ChapterPDF Available

The conflict-resolution theory of virtue

4.2 The Confl ict-Resolution Theory of Virtue
Oliver Curry
There has been a long-standing debate in the history of moral thought
over the nature of virtue—the enduring traits that are indicative of a
good moral character. One tradition—represented by Aristotle, Cicero,
Machiavelli, Nietzsche, and Hume—has celebrated the so-called “pagan”
virtues of beauty, strength, courage, magnanimity, and leadership. Another
tradition—represented particularly by theologians—has celebrated exactly
the opposite set of traits: the so-called “Christian” virtues of humility,
meekness, quietude, asceticism, and obedience (Berlin, 1997). But what are
the virtues? Where do they come from? Why do they consist of these two
apparently incompatible sets of traits? And why have they been considered
Geoffrey Miller rightly argues that the virtues are not explained by exist-
ing evolutionary theories of morality, such as kin or reciprocal altruism.
Instead, Miller argues, such traits are the product of sexual selection; spe-
cifi cally, they are products of mate choice for reliable signals of genetic
and phenotypic quality. Thus, the virtues are analogous to the peacock’s
tail; they are dazzling, conspicuous displays of the qualities and character
traits that members of the opposite sex look for in a mate.
However, Miller’s theory leaves two kinds of virtues unaccounted for:
rst, virtues displayed in contexts other than courtship and, second, the
traditional Christian virtues. Moreover, Miller’s theory doesn’t explain
why some sexually attractive traits—such as beauty—have been considered
moral. Nor does it provide a criterion for distinguishing sexually attractive
traits that are morally virtuous, such as beauty, from sexually attractive
traits that are morally neutral, such as immuno-compatibility.
I shall outline a more comprehensive evolutionary theory of virtue. This
“confl ict-resolution theory” argues that the virtues are adaptations for
competing without coming to blows; they serve to avoid, forestall, or
defuse more violent means of competing for scarce resources. This theory
252 Oliver Curry
incorporates both the “pagan” and the “Christian” virtues. The pagan
virtues are “signals of superiority.” They are used to resolve confl ict in two
ways. First, they are used to attract mates—for here, natural selection has
favored aesthetic and altruistic displays over aggression as a means of
competing for mates. These are the virtues that Miller draws attention to.
Second, signals of superiority are used to deter rivals. They do this as part
of a “display-defer” strategy—that is, a strategy that uses, on the one hand,
displays of ghting prowess and, on the other hand, ritual displays of
deference to superior displays to turn otherwise bloody battles into rela-
tively harmless contests. These displays of prowess are the second kind of
pagan virtue. And this brings us to the Christian virtues. For they are the
ip side of the display-defer strategy of resolving confl icts. They are “signals
of submission,” conspicuous displays of deference that bring confl ict to
an end.
Thus, the confl ict-resolution theory provides a secure theoretical founda-
tion that accounts for a broader range of virtues and that subsumes Miller’s
mate-choice theory. What is more, the confl ict-resolution theory explains
why these particular sets of traits have been seen as moral; it is because,
like other aspects of morality, they constitute a successful solution to one
of the recurrent problems of social life—in this case, the problem of settling
Below I briefl y review the evolutionary theory of confl ict resolution and
look at some animal examples. I review the evidence for equivalent traits
in humans. And I show how the confl ict-resolution theory of virtue makes
sense of various aspects of traditional moral thought.
The Virtues of the Hawk and the Virtues of the Dove
The confl ict-resolution theory of virtue begins with the logic of animal
confl ict. Animals often come into confl ict over resources such as food,
territory, and mates. On the surface, such confl icts look like straightfor-
ward zero-sum games. However, in fact, there are costs involved in con-
ict—time, energy, and injury—that the players have a common interest
in avoiding. For this reason, in the paper that fi rst introduced evolutionary
game theory, John Maynard Smith and George Price (1973) portrayed
animal confl ict as a nonzero-sum game—specifi cally, a hawk-dove game
in which the worst outcome occurs if both players adopt a “hawkish”
strategy of all-out aggression. Thus, confl ict presents combatants with an
opportunity to cooperate, in the sense of competing in less mutually
destructive ways.
The Confl ict-Resolution Theory of Virtue 253
Over evolutionary time, natural selection has favored a number of ways
of competing that involve an exchange of signals rather than an exchange
of blows. These signals provide reliable information about the relative
merits of the protagonists—be it genetic or phenotypic quality, or formi-
dability—that can settle the dispute without resort to violence. It is the
traits that convey this information that have been called “virtues”.
The pagan virtues—beauty, strength, courage, magnanimity, and leader-
ship—are “signals of superiority.”
