A history of the altruism-morality debate in biology

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Many different histories of the altruism-morality debate in biology are possible. Here, I offer one such history, based on the juxtaposition of four pairs of historical figures who have played a central role in the debate. Arranged in chronological order, the four dyads - Huxley and Kropotkin, Fisher and Emerson, Wynne-Edwards and Williams, and Hamilton and Price - help us grasp the core issues that have framed and defined the debate ever since Darwin: the natural origins of morality, the individual versus collective approach, the levels of selection debate, and the Is-Ought distinction. Looking forward, the continued relevance of the core issues is discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEvolved Morality
Subtitle of host publicationThe Biology and Philosophy of Human Conscience
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9789004263888
ISBN (Print)9789004263871
StatePublished - 20 Feb 2014

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright 2014 by Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands. All rights reserved.


  • Altruism
  • Evolution
  • History
  • Morality


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