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229. The Evolution of Human Morality and its Building Blocks


The quest to understand the essence of human existence has long been a subject of philosophical inquiry and scientific investigation. One thought-provoking theory posits that the foundation of human existence lies in our innate sense of morality. This concept is at the heart of William Search's groundbreaking books, Why and Conversations with chatGPT: Exploring the Theory of Morality and Existence. According to Search, the origins of human morality can be traced back to our evolutionary past, shedding light on the mechanisms that have shaped our moral compass and the societal norms that govern our behavior. To better comprehend the nature of human morality and its implications for our existence, it is crucial to explore its evolutionary context and the building blocks that comprise it. In this blog post, we delve into the fascinating world of the hunter-gatherer societies that formed the backdrop for the emergence of human morality and examine the evolutionary origins of its key components. By understanding the roots of morality in our evolutionary history, we stand to gain valuable insights into the essence of what it means to be human.

Hunter-Gatherers: The Evolutionary Context of the Emergence of Human Morality

Homogeneity of Hunter-Gatherer Societies

One of the key aspects that helps us understand the evolution of human morality is the remarkable homogeneity among hunter-gatherer societies. Despite geographical distance and other variations, these societies share many common traits, suggesting that the evolutionary context in which human sociality and morality evolved can be inferred from their similarities. By studying the characteristics and behaviors of these societies, we can gain insights into the fundamental factors that contributed to the emergence of human morality.

The Interdependent and Cooperative Nature of Hunter-Gatherer Societies

Hunter-gatherer societies are characterized by their egalitarian and interdependent nature. These communities typically make collective decisions, ensuring that no single individual wields undue influence or power. The division of labor within these societies is marked by a distinct sexual differentiation, with men hunting cooperatively, fishing, or collecting honey, and women primarily focusing on gathering. This division of labor fosters a high degree of cooperation and interdependence among group members.

Social networks within hunter-gatherer societies play a crucial role in maintaining the fabric of their communities. Adult siblings often co-reside, and relationships with non-kin are equally important for the dissemination of skills and knowledge. The structure of these societies is optimized for the efficient transmission of cultural knowledge, further reinforcing the interdependent nature of their communities.

The Role of Interdependence in Shaping Morality

The interdependent nature of hunter-gatherer societies provided the impetus for the development of human morality as an adaptive response. To navigate the complex social dynamics within these groups, individuals had to develop a strong sense of moral behavior that promoted cooperation and mutual support. This moral framework not only facilitated harmonious social interactions but also served as a means of ensuring survival in an environment that required a high degree of interdependence.

Evolutionary Origins of the Building Blocks of Morality

Prosocial Concern

Prosocial predispositions are essential for maintaining food-sharing practices and building a good reputation within hunter-gatherer societies. A willingness to share resources and support others without solicitation ensures that an individual will receive aid when they themselves are in need. Generosity and participation in collective action can also elevate an individual's status within the group. These prosocial behaviors, which form the bedrock of human morality, are crucial for maintaining harmony and fostering cooperation in interdependent societies.


Conformity plays a significant role in hunter-gatherer societies, as synchronized and coordinated action is vital for survival. The urge to conform also serves as a means of acquiring complex skills and knowledge through social learning. In situations where certain aspects of a skill or activity are not immediately apparent, individuals must trust and copy the actions of others to acquire these abilities. This conformity serves as a foundation for the development of human morality, as it enables individuals to navigate the complex social landscape of their communities.

Social Norms I: Universal, Biologically Anchored Contents

Understanding the building blocks of morality requires an examination of both the mechanisms and contents of moral behavior. Universal, biologically anchored social norms represent the fundamental rules that govern moral behavior across different cultures and societies. These norms, which are rooted in our evolutionary past, provide a shared moral framework that allows individuals to engage in cooperative and prosocial behavior.

