A Cooperative Species

A Cooperative Species: Human Reciprocity and Its Evolution

Samuel Bowles
Herbert Gintis
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 280
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7s72v
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    A Cooperative Species
    Book Description:

    Why do humans, uniquely among animals, cooperate in large numbers to advance projects for the common good? Contrary to the conventional wisdom in biology and economics, this generous and civic-minded behavior is widespread and cannot be explained simply by far-sighted self-interest or a desire to help close genealogical kin.

    InA Cooperative Species, Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis--pioneers in the new experimental and evolutionary science of human behavior--show that the central issue is not why selfish people act generously, but instead how genetic and cultural evolution has produced a species in which substantial numbers make sacrifices to uphold ethical norms and to help even total strangers.

    The authors describe how, for thousands of generations, cooperation with fellow group members has been essential to survival. Groups that created institutions to protect the civic-minded from exploitation by the selfish flourished and prevailed in conflicts with less cooperative groups. Key to this process was the evolution of social emotions such as shame and guilt, and our capacity to internalize social norms so that acting ethically became a personal goal rather than simply a prudent way to avoid punishment.

    Using experimental, archaeological, genetic, and ethnographic data to calibrate models of the coevolution of genes and culture as well as prehistoric warfare and other forms of group competition,A Cooperative Speciesprovides a compelling and novel account of how humans came to be moral and cooperative.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3883-7
    Subjects: Economics, Sociology, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Mathematics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. 1 A Cooperative Species
    (pp. 1-7)

    Is our conscience nothing but “the inner voice that tells us that somebody might be looking,” as the jaundiced H. L. Mencken (1949) put it? Or did the 20th century American essayist overlook humanity’s penchant genuinely to care for others, including total strangers, and to act morally, even when nobody is looking? And if Adam Smith’s affirmation of humanity’s moral sentiments is more nearly correct than Mencken’s skepticism, how could this oddly cooperative animal,Homo sapiens, ever have come to be?

    In the pages that follow we advance two propositions.

    First, people cooperate not only for self-interested reasons but also...

  5. 2 The Evolution of Altruism in Humans
    (pp. 8-18)

    Like Alexis de Tocqueville’s Americans, a distinguished tradition in biology and the social sciences has sought to explain cooperative behavior “by the principle of self-interest, rightly understood.” Richard Dawkins (1976), inThe Selfish Gene, writes “Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish.” Similarly, drawing out the philosophical implications of the evolutionary analysis of human behavior, Richard Alexander (1987) writes, “ethics, morality, human conduct, and the human psyche are to be understood only if societies are seen as collections of individuals seeking their own self-interest” (p. 3). From J. B. S. Haldane’s quip that he...

  6. 3 Social Preferences
    (pp. 19-45)

    Cooperation is common in humans in large part because people are motivated by social preferences: they care about the well-being of others and value fairness and other norms of decent behavior. Our explanation is that these social preferences are the proximate cause of altruistic cooperation. In this chapter we establish that these preferences are indeed ubiquitous.

    Consider theultimatum game(Güth et al. 1982). This is a one-shot, anonymous game in which one subject, called the “proposer,” is allocated a sum of money, say $10, and is instructed to offer any number of dollars, from $0 to $10, to a...

  7. 4 The Sociobiology of Human Cooperation
    (pp. 46-78)

    Humans are cooperative. But our genes, like Richard Dawkins’ Chicago gangsters, are selfish. Can selfish genes produce altruistic people? We think they can.

    In light of what we know about other animals and about human evolution, how could the preferences documented in the previous chapter have become common among humans? Recall that by definition (Chapter 2), behaving altruistically helps others but reduces an individual’s fitness or material payoff. Given the tendency of people to copy the successful and the fact that natural selection favors the more fit, how did our altruistic preferences overcome the cultural and biological evolutionary handicaps entailed...

  8. 5 Cooperative Homo economicus
    (pp. 79-92)

    In contrast to biology, where cooperative behaviors have become a central research focus only in recent decades, a major goal of economic theory since its inception two and a half centuries ago has been to explain the mutual benefits provided by a widespread form of voluntary cooperation, market exchange among self-regarding individuals. This endeavor culminated half a century ago in the fundamental theorem of welfare economics (Arrow and Debreu 1954, Debreu 1959, Arrow and Hahn 1971), sustaining Smith’s insight that self-regarding behaviors might support socially valued economic outcomes. In the resulting model of exchange, individuals maximize their utility given a...

