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Journal Article

The Cultural Evolution of Beneficent Norms

Paul D. Allison
Social Forces
Vol. 71, No. 2 (Dec., 1992), pp. 279-301
Published by: Oxford University Press
DOI: 10.2307/2580012
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2580012
Page Count: 23
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The Cultural Evolution of Beneficent Norms
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Abstract

Sociobiologists claim that genes which code for altruistic acts toward close genetic kin can overcome selection pressures favoring self-interested behaviors. This article argues that similar processes may operate in the cultural sphere. Specifically, rules that mandate beneficent acts toward people with a higher than average probability of carrying the same rule may proliferate without sanctions, even when those acts are costly to the actor. One class of rules directs beneficent behavior toward close cultural relatives, including cultural ancestors, descendants, siblings, and cousins. Another class directs beneficent behavior toward those who exhibit particular cultural markers. For several reasons, such rules may lead to larger sets of mutual altruists than those produced by genetic processes.

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