Supposedly, nature is evolving human minds and its behavior to find an optimal point.

But if "bad" behaviour is nothing but an expression of nature's evolution towards an optimum, how does it make sense to condemn this behaviour in the first place?

  • Can you elaborate a bit?
    – user14511
    Jun 16, 2020 at 15:48
  • @CanBeSaidClearly like life-form evolve physical, we can say that behavior can be effected by evolution too , and here 'behavior' means like greed, kindness, etc . most of the people have these behavior neutrally in them, does not effected by their education and social environment,
    – thegoodguy
    Jun 16, 2020 at 17:31
  • Humans have not been evolving by natural selection for millenia now, it is time to stop blaming everything on nature. If humans can bring themselves to do things that have nothing to do with biological instincts and survival of the species, they can no longer use "bad nature" as an excuse. Nature did not evolve cultural traditions and technological devices, nor did it direct their use and abuse. With power to choose comes responsibility for the choices.
    – Conifold
    Jun 17, 2020 at 6:18
  • I tried to trim the question a bit so that what I felt was the main idea behind it would become more clear. If this is not what you intended to ask, feel free to roll back the edit.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Jun 17, 2020 at 7:52

3 Answers 3


The main reason which justifies punishment of evolved behaviours, is to impose a fitness cost upon harmful behaviours.

It matters not whether the person is blameworthy for having been bestowed with such behaviour, or even whether they can change it under their own will. The behaviour will be under pressure to change and be weeded out simply by imposing the fitness cost consistently.

The other issue is that not all thinking and behaviour is genetic in origin. It can also be memetic - either transmitted culturally, or a cultural behaviour developed autonomously as a functional response to a particular environment. Again, the purpose of punishment is to cease it's transmission or incentivise the adoption of alternative behaviours or thinking.

It must be said in passing that who is the punisher and who is the punished is not always clear and consistent. For example, individuals will often impose punishments on authorities or states. A prime example is notorious prisoners who riot or react harshly to maltreatment whilst themselves being punished by imprisonment - the effect eventually is to dissuade inappropriate prison officers from seeking or maintaining employment in prisons, and dissuade the state from imposing unreasonable regimes.


Many genes need to meet with the correct environment. FoxP2, 'the language gene', is known to trigger babbling during development. In wild cockatiels individuals may be assigned names, and have emergency calls, and flock calls that build cohesion and call to roost. But raised by humans, they mimic human speech & music. Like this. Gene and behaviour, in the wild, have formed a link, triggering impulses and building habits, with roles in socialising and mating, which especially among longer lived creatures are enriched and altered by local variation or culture.

Humans are very unique in their development. We have by far the longest time of any animal being unable to fend for ourselves, both in absolute time & as a fraction of lifespan. We find this process of extended development in domesticated pets made possible by being kept safe, and it seems that it is not only the 'cute' factor, but that this enables more learning during brain formation. The human neocortex doesn't finish developing until about age 25,and has a role primarily in inhibiting impulses to aid socialisation. We know this from Dunbar's Number, and brain injury studies. This seems to maximise our flexibility for cultural adaptation, and behaviour modification during development. We don't consider children and teenagers fully responsible for their actions, and that is linked to this.

'Free will' is a complex topic in philosophy, and there are a minority of thinkers who believe in biological determinism, that free will is illusory, or in libertarian free will, that something about human minds or often souls allows us to make unconditioned choices. The majority view is compatibilism, that our sense of making decisions and having choices can be reconciled with physicalist-materialism and our biological natures, for instance it can be pictured as a weakly emergent property.

We have a sense of decisions that are more or less free. Externally coerced, or driven by character traits like a short temper, or behaviours like gambling or compulsive drug use even to the point of social and physical harms but unable to stop. But we also experience ourselves developing and maturing, encountering positive cultural frameworks like say philosophy, which seem to help us make choices that are more free. Perhaps through meditation we can become better able to not rush into an action we will regret later, we can act in a more integrated way, or reconciled with the impulses from different parts of ourselves. One of the ways of describing wisdom is that it is about avoiding bullshit, pursuasion without regard to truth, which can include correcting for or avoiding our own cognitive biases.

When we see someone as unable to control their impulses, we use language that compares them to an animal or a child. We don't grant animals or children full freedoms, and if they prove dangerous we feel ok about restricting them without a full trial and checks & balances we put in place for adults. We make allowances for people who have encountered bad conditions during development, or been influenced negatively by others. But human culture depends on the idea of responsibility for our own actions, and in a healthy human who encounters positive conditions, this is enabled by the way our neocortex develops, for instance our temper is trained to stay within culturally acceptable bounds. Wisdom traditions often describe maximising this, like the 'waking up' of Buddhist enlightenment. I suggest there is also a cultural role, as well as personal development role, for becoming 'more free' and 'more responsible', and that in truth these exist in more of a spectrum than it is convenient for us to admit in normal discussion of behaviour. Up to half of prisoners on death row in the USA experienced a traumatic head injury before their crime/s, suggesting we regularly hold people responsible for behaviours linked to biological change like damage to their neocortex.


Ethics are rules for societal conduct. Being a part of society is not “natural”. You have to keep your primeval instincts of self preservation aside if you want to be a member of society. You have to be willing to think of the whole and therefore abide by the ethics.

On the contrary, you can choose to not abide by ethics if you are willing to give up the protection of being in a society. Ethics and moral codes are the whole point of social functioning.

  • Define 'natural'. You seem to be suggesting there is a social contract, without stating it explicitly
    – CriglCragl
    Jun 17, 2020 at 9:16
  • I am using natural as used by the one posing the question.
    – User
    Jun 17, 2020 at 9:26

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