Social Norms II: Arbitrary, Culturally Variable Norms

In addition to biologically anchored norms, human morality also encompasses arbitrary, culturally variable norms. These norms, which can vary widely between different societies, further shape our moral behavior and understanding. By examining the interplay between universal and culturally specific norms, we can gain a more nuanced understanding of the complex tapestry of human morality.

Third-Party Perspective

A crucial aspect of human morality is the third-party perspective, which entails evaluations of moral actions by non-involved bystanders. This aspect is particularly important as it reveals the extent to which moral behavior is not just a product of individual or dyadic interactions, but also a broader social phenomenon. The third-party perspective highlights the collective nature of human morality, as individuals within a group share a responsibility to uphold and enforce moral standards.

Moreover, examining the third-party perspective can also help us better understand the evolutionary origins of morality. By considering evidence from non-human animals, we can explore whether elements of morality or their precursors exist in other species. For example, research on prosocial behavior in primates has shown that, in some instances, third parties intervene in conflicts or show concern for the welfare of others. This suggests that certain aspects of morality may have deeper evolutionary roots, transcending our own species and providing a basis for understanding the fundamental building blocks of human morality.

In conclusion, by examining the evolutionary context of human morality through the lens of hunter-gatherer societies and exploring the origins of the building blocks of morality, we can gain a greater understanding of our own moral compass and its implications for human existence. The interplay between prosocial concern, conformity, universal and culturally variable social norms, and the importance of the third-party perspective, all contribute to our understanding of morality as an adaptive response to the challenges faced by our ancestors. By appreciating the evolutionary origins of morality, we may be better equipped to navigate the complex moral landscape of our contemporary world, fostering greater cooperation, understanding, and empathy among individuals and societies.


In this blog post, we have delved into the fascinating theory proposed by William Search in his books "Why" and "Conversations with chatGPT: Exploring the Theory of Morality and Existence," which posits that the essence of human existence is rooted in morality. By exploring the evolutionary context of human morality and examining the building blocks of morality, we can gain a more profound understanding of the nature of human existence and our moral compass.

Throughout our discussion, we have highlighted the significance of the commonalities among hunter-gatherer societies in offering insights into the evolution of human morality. These societies, characterized by their interdependent and cooperative nature, provide a valuable lens through which we can analyze the emergence of morality as an adaptation to the challenges faced by our ancestors.

By examining the building blocks of morality, such as prosocial concern, conformity, universal and culturally variable social norms, and the importance of the third-party perspective, we can appreciate the intricate tapestry of human morality. Prosocial concern is vital for maintaining food sharing and building a good reputation, while conformity facilitates coordinated action and social learning within groups. The presence of both universal, biologically anchored social norms and arbitrary, culturally variable norms attests to the complex nature of morality.

The third-party perspective is a crucial aspect of human morality, as it demonstrates the importance of collective evaluations and enforcement of moral standards within groups. This perspective allows us to explore the potential evolutionary roots of morality by considering evidence from non-human animals. The presence of certain moral behaviors or precursors in other species suggests that morality may have deeper evolutionary origins, extending beyond our own species.

In conclusion, studying the evolutionary context and building blocks of morality offers us a unique opportunity to understand human existence and morality more profoundly. By acknowledging the adaptive nature of morality and its roots in the challenges faced by our ancestors, we can navigate the complexities of our modern moral landscape with greater insight. Furthermore, this understanding can promote increased cooperation, empathy, and understanding among individuals and societies, as we continue to grapple with the moral dilemmas of our contemporary world.

Ultimately, the exploration of human morality from an evolutionary perspective not only enriches our knowledge of our past but also illuminates our present and future. By examining the complex tapestry of morality and recognizing its significance in the fabric of human existence, we can better appreciate the moral dimensions that define us as a species. Armed with this understanding, we are better equipped to face the challenges of our ever-changing world, fostering a more compassionate and cohesive global society. As William Search eloquently demonstrates in his thought-provoking works, our morality serves as a vital compass, guiding us through the intricate labyrinth of human existence.

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