Evolutionary Roots of Property Rights; The Natural and Cultural Nature of Human Cooperation

Szocik, Konrad and Herian, Robert (2019). Evolutionary Roots of Property Rights; The Natural and Cultural Nature of Human Cooperation. The Heythrop Journal, 60(6) pp. 821–831.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/heyj.12338


Debates about the role of natural and cultural selection in the development of prosocial, antisocial and socially neutral mechanisms and behavior raise questions that touch property rights, cooperation, and conflict. For example, some researchers suggest that cooperation and prosociality evolved by natural selection (Hamilton 1964, Trivers 1971, Axelrod and Hamilton 1981, De Waal 2013, 2014), while others claim that natural selection is insufficient for the evolution of cooperation, which required in addition cultural selection (Sterelny 2013, Bowles and Gintis 2003, Seabright 2013, Norenzayan 2013). Some scholars focus on the complexity and hierarchical nature of the evolution of cooperation as involving different tools associated with lower and the higher levels of competition (Nowak 2006, Okasha 2006); others suggest that humans genetically inherited heuristics that favor prosocial behavior such as generosity, forgiveness or altruistic punishment (Ridley 1996, Bowles and Gintis 2004, Rolls 2005). We argue these mechanisms are not genetically inherited; rather, they are features inherited through cultural selection. To support this view we invoke inclusive fitness theory, which states that individuals tend to maximize their inclusive fitness, rather than maximizing group fitness. We further reject the older notion of natural group selection - as well as more recent versions (West, Mouden, Gardner 2011) – which hold that natural selection favors cooperators within a group (Wynne-Edwards 1962). For Wynne-Edwards, group selection leads to group adaptations; the survival of individuals therefore depends on the survival of the group and a sharing of resources. Individuals who do not cooperate, who are selfish, face extinction due to rapid and over-exploitation of resources.

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