasing cooperation are indeed useful to society--but your brief passage doesn't seem to acknowledge the other side of the coin--the role of coercion in ensuring adherence to norms, laws and rules. Legitimizing religion and its role as a bulwark to the state is pretty important and religion's role in defining morality should be considered. Leaving religion and its role out of the conversation seems strange to me.

William M. Connolley said...

I wasn't claiming that this brief piece represented a full theory. Any system like this needs some form of coercion, of course. Not mentioning religion explicitly is odd, I agree; I'm not sure it gets to be a thing-in-itself; as a shared-belief it perhaps fits within the "group" category.

Entropic man said...

Like an ongoing game of Prisoner's Dilemma. Cooperation gives both the individuals and the society of which they are part the maximum return.

Though Tom's right. In a society where most people default to cooperation a few defectors who behave in a way which only benefit themselves can do considerable damage.

Coercion, whether religious or secular, is necessary to ensure that defectors do not prosper.

Entropic man said...

Mind you, sometimes defection becomes the preferred option. I went into the first covid lockdown with a months supply of tinned and dried food hoarded and considerable cash. I was not confident that the supply chain and banking system would continue to function and so I behaved in a manner which prioritised my own interest over that of others.

Perhaps that is how you can tell if society is breaking down. People who would normally cooperate lose confidence in the system and start to defect.