Robert Brodrecht

Morality as a Product of Evolution




I was sitting in church last Sunday pondering a theory of ethics (rules of right and wrong). Or, really, where does our morality (our innate sense of right and wrong) come from, but it’s related to a theory of ethics.

For a long time, I’ve held the loose opinion that our code of ethics was born from what makes living in a social environment with other humans operate with the least friction (or Least Friction Ethics for short). If you steal something from someone, it causes problems with the person that you stole from, which may cause problems with the greater social group, and may cause problems for you when it’s time for retribution. Because nobody wants to have turmoil directly in their life or via turmoil in someone else’s life (either due to empathy or retribution), theft is deemed immoral.

(I’m not sure if this is an original thought or something someone else has put a name on. It sounds kind of like Utilitarianism, but it’s not. Reviewing Wikipedia’s Ethics page, I’m also not sure how well it lines up with State consequentialism, since material wealth and increasing population don’t seem morally relevant to my thinking on this.)

It occurred to me that we may have evolved morality with the basic tenets of Least Friction Ethics. Early on, if someone did something bad, they may be ostracized by the group, possibly preventing them from mating, or they may have been killed, permanently preventing them from mating. On the other hand, someone who got along well with the group would have more opportunity to mate. All of this to say, people who naturally tended to conform to Least Friction Ethics were more likely to pass on their genes, and those that naturally tended to go against Least Friction Ethics were more likely to not.

As time progressed and life was more sedentary, jails would be created, further taking those that go against Least Friction out of the populous.

Over time, most people would have a natural inclination toward Least Friction Ethics, and it would be built into laws and religious texts because it’s simply innate that we believe Least Friction Ethics is right. That is, Least Friction Ethics became our morality.

So, those that naturally do the things that make living with other humans easier have a higher likelihood of reproducing, until the world is mostly populated by those that naturally do the things that make living with other humans easier and believe that doing the opposite is wrong.

Just a thought.

(This certainly doesn’t address whether morality is genetically innate. Maybe I’ll get around to exploring that some day. Also, don’t consider this to be an argument for anything. It’s just thinking out loud.)