Consider beauty. Many animals, when competing for mates, eschew
violence and instead devote their energies to spectacular aesthetic displays.
Peacocks, for example, compete for mates not by ghting but by growing
beautiful tails. These tails act as reliable indicators of the birds’ genetic and
phenotypic quality, allowing a peahen to make a judicious choice from
among her eager suitors, rather than having them fi ght it out among
themselves. In other species, bright coloration, symmetrical plumage,
singing, dancing, and creativity perform a similar function (Cronin, 1992;
Darwin, 1871; Miller 2000; Ridley, 1993).
Now consider strength, or “fortitude.” When engaged in direct competi-
tion with other individuals—over food, territory, and mates—many animals
avoid all-out war by employing a strategy that combines “hawkish” dis-
plays of prowess with “dove-ish” displays of deference to superior displays.
Maynard Smith and Price showed that such a strategy is evolutionarily
stable because, when combatants differ in their ability to win a ght, it
pays both parties to establish who is likely to prevail by means of an
exchange of signals that reliably indicate each party’s ght-winning abili-
ties rather than through a violent battle. And, once established, it pays the
weaker party to bow out gracefully. This way, the stronger wins the resource
he was going to win anyway, and both parties benefi t by avoiding the costs
of confl ict (Clutton-Brock & Albon, 1979).
The classic example of this “display-defer” strategy comes from a study
of stag red deer competing over the control of harems. The contest begins
with a roaring match lasting several minutes. Roaring is a reliable signal
of size and strength; usually, the stag with the less impressive roar will
retreat. However, if the stags are too closely matched for their roars to be
decisive, the contest moves to a “parallel walk” stage, where the combat-
ants have the chance to size one another up. If this doesn’t settle the
dispute, then the stags lock antlers and begin a pushing contest, and the
loser retreats. In other competitions in other species, hawkish displays of
size, weight, age, and experience may carry the day. (For a review, see
Riechert, 1998.)
254 Oliver Curry
Next, consider altruism. Some creatures settle disputes by means of dis-
plays that, as an added bonus, provide benefi ts for their audience. Male
ravens, for example, compete for mates not by fi ghting but by performing
“acts of bravery”; they undertake the risky task of checking to see whether
potential carrion is in fact dead and not merely sleeping or injured. “[B]y
demonstrating that they have the courage, experience, and quickness of
reaction to deal with life’s dangers,” says Frans de Waal (1996, 134), “the
occasional boldness of corvids serves to enhance status and impress poten-
tial mates.” Similarly, male chimpanzees sometimes compete through “mag-
nanimity”—that is, altruism directed to subordinates. They take risks in
order to provide the troop with food, are generous with their own kills, and
confi scate the kills of others and redistribute them. As de Waal observes,
“instead of dominants standing out because of what they take, they now
affi rm their position by what they give” (1996, 144). Also, some primates
compete for status through “public service” or “leadership”—that is, altru-
ism in support of other forms of cooperation. Thus, dominant chimpanzees,
stump-tailed monkeys, and gorillas all compete by intervening to end dis-
putes among subordinates (Das, 2000; de Waal, 1996). These dominant
individuals are unusual in that they intervene not in support of their fami-
lies and allies but “on the basis of how best to restore peace” (de Waal, 1996,
129). Consequently, “the group looks for the most effective arbitrator in its
midst, then throws its weight behind this individual to give him a broad
base of support for guaranteeing peace and order” (de Waal, 1996, 130).
Thus, beauty, strength, courage, magnanimity, and leadership are all
examples of traits that provide reliable information about the underlying
qualities of the protagonists. They serve to attract mates or deter rivals.
And, by doing so, they reduce or avoid the costs of violent confl ict. In this
way, evolutionary theory explains the existence, and conspicuous display,
of exactly those hawkish traits that, in humans, have been called the
“pagan virtues.”
But what about the apparently opposite set of Christian virtues—humil-
ity, meekness, quietude, asceticism, and obedience? Confl ict-resolution
theory has a ready explanation for these, too. They are “signals of submis-
sion,” the conspicuous displays of deference that form the fl ip side of the
display-defer strategy of resolving confl icts. They manifest the “dove-ish”
branch of the strategy—recognizing when you’re beaten and signaling to
your opponent that you accept defeat and intend to withdraw, thereby
bringing the confl ict to an end.
Not surprisingly, dove-ish cues of submission have been designed by
natural selection to be the exact opposite of hawkish cues of dominance.
