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253. The Evolutionary Origins of Prosocial Concern: A Dive into William Search's Theory of Morality


The realm of human existence has always sparked curiosity and intrigue, inspiring philosophers, scientists, and thinkers to delve into its intricate dimensions. In his thought-provoking books, "Why" and "Conversations with ChatGPT: Exploring the Theory of Morality and Existence," William Search has theorized that the foundation of human existence lies in morality. We shall examine key ideas from his books and attempt to understand the profound implications of his theory.

Prosocial Concern: A Cornerstone of Human Morality

A fundamental aspect of human morality, as posited by Search, is the notion of prosocial concern. This selfless consideration for others' well-being, referred to as other-regarding preferences in behavioral economics, transcends mere self-interest. Primatologists often characterize such proactive prosociality as a spontaneous, non-reactive response to others' needs, devoid of solicitation, begging, or harassment.

The Study of Proactive Prosociality in Primates

Over the past decade, researchers have extensively examined proactive prosociality in various primate species. Initial studies suggested that chimpanzees, independent breeders, lacked proactive prosociality, whereas marmoset monkeys, cooperative breeders like humans, exhibited this trait. Notably, the evolution of cooperative breeding cannot be solely attributed to inclusive fitness benefits, kin selection, or relatedness. Marmosets, for instance, demonstrate proactive prosociality towards unrelated group members and even strangers who could potentially join their group. Additionally, mother-offspring dyads in independently breeding primates, including chimpanzees, do not exhibit proactive prosociality.

Subsequent research on prosociality generated a range of results, with methodological inconsistencies making direct comparisons challenging. A comprehensive study comparing proactive prosociality across 15 primate species employed a standardized methodology to facilitate meaningful comparisons. Phylogenetic analyses identified allomaternal care, or the assistance provided to mothers by others in raising offspring, as the primary predictor of proactive prosociality in a group service paradigm. Brain size and other socio-ecological factors, however, failed to explain significant interspecific variations.

Chimpanzees, Bonobos, and the Prosociality Spectrum

Though our closest relatives, chimpanzees, scored low on prosociality, they were not completely devoid of it. Occasional targeted helping, food sharing, and alerting others to danger have been reported in this species. Furthermore, targeted helping entails a cognitive component, which is particularly pronounced in large-brained apes.

Bonobos present an interesting case, as evidence for their proactive prosociality is inconclusive. Regrettably, they were not included in the group service study that compared prosociality across multiple species.

Conclusion: Cooperative Breeding, Prosocial Concern, and the Moral Compass Theory

In conclusion, proactive prosociality is more prominent in primates with higher levels of allomaternal care, reaching its zenith in cooperative breeders. As humans also qualify as cooperative breeders, it is reasonable to postulate that our prosociality stems from cooperative breeding. The elegant regularity of this phenomenon extends across both non-human and human primates, shedding light on William Search's theory on morality and human existence.

The connection between prosocial concern and the moral compass theory is evident when we consider the way cooperative breeding shapes our moral inclinations. By fostering a heightened sense of empathy and concern for others, cooperative breeding nurtures our innate moral compass, which in turn guides our interactions with others and our understanding of right and wrong. This symbiotic relationship between prosocial concern and morality illuminates the profound insights offered by William Search's theory.

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