The Humane Principle and the Biology of Blame: Evolutionary Origins of the Imperative to Inflict
Proceedings of Global Conference on Perspectives on Evil and Human Wickedness
18 Pages Posted: 20 Dec 2009 Last revised: 21 Mar 2010
Date Written: December 16, 2009
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.
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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