The Confl ict-Resolution Theory of Virtue 255
Indeed, cues of submission were Darwin’s prime example of “the principle
of antithesis” in the expression of emotions: “directly opposite state[s] of
mind” lead to “the performance of movements of a directly opposite
nature” (Darwin, 1872/1998, 55). For example, when discussing submis-
sion in dogs, Darwin observed that:
The feeling of affection of a dog towards his master is combined with a strong sense
of submission, which is akin to fear. Hence dogs not only lower their bodies and
crouch a little as they approach their masters, but sometimes throw themselves on
the ground with their bellies upwards. This is a movement as completely opposite
as is possible to any show of resistance. . . . By this action [the dog seems] to say
more plainly than by words, ‘Behold, I am your slave.’1
In social species, where regular contests lead to the formation of hierar-
chies, displays of submission become swifter and more symbolic—they
involve elaborate greeting rituals or “etiquette.” For example, subordinate
macaques give a “silent bared-teeth display” and chimpanzees “use a vocal-
gestural signal of subordination consisting of repetitive pant-grunting and
bowing towards the dominant.”2
Thus, traits such as humility, meekness, quietude, asceticism, and obedi-
ence can be seen as different manifestations of submission—of the ten-
dency to beat a strategic retreat in the face of overwhelming odds—which
is an integral part of the display-defer strategy of resolving disputes. In this
way, evolutionary theory explains the existence, and conspicuous display,
of exactly those dove-ish traits that, in humans, have been called the
“Christian virtues”.
Thus the confl ict-resolution theory explains the origin of hawkish
“pagan” and dove-ish “Christian” virtues. And it also explains why these
traits have been considered moral. It is simply because, like other aspects
of morality, the virtues solve a recurrent problem of social life, to the
benefi t of all those involved. Just as conventions solve coordination prob-
lems, and reciprocity solves free-rider problems, virtues solve confl ict-
resolution problems.
Human Adaptations for Confl ict Resolution
Let’s now turn to our own species. Given how widespread adaptations for
confl ict resolution are in nature, especially among social primates, and
given that there is no reason to suppose that such traits have been erased
during the course of hominid evolution, we should expect to fi nd an
equivalent set of adaptations in humans. And indeed we do.
256 Oliver Curry
This aspect of human nature was rst described and documented by
that perceptive student of the human condition, David Hume. Indeed,
his account of virtue strikingly anticipates many aspects of the confl ict-
resolution theory that I have outlined.
David Hume compared human virtue to the hawkish displays of
“excellence”—such as the peacock’s tail and the nightingale’s song—
exhibited by other animals. He argued that “the same qualities cause
pride in the animal as in the human kind; and it is on beauty, strength,
swiftness or some other useful or agreeable quality that this passion is
always founded” (1739/1985, 376–7). Hume proceeded to argue that
pride is “essential to the character of a man of honour,” and that it gives
rise to traits that benefi t others—the “heroic” or “shining virtues” of
“[c]ourage, intrepidity, ambition, love of glory, magnanimity” (1739/1985,
Hume also discussed the social utility of dove-ish traits, such as humility.
He notes that differences in ability give rise to hierarchies in which “certain
deferences and mutual submissions” are required “of the different ranks of
men towards each other.” He says, “Tis necessary, therefore, to know our
rank and station in the world, . . . to feel the sentiment and passion of pride
in conformity to it, and to regulate our actions accordingly.”3 Humility, or
“a just sense of our weakness,” then “is esteem’d virtuous, and procures
the good-will of everyone” (Hume 1739/1985, 642).
Hume even explained why dove-ish virtues have become associated with
the Christian church. He argued that humility, combined with contempla-
tion of a “supreme being,” tends to produce exaggerated submission dis-
plays. The thought of an omnipotent god, fostered by religions such as
Christianity, is apt “to sink the human mind into the lowest submission
and abasement, and to represent the monkish virtues of mortifi cation,
penance, humility, and passive suffering, as the only qualities which are
acceptable to him” (Hume 1757/1889, 43). In such circumstances, says
Hume, “instead of the destruction of monsters, the subduing of tyrants,
the defence of our native country; whipping and fasting, cowardice and
humility, abject submission and slavish obedience, are become the means
of obtaining celestial honors among mankind.”4
Hume managed to get this far without the aid of modern evolutionary
theory. We now have the theoretical and empirical tools to develop a more
up-to-date account of human virtue. And, already, several strands of
research are providing support for the hypothesis that humans possess
adaptations for confl ict resolution, and they are beginning to shed light
on exactly what they look like.
