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The Morality of Evolutionarily Self-Interested Rescues

Bailey H. Kuklin

Brooklyn Law School

Arizona State Law Journal, Forthcoming
Brooklyn Law School Legal Studies Paper No. 88

In this article I examine the apparent inconsistency between our visceral approval of risky rescues of those to whom one feels an attachment, and the proposition that true moral conduct must not be done out of self-interest. I begin with a brief look at the legal doctrine of peril invites rescue, whereby rescuers are granted tort claims for actual damages directly against parties who wrong­fully put the rescuees at risk. No distinction is made here between disinterested and self-interested rescues. I then turn to evolutionary principles that, pursuant to the precept of the selfish gene, argue that in particular circumstances it is in one's own biological interest to attempt even dangerous rescues despite the personal risk, as where a person runs into a burning building to pull out her children. This genetic self-interest may well be a primary source of our emotional approval of such conduct. Next, focusing on the predictions of evolutionary psychology regarding rescues, I scrutinize them through the lenses of the most commonly espoused moral systems, utilitarianism and Kantianism. Looking to some of their unsettled principles, I conclude that the evolutionary selfish drive to act altruistically only in particular, genetically self-interested circumstances fits with surprising comfort within the fuzzy fringes of standard moral theory.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 93

Keywords: torts, peril invites rescue, evolutionary psychology, moral theory, utilitarianism, Kantianism.

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Date posted: October 9, 2007  

Suggested Citation

Kuklin, Bailey H., The Morality of Evolutionarily Self-Interested Rescues. Arizona State Law Journal, Forthcoming; Brooklyn Law School Legal Studies Paper No. 88. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1019627

Contact Information

Bailey H. Kuklin (Contact Author)
Brooklyn Law School ( email )
250 Joralemon Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
United States

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