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« A stunningly unoriginal thought, I'm sure | Main | Thoughts inspired by David Charles Stove »

July 08, 2007


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The question, given Miller's data, is whether ethical behavior, or more specifically costly displays (helping, altruism, etc.), evolved for mating purposes, or were co-opted for those purposes. Nothing he's produced so far implies that there is an evolutionary relationship between the existence of ethical behavior and mating, but he has shown that impressing potential mates does affect ethical behavior. I suppose a more plausible hypothesis is that we developed certain helping behaviors (especially reciprocal altruism), and these were then co-opted as mating displays.

Aaron Boyden

Of course this is the sort of thing which requires more research, as Miller admits. But I don't really see that you're proposing a rival hypothesis here (though perhaps this shows that I was being unclear in my post). The mating display theory is intended to account for why our ethical behavior is so prominent, and often seemingly completely counter-productive in terms of individual survival and reproductive success. Of course, species do not invent mating displays; traits which become mating displays will often have developed to some more limited extent for some other reason, before they started being evaluated as attractive to mating partners and so continuing to evolve to be more prominent and to match the evolving tastes of the evaluators. It's certainly likely that reciprocal altruism played some role in the process, though there are other obvious candidates as well. Kindness toward kin and cautious hostility toward non-kin are of obvious adaptive benefit, and if those practices came to be attractive to mating partners, they could also have grown and mutated into something quite different under the influence of sexual selection. Probably both, and many other things as well, played roles in the story. Evolution always involves many complicated factors, and I did not intend to imply otherwise, and neither does Miller imply otherwise.

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