The Confl ict-Resolution Theory of Virtue 257
First, Allan Mazur and Alan Booth (1998) have documented how, in
humans as in other animals, the hormone testosterone regulates participa-
tion in dominance encounters. Testosterone rises in anticipation of a
challenge, thereby boosting “coordination, cognitive performance, and
concentration” (Mazur & Booth, 1998). After the contest, levels of testos-
terone remain high in the winner—he experiences “increased assertive-
ness, and a display of dominant signs such as erect posture, sauntering or
striding gait, and direct eye contact with others. [He] may seek out new
dominance encounters and [is] bolstered to win them.” The loser, mean-
while, experiences a drop in testosterone “reducing his assertiveness,
diminishing his propensity to display the dominant actions associated
with high status, and increasing his display of such submissive signs as
stooped posture, smiling, or eye aversion. . . . Faced with a new dominance
encounter, [the loser] is more likely than before to retreat or submit”
(Mazur & Booth, 1998, 359).
Second, there is evidence that, in addition to displays of physical prowess,
men signal status with displays of intelligence, aestheticism, and creativ-
ity—the human equivalent of the peacock’s tail or the nightingale’s song.
As Geoffrey Miller (2000a) has observed, in every cultural sphere, including
art, music, and literature, men are responsible for around ten times as
much cultural production as women; male cultural production peaks at
the same time that testosterone and mating effort peaks (i.e., during early
adulthood); and displays of intelligence, wit, and creativity form an impor-
tant part of human courtship.
Third, there is anthropological evidence that men compete for status by
performing acts of generosity and largesse, in the form of potlatch feasts,
bonanzas, and festivals. For example, Kristen Hawkes et al. argue that
Hazda hunters compete for status and access to mates by means of big-
game hunting, which can be seen as a form of “showing off” (Hawkes,
2001). This form of hunting generates more food than a hunter or his
family can eat, and the surplus meat is not distributed in the expectation
of reciprocity. Rather, the distribution of meat from the kill serves to raise
the hunter’s status among other men and to increase his access to mates.
Hawkes reports that successful hunters are more often named as lovers and
have more surviving offspring. Selection of such altruistic signals is con-
sistent with the observation that “generosity” is universally admired in
leaders (Brown 1991, 137–140).
Fourth, as predicted, women fi nd “winning” cues of dominance and
status sexually attractive (Buss, 1994; Ellis, 1992; Miller, 1998). As the
anthropologist Edgar Gregersen concludes from a study of almost 300
258 Oliver Curry
cultures: “for women the world over, male attractiveness is bound up with
social status, or skills, strength, bravery, prowess, and similar qualities”
(Gregerson, 1982). Not surprisingly, high-testosterone males also report
more sexual partners (Townsend, 1998). The confl ict-resolution theory of
virtue also predicts that, in the context of male-male competition, men
should attend to, be intimidated by, and defer to hawkish traits in other
males. Unfortunately, perhaps because the answer seems so obvious, this
prediction has yet to be rigorously tested.
Finally, humans display typical mammalian cues of submission. As the
ethologist Desmond Morris observes:
Passive submission in the human animal is much the same as in other mammals.
In extreme cases it takes the form of cringing, crouching, grovelling, whimpering,
and attempts to protect the most vulnerable parts of the body. . . . It presents a
picture of “instant defeat” and thereby avoids the damaging physical process of
actually being defeated. Its success depends on the presentation of signals which
are the exact opposite of the threat signals of our species. A threatening man will
square up to an opponent, his body tense, his chest expanded, his face glaring, his
sts clenched, his voice deep and snarling. By contrast, the submissive individual
tries to make his body seem as small and limp as possible, with shoulders hunched,
his face wincing, his hands spread, and his voice high and whining. (1982, 217)
More symbolic versions of these signals—in the form of greetings,
manners, etiquette, and other marks of respect—are used to lubricate
formal dominance hierarchies (Morris, 1982, 217–228). And, intriguingly,
the tendency to ignore cues of submission in an opponent—and hence to
continue attacking a defeated foe—is one symptom of psychopathy (Blair
Much work remains to be done to develop and test this theory of human
adaptations for confl ict resolution. However, it is reasonable to conclude
that humans do indeed possess such adaptations. We can also be confi dent
that further attempts “to introduce the experimental method of reasoning
into moral subjects” will, as Hume envisaged, shed yet more light on the
nature of the virtues.5
Traditional Accounts of the Virtues
The confl ict-resolution account of virtue provides a rich deductive struc-
ture in which to locate, make sense of, and reconcile several previous
theories of, and observations about, the virtues.
