Moral Origins

The Evolution of Virtue, Altruism, and Shame

by Christopher Boehm

Some rather stupid people object to Darwinian evolution on the grounds that it posits a cold, ugly world in which people push, shove, and scheme for reproductive advantage. These people believe that evolution is inimical to all that is noble in the human condition. Apparently it has never occurred to them that we are indeed the products of evolution and we are indeed (sometimes) noble. 

This book explains how niceness evolved. The basic reason is simple: humans are not solitary creatures. We live in societies of mutually supporting individuals. This one-for-all, all-for-one mentality is one of our greatest strengths. Singly, none of us could hope to survive, even as primitive hunter-gathers. Our social nature makes us strong. Morality is the glue that binds us together; without morality, no society, however small, could hope to persist. 

This book is an overly tedious expansion of this obvious concept. I had hope to find lots of interesting details, variations, special exceptions, and so forth in the reading. Mostly what I got was endless repetition of points written in turgid, clumsy prose. I put the book aside on page 68. Perhaps there was something worthwhile later on, but finding it would have been like reading the blogs on WordPress in search of intellectually advanced material.