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The Moral Punishment Instinct$
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Jan-Willem van Prooijen

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780190609979

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190609979.001.0001

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Origins of the Moral Punishment Instinct

Origins of the Moral Punishment Instinct

(p.95) 4 Origins of the Moral Punishment Instinct
The Moral Punishment Instinct

Jan-Willem van Prooijen

Oxford University Press

Third-party punishment occurs among insect species, cleaner fish, and non-human primates. This suggests that organisms do not need a sophisticated sense of morality to be punitive. Why, then, did humans evolve a moral punishment instinct? The main proposition of this chapter is that people evolved a sense of morality as a consequence of their punishment instincts. In ancestral groups of hunter-gatherers, punishment had genetic consequences, as it frequently meant death, exclusion, or unattractively low social standing. Punishment therefore has put social selection pressures on our ancestors to evolve intrinsic motivations to pursue the interests of the group. Furthermore, whereas punishment is frequently portrayed as costly, the chapter illuminates that punishers also reap important benefits: punishment can be a form of costly signaling, emphasizing punishers’ power, making them attractive mates.

Keywords:   Queenless ant, cleaner fish, non-human primates, evolution, ancient hunter-gatherers, social selection pressure, self-control, costly signaling, power

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