First, the confl ict-resolution theory neatly reconciles the “pagan” and
“Christian” accounts of virtue. In the absence of such a theory, the celebra-
The Confl ict-Resolution Theory of Virtue 259
tion of two diametrically opposed sets of moral virtues has been something
of a scandal for moral philosophy. Surveying the debate between the
pagans and the Christians, Isaiah Berlin (1997) concluded, rather gloomily,
that the two sets of virtues are “incompatible” and “incommensurable”;
that there is no prospect of reconciling them; and that this undermines
the philosophical project of nding the single best way to live. However,
as we have seen, it is a prediction of, rather than a problem for, the con-
ict-resolution theory of virtue that there should be two sets of traits—the
virtues of the hawk and of the dove—and that these two sets should appear
to be opposites. Contrary to Berlin, the theory shows that these sets of
virtues are neither “incompatible” nor “incommensurable.” On the con-
trary, they are two sides of the same coin—two aspects of the same com-
ponent of human nature. They are complementary in that they work
together to keep the peace, and their contribution can be measured in the
common metric of cooperation.
Second, the confl ict-resolution theory explains a wide range of miscel-
laneous observations about virtue. For example, it explains why the word
“virtue” comes from the Latin for “proper to a man” (as in “virile”);6 why
Aristotle argued that the most virtuous man will “offer aid readily” but “is
ashamed to accept a good turn, because the former marks a man as supe-
rior, the latter as inferior” (Aristotle 1962, IV, iii, 246); and why Nietzsche
argued that virtues reveal “processes of physiological prosperity or failure”
and exhibit “the charm of rareness, inimitableness, exceptionalness, and
unaverageness” (quoted in Miller 2000a, 337–338). The confl ict-resolution
theory also accounts for “superogatory acts”—acts of benevolence, mercy,
heroism, and self-sacrifi ce that are “beyond the call of duty”—whose expla-
nation eluded John Rawls.7 The theory explains why Hume, Machiavelli,
and Nietzsche criticize the Christian church for inculcating extreme
“monkish” virtue—a “slave morality”—at the expense of more socially
useful “heroic” virtue. And the theory explains why males and females
have, traditionally, had different virtues; why the traits used to compete
for paternal investment—beauty, chastity, and delity—are among the
traditional “feminine virtues”; and why it is possible for men, but not
women, to regain their “virtue” once it has been lost.
In recent years, evolutionary psychologists have begun to chart the evolved
mechanisms responsible for moral thought and behaviour. Kin selection
explains family values and the prohibition against incest; mutualism
260 Oliver Curry
explains sympathy, friendship, and convention; and reciprocal altruism
explains trust, gratitude, guilt, and punishment.8 To this list we may now
add: confl ict resolution explains virtue.
The theory of confl ict resolution explains why humans and other animals
engage in displays of prowess and why they defer to superior displays. It
explains how these hawkish and dove-ish traits help to solve a recurrent
problem of cooperation—the problem of confl ict resolution. And it explains
why two apparently incompatible sets of traits have been celebrated as
moral virtues.
Geoffrey Miller has led the way in one area of this theory. He has used
evolutionary theory to derive predictions about the form and function of
the signals employed in mate choice, and he has outlined a promising
program of research that puts the predictions to the test. What we now
need are parallel research programs in the other areas of confl ict-resolution
theory—answering in more detail such questions as the following: How
does the psychology of dominance and submission work in humans?
Which “virtues” are most effective in commanding deference and respect?
To what extent are the virtues heritable? What age and sex differences do
they exhibit? Which aspects of the environment are important for the
development of the virtues?
Progress in this area will see a further branch of human morality demys-
tifi ed and its study placed on a fi rm scientifi c basis.
I should like to express my gratitude to Helena Cronin for her invaluable support
and assistance at every stage of writing this commentary.
1. Darwin (1872/1998, p. 120). The same applies to submission cues in other species.
As the primatologists Preuschoft and van Schaik (2000) put it: “While threat displays
accentuate size and weapons and elicit yielding on the part of the recipient, displays
of submission reduce apparent size, conceal weapons, and correlate with yielding
on the part of the sender” (p. 85).
2. Preuschoft and van Schaik (2000, p. 93, p. 96). Established hierarchies constitute
a further de-escalation of hostilities. To quote Preuschoft and van Schaik, “domi-
nance in groups seems to function as a confl ict management device, preventing
escalated competition by conventionalizing means and priority of access [to scarce
resources], thus allowing for peaceful coexistence of group members” (p. 90).
3. Hume (1739/1985, p. 650). “A sense of superiority in another breeds in all men
an inclination to keep themselves at a distance from him, and determines them to
The Confl ict-Resolution Theory of Virtue 261
redouble the marks of respect and reverence, when they are oblig’d to approach
him” (p. 441).
