Diverse, contradictory, and bizarre as they are, people commonly feel that everyone ought to conform to their culture’s moral norms and even feel violators deserve punishment, though perhaps that might be just social disapproval. Cultural moral norms have an emotional motivating force grounded in our biology.

What if our evolutionary history somehow missed acquiring this biology? Would we still have codes of conduct we would recognize as cultural moralities?

  • I have no idea what you mean by an internal "moral sense". I see only human beings who are dominant stepping into a form of authority. In beast we call this built in mindset the "Alpha male". Humans are like the beast in this regard. That is, this is the beast or person who feels they are Divine sent to automatically be in charge. This is your cultural morality unless you can demonstrate other wise.
    – Logikal
    Feb 14, 2019 at 17:11
  • Since moral norms play a functional role they'd still have to be enforced, if not through emotions then through something else. Even as is, we do not rely on emotions alone. Deterrence by punishments has a rational component to it, and locking up those who do not comply weeds them out from the general population.
    – Conifold
    Feb 14, 2019 at 19:10
  • 1
    Is this not a self-defeating question? If we were unable to observe something, would we observe it? I suspect you may be relying on a particular definition of morals (e.g. collective vs convention vs personal) but the question doesn't quite make that clear.
    – Flater
    Feb 15, 2019 at 11:43
  • Was there a specific incident or contemporary issue that brought this question to mind? Apr 18, 2019 at 1:55
  • Mark Andrews, no specific incident brought this question to mind. It was more a gradual process of understanding that our moral judgments and cultural moral codes are best explained as solutions to cooperation dilemmas that are innate to our physical universe. That said, understanding the shameful origins of how 'moral' norms came to exist such as "women must be submissive to men" and "homosexuality is evil" when they are such disfunctional moral norms has encouraged me to think there is something culturally useful to say on the matter.
    – Mark Sloan
    Apr 19, 2019 at 6:32

1 Answer 1


As Protagoras explained to Socrates, and modern science confirms, people have a moral sense because it enables them to cooperate in groups. Imagine intelligent beings without a moral sense who needed to sustainably obtain the benefits of cooperation in order to achieve shared goals. They could do this by agreeing to enforce ‘moral’ codes regarding fairness, not killing, stealing, or lying, and “Doing to others as you would have them do to you” to initiate the most powerful cooperation strategy known, indirect reciprocity.

If morality is not dependent on our moral sense, then evolutionary debunking arguments such as Sharon Street’s and "morality as emotivism" need re-examination.

  • Beast can cooperate in groups as well so I see no distinction between beast being led or humans being led by an Alpha male. In your interpretation do all members have equal status? If not, why dont they? How is this distinct from just bullying by an alpha male. Let's be clear most bullies will get physical to get there way. This way the subs will fall in line to whatever the alpha wants
    – Logikal
    Feb 14, 2019 at 17:16
  • Solitary animals still have some sense of moral code even if they do not need to cooperate. E.g. don't (usually) kill your own kind, (as a mother) protect your children with your life.
    – Flater
    Feb 15, 2019 at 11:45
  • @ Frank Hubeny 1) Curry, O. S., et al (2018). Is It Good to Cooperate? Testing the Theory of Morality-as-Cooperation in 60 Societies journals.uchicago.edu/doi/full/10.1086/701478 2) Harms, W., Skyrms, B. (2010) Evolution of Moral Norms. Oxford Handbook on the Philosophy of Biology 3) Sloan, M.L. (2018) A Universal Principle Within Morality’s Ultimate Source evolution-institute.org/… 4) Tomasello, M., & Vaish, A. (2013). Origins of Human Cooperation and Morality. Annual Review of Psychology,
    – Mark Sloan
    Feb 15, 2019 at 21:58
  • @Conifold Right, they would have to be enforced by something else if we had no moral sense. Enforcement by rule of law should be possible or perhaps a form of moral contractualism with deterrence for violators.
    – Mark Sloan
    Feb 15, 2019 at 22:03
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    @Logikal If you are really interested, you might have a look at the references I supplied to Frank Hubeny above.
    – Mark Sloan
    Feb 17, 2019 at 0:09

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