The Decent of Man

In a phrase made famous by Charles Darwin, life is a “struggle for existence.” But if evolutionary success depends on competition, then it may seem difficult to explain how altruism, cooperation, and morality could have developed naturally. Biologists have long tried to resolve this apparent paradox, and recent work has shown that altruism and cooperation are in fact critical to success in nature — that we also see, in a phrase coined by Martin Nowak and Roger Highfield, that life is a “snuggle for existence.”

Questions about the origins of human nature, including of our social and moral nature, are inevitably knotty, and disentangling them requires the efforts of scholars across many disciplines. The essays in this special section explore the implications of evolutionary biology, culture, and philosophy for our understanding of human cooperation and morality. Philosopher of science Michael Ruse shows what evolution means for ethics, and biologist Kevin N. Laland explains how humans became the most cooperative species on earth.

Publication of this special section was made possible through the support of a grant from the John Templeton Foundation; the opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation.

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