4. Hume (1757/1889, p. 43). Desmond Morris (1982) concurs:
Religious Displays . . . are submissive acts performed towards dominant individuals
called gods. The acts themselves include various forms of body-lowering, such as
kneeling, bowing, kowtowing, salaaming and prostration; also chanting and rituals
of debasement and sacrifi ce; the offering of gifts to the gods and the making of
symbolic gestures of allegiance. The function of all these actions is to appease the
super-dominant beings and thereby obtain favours or avoid punishments. . . . Sub-
ordinates throughout the animal world subject themselves in a similar way. But the
strange feature of these human submissive actions is that they are performed towards
a dominant gure, or fi gures, who are never present in person. (p. 229)
5. “An Attempt to Introduce the Experimental Method of Reasoning into Moral
Subjects” is the subtitle to Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature.
6. “Appelata est enim a viro virtus: viri autem propria maxime est fortitudo” (“The
term virtue is from the word that signifi es man; a man’s chief quality is fortitude”;
Cicero, 1945, I, ix, 18).
7. “It is good to do these actions but it is not one’s duty or obligation. Supererogatory
acts are not required, though normally they would be were it not for the loss or risk
involved for the agent himself. . . . Superogatory acts raise questions of fi rst impor-
tance for ethical theory. For example, it seems offhand that classical utilitarian
theory cannot account for them” (Rawls, 1971, p. 117).
8. For example, see Cosmides and Tooby (2005a); Lieberman, Tooby, and Cosmides
(2003); Tooby and Cosmides (1996); Trivers (1971).
... The entrepreneur as coordinator must balance loyalty, unity, solidarity, and conformity, which are strictly associated with mutualism (Curry, 2007). ...
... Hawks signal winning traits involving heroic and generous actions (Gintis et al., 2001;Kraft-Todd & Rand, 2019), while doves signal a readiness to yield to the wishes of others by taking a deference position (also called submission or passivity), which is expressed in exaggerated mildness, humility, and esteem (Curry, 2007;Mazur, 2005). Hawks always win with doves. ...
What is the relationship between morality and entrepreneurship? Previous research suggests that (a) morality is a set of tools for promoting cooperation (morality-as-cooperation [MAC]), and (b) entrepreneurs succeed in part by fostering cooperation in their business. We argue that MAC is able to explain why moral entrepreneurs are more successful than immoral entrepreneurs—because they are better able to solve problems of cooperation. We provide evidence of the seven MAC principles at work in business. Further, we propose a future research using the Humane Entrepreneurship Model should have to incorporate Cooperative Orientation and the MAC Questionnaire should be used to assess morality in entrepreneurship.
... Among the moral domains, Heroism was the strongest predictor of moral judgment of abortion. This relationship was mediated by conservatism in Study 1 and was directly associated with abortion moral judgments in Study 2. People who value Heroism more are those who are more likely to regard reliable displays of dominance and bravery as virtues, and acts of cowardice and miserliness as vices (Curry, 2007;Curry, Chesters et al., 2019). If abortion was perceived by some people as an act of cowardice, then those who valued Heroism more were also more likely to see abortion as a display of irresponsibility (Bernstein & Manata, 2019). ...
Full-text available
Why are anti-abortion attitudes more prevalent among conservatives? Here we show that Polish Catholics who prioritize courage, deference to authority, and caring for kin over other moral qualities are more likely to oppose abortion and that these associations are mediated by conservatism. Our findings suggest that conservative opposition to abortion may be rooted in the concern that it is a cowardly way out of the predicament of unwanted pregnancy, that it challenges gender asymmetries, and that it goes against traditional family values. Surprisingly, we found that group loyalty, which is usually associated with conservatism, actually predicts pro-abortion attitudes among Poles, perhaps due to the fact that women's rights supporters have come to form an embattled coalition over the abortion issue. In two studies, we explored the mediating role of conservatism, teasing apart the effects of social dominance orientation and fusion with conservative religious ideology. These findings suggest that attitudes towards abortion are shaped by moral concerns and that they can potentially be recruited by political ideologies in ways that are shaped by particular social and historical contexts. Understanding these relationships between morality, ideology, and environment is crucial to managing the effects of polarization over potentially divisive social issues.
... On the one hand, people increased their intentions to act prosocially in response to the Heroism-based message (e.g., taking care of neighbour's children if they must be hospitalised due to the virus), but on the other hand, they decreased their intentions to act precautiously (e.g., washing hands with soap for at least 30 seconds). Both of these effects reflect one of the fundamental aspects of the Heroism category-heroic (hawkish) behaviours act as signals of superior power and status (Curry, 2007). They benefit others, but at the same time, they are risky, and costly (Kraft-Todd & Rand, 2019). ...
