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The Humane Principle and the Biology of Blame: Evolutionary Origins of the Imperative to Inflict


John A. Humbach


Pace University School of Law

December 16, 2009

Proceedings of Global Conference on Perspectives on Evil and Human Wickedness

Abstract:     
The idea that some people "deserve" to suffer has enormous social implications. People insist there is a moral right to cause human suffering. However, as the circle of humans deemed entitled to full human dignity grows wider, the next logical step is to adopt a general principle that any deliberate increase in human suffering is wrong, without exception Such a Humane Principle, to replace the old principle of "just deserts," might be provisionally formulated as follows: "Any act to cause human suffering is wrong and must be avoided unless it is honestly meant as the most humane alternative that the situation presents, according equal concern to all who are affected." Resistance to such a principle is considerable because, unfortunately, people draw unwarranted moral conclusions from their feelings of blame. But these feelings are merely adaptations to conditions that have long ceased to apply. Causing deliberate harm to others has ceased to be either a socially adaptive or morally defensible mode of social control.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 18

Keywords: blame, Humane Principle, evolution of morals, evolutionary psychology, evolving appetites for violence, legitimacy of violence, retribution, upward moral trajectory, just deserts

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Date posted: December 20, 2009 ; Last revised: March 21, 2010

Suggested Citation

Humbach, John A., The Humane Principle and the Biology of Blame: Evolutionary Origins of the Imperative to Inflict (December 16, 2009). Proceedings of Global Conference on Perspectives on Evil and Human Wickedness . Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1524257 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1524257

Contact Information

John A. Humbach (Contact Author)
Pace University School of Law ( email )
78 North Broadway
White Plains, NY 10603
United States
(914) 422-4239 (Phone)
(914) 422-4015 (Fax)
HOME PAGE: http://law.pace.edu/jhumbach/
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