  9. 6 Ancestral Human Society
    (pp. 93-110)

    Could strong reciprocity, fair-mindedness, and other altruistic and ethical preferences documented in Chapter 3 be the legacy of an evolutionary past in which individuals behaving in these ways had higher fitness than they would have had had they been entirely amoral and self-regarding? Trivers (2007) reasons that “unfair arrangements... may exact a very strong cost in inclusive fitness. In that sense, an attachment to fairness or justice is self-interested” (p. 77). If Trivers is correct, fair-mindedness could have become common among humans if it benefited the individual or close relatives in repeated interactions, allowing fair-minded individuals to gain reputations that...

  10. 7 The Coevolution of Institutions and Behaviors
    (pp. 111-132)

    Few students of human social dynamics doubt that nations, firms, bands, and other groups are subject to selective pressures. The emergence and diffusion of the centralized, tax-collecting and arms-bearing national state as a form of territorial governance during the past half millennium is an example. The national state became the dominant form of governance because it won wars and induced preemptive emulation among those threatened with military subjugation (Tilly 1975, Bowles and Gintis 1984, Bowles 2004). Similar processes of group competition may explain the evolutionary success of other social arrangements, markets, monogamy, private property, worshiping supernatural beings, social ranking, and...

  11. 8 Parochialism, Altruism, and War
    (pp. 133-147)

    For Alfred, Lord Tennyson, love and religious fealty were man’s triumph over a violent and recalcitrant Nature. But late 19th century scientists as diverse as Charles Darwin (1998[1873]) and Karl Pearson (1894) recognized war as a powerful evolutionary force that paradoxically might account for social solidarity among humans and altruism toward the fellow members of one’s group. The previous chapter confirmed that intergroup conflict may have contributed to the evolution of altruism.

    Did Lord Tennyson get it wrong?

    Was love the claw’s unwonted child? Creation, too, the spawn of strife? That creed sustained enduring life So let not Nature be...

  12. 9 The Evolution of Strong Reciprocity
    (pp. 148-166)

    The previous two chapters showed that an unconditional form of altruistic cooperation among members of a group could have evolved under conditions likely to have been experienced by our Late Pleistocene and early Holocene ancestors. But we also know that in experiments and everyday life, altruism is rarely unconditional. In the repeated public goods game, for example, when no other recourse is available, altruistic cooperators react to free-riding by others by withdrawing their contributions. But a cognitively advanced animal can do a lot better than to just walk away. He and his fellow group members can gang up on the...

  13. 10 Socialization
    (pp. 167-185)

    In addition to trial and error experimentation, preferences are acquired by genetic predisposition (e.g., a taste for sweets) and by a social learning process termed cultural transmission from our parents, others elders, and our peers (e.g., a taste for rice over potatoes). As we saw in §2.3, genetic and cultural transmission are in many ways similar, a fact that has been exploited by the classic contributions to the modeling of cultural evolution by Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman (1981) and Boyd and Richerson (1985). The main similarity between the genetic and cultural processes that is exploited by these models is the fact...

  14. 11 Social Emotions
    (pp. 186-194)

    Social emotions—love, guilt, shame, and others—are responsible for the host of civil and caring acts that enrich our daily lives and render living, working, shopping, traveling among strangers, sustaining social order, even conducting scientific research, feasible and pleasant. Adherence to social norms is underwritten not only by cognitively mediated decisions, but also by emotions (Frank, 1987, 1988; Ekman, 1992; Damasio, 1994; Elster, 1998; Boehm 2007). When Bosman et al. (2001) assayed the feelings of respondents in an ultimatum game, they found that low offers by the proposer provoked anger, contempt and sadness in the respondents, that the intensity...

  15. 12 Conclusion: Human Cooperation and Its Evolution
    (pp. 195-200)

    About 55,000 years ago, a group of hunter-gatherers left Africa and began to move eastward along the shores of the Indian Ocean. They may have originated in the Upper Rift Valley in modern-day Kenya. They could have been the descendants of the cooperative early humans we described at the outset, living 30,000 years earlier at the mouth of the Klassies River far to the south. Wherever they came from, some eventually crossed hundreds of kilometers of open ocean before reaching Australia, just 15,000 years later. We do not know if they encountered or simply bypassed communities ofHomo floresienis, who...

  16. Appendix
    (pp. 201-224)
  17. REFERENCES
    (pp. 225-250)
  18. Subject Index
    (pp. 251-254)
  19. Author Index
    (pp. 255-262)