Full-text available
Do appeals to moral values increase compliance with COVID-19 public health measures? According to the theory of ‘Morality as cooperation’, morality consists of a collection of cooperative principles that help us get along, work together and promote the common good. We experimentally investigated whether messages that appeal to these moral principles increase pandemic-related public health behaviour. We investigated: (a) Are moral messages more effective than non-moral messages? (b) Are some moral messages more effective than others? c) Is the effectiveness of moral messages dependant on the corresponding moral values of the individual? (d) Do these effects hold across cultures? Participants (recruited from the USA and India) were presented with one of ten messages, asked questions about their intentions to follow the restrictions, were asked to donate to a charity fighting COVID-19, and completed the Morality-as-Cooperation Relevance Questionnaire. We found that: (a) Moral messages were more effective in increasing the donation than a non-moral message and more effective in increasing the intentions to act prosocially than a lack of message. (b) Messages appealing to heroism increased the intentions to act prosocially in both samples. (c) The effectiveness of moral messages was better when they were concordant with participants’ moral values, but only in the USA sample. (d) We also found that some moral messages were effective only in a particular population. Thus, moral messages may increase compliance with public health guidelines, but it is necessary to appeal to particular values and to tailor these messages for a specific culture.
... 1.5 Deference …and why, when bested, we express humility, and respect, defer and submit to our superiors. And morality-as-cooperation explains why these hawkish and dove-ish cooperative traits have been considered morally good the world over (Curry 2007;Curry et al. 2019b). ...
Full-text available
What is morality? How many moral values are there? And what are they? According to the theory of morality-as-cooperation, morality is a collection of biological and cultural solutions to the problems of cooperation recurrent in human social life. This theory predicts that there will be as many different types of morality as there are different types of cooperation. Previous research, drawing on evolutionary game theory, has identified at least seven different types of cooperation, and used them to explain seven different types of morality: family values, group loyalty, reciprocity, heroism, deference, fairness and property rights. Here we explore the conjecture that these simple moral ‘elements’ combine to form a much larger number of more complex moral ‘molecules’, and that as such morality is a combinatorial system. For each combination of two elements, we hypothesise a candidate moral molecule, and successfully locate an example of it in the professional and popular literature. These molecules include: fraternity, blood revenge, family pride, filial piety, gavelkind, primogeniture, friendship, patriotism, tribute, diplomacy, common ownership, honour, confession, turn taking, restitution, modesty, mercy, munificence, arbitration, mendicancy, and queuing. These findings indicate that morality – like many other physical, biological, psychological and cultural systems – is indeed a combinatorial system. Thus morality-as-cooperation provides a principled and powerful theory, that explains why there are many moral values, and successfully predicts what they will be; and it generates a systematic framework that has the potential to explain all moral ideas, possible and actual. Pursuing the many implications of this theory will help to place the study of morality on a more secure scientific footing.
... Hawkish displays of winning traits can include acts of heroism and generosity (Gintis, Smith, & Bowles, 2001;Kraft-Todd & Rand, 2019). Dove-ish displays of deference, meanwhile, are typically exaggerated submission cues, including expressions of meekness, humility, and respect (Curry, 2007;Mazur, 2005). ...
Full-text available
The world faces serious environmental problems. To solve them we must work together. Fortunately, humans are a very cooperative species. We have faced a range of cooperative problems in the past, and have evolved and invented a range of cooperative solutions to them—kin altruism, mutualism, reciprocity, heroism, deference, fairness, and property rights. Here, we illustrate how each of these solutions can be pressed into the service of conservation goals. Unlocking this potential will require overcoming conservationists' current cycloptic focus on only one type of cooperative problem (the prisoner's dilemma) and one type of solution (reciprocity). Only then will policy makers be able draw on the full range of cooperative dispositions and design more systematic and effective environmental interventions.
... MAC predicts that because hawkish displays of dominance, and dove-ish displays of submission, together realise mutual benefits, they will be regarded as morally good. This theory can explain why these two apparently contradictory sets of traits (Berlin, 1997) -the 'heroic virtues' of fortitude, bravery, skill, and wit, and the 'monkish virtues' of humility, deference, obedience, and respect -have been widely regarded as important components of morality (Curry, 2007;MacIntyre, 1981aMacIntyre, , 1981b. ...
Full-text available
Morality-as-Cooperation (MAC) is the theory that morality is a collection of biological and cultural solutions to the problems of cooperation recurrent in human social life. MAC uses game theory to identify distinct types of cooperation, and predicts that each will be considered morally relevant, and each will give rise to a distinct moral domain. Here we test MAC's predictions by developing a new self-report measure of morality, the Morality-as-Cooperation Questionnaire (MAC-Q), and comparing its psychometric properties to those of the Moral Foundations Questionnaire (MFQ). Over four studies, the results support the MAC-Q's seven-factor model of morality, but not the MFQ's five-factor model. Thus MAC emerges as the best available compass with which to explore the moral landscape.
... MAC predicts that because hawkish displays of dominance, and dove-ish displays of submission, together realise mutual benefits, they will be regarded as morally good. This theory can explain why these two apparently contradictory sets of traits (Berlin, 1997) -the 'heroic virtues' of fortitude, bravery, skill, and wit, and the 'monkish virtues' of humility, deference, obedience, and respect -have been widely regarded as important components of morality (Curry, 2007;MacIntyre, 1981aMacIntyre, , 1981b. ...
Full-text available
Morality-as-Cooperation (MAC) is the theory that morality is a collection of biological and cultural solutions to the problems of cooperation recurrent in human social life. MAC uses game theory to identify distinct types of cooperation, and predicts that each will be considered morally relevant, and each will give rise to a distinct moral domain. Here we test MAC's predictions by developing a new self-report measure of morality, the Morality-as-Cooperation Questionnaire (MAC-Q), and comparing its psychometric properties to those of the Moral Foundations Questionnaire (MFQ). Over four studies, the results support MAC's seven-factor model of morality, but not the MFQ's five-factor model. Thus MAC emerges as the best available compass with which to explore the moral landscape.
... MAC predicts that because hawkish displays of dominance, and dove-ish displays of submission together realise mutual benefits, they will be regarded as morally good. This theory can explain why these two apparently contradictory sets of traits (Berlin, 1997) – the 'heroic virtues' of fortitude, bravery, skill, and wit, and the 'monkish virtues' of humility, deference, obedience, and respect – have been widely regarded as important components of morality (Curry, 2007; MacIntyre, 1981a MacIntyre, , 1981b). ...
Full-text available
What is morality? What explains its content and structure? And how is it best measured? The theory of Morality-as-Cooperation (MAC) argues that morality is a collection of biological and cultural solutions to the problems of cooperation recurrent in human social life. Using evolutionary biology and nonzerosum game theory, MAC identifies seven distinct types of cooperation (helping kin, helping group, reciprocating, hawkish signals of prowess, dove-ish signals of deference, dividing disputed resources, and respecting prior possession), and predicts that each will be considered morally relevant, and each will give rise to a distinct moral domain. By starting from these fundamental principles, MAC offers a novel, systematic and comprehensive alternative to previous accounts of morality. Here we test MAC’s predictions against those of one such account: Moral Foundations Theory (MFT). We develop a new self-report measure of moral values, the Morality-as-Cooperation Questionnaire (MAC-Q; Study 1: N=1,392), examine its psychometric properties, and compare its performance to the Moral Foundations Questionnaire (MFQ; Study 2: N=1,042; Study 3: N=469; Study 4: N=137). The results support MAC’s predictions: each type of cooperation is considered morally relevant; and each gives rise to a distinct moral domain (family values, group loyalty, reciprocity, heroism, deference, fairness and property rights). The results do not support MFT’s five-factor model. Thus the MAC-Q emerges as the best available map of morality; and MAC emerges as the best available compass to guide further exploration of the moral landscape.
... Humans have a similar repertoire of status-related behaviours (Mazur 2005;Sell, Tooby, and Cosmides 2009;Fiddick et al. 2013), and culturally elaborated hierarchies (Boone 1992;Rubin 2000). Morality-as-cooperation leads us to expect that these types of cooperative behaviour -hawkish displays of dominance (the 'heroic virtues' of bravery, fortitude, skill, and wit) and dove-ish displays of submission (the 'monkish virtues' of humility, deference, obedience, and respect) -will be regarded as morally good (Curry 2007). ...
Full-text available
What is morality? And to what extent does it vary around the world? The theory of morality-as-cooperation argues that morality consists of a collection of biological and cultural solutions to the problems of cooperation and conflict recurrent in human social life. By using nonzerosum game theory to identify distinct problems of cooperation and their solutions, morality-as-cooperation exhibits a theoretical precision, explanatory scope and predictive power, exceeding that of previous atheoretical accounts of morality. For example, morality-as-cooperation predicts that specific forms of cooperative behaviour – helping kin, helping your group, reciprocating, being brave, deferring to superiors, dividing disputed resources, and respecting prior ownership – will be considered morally good wherever they arise, in all cultures. We test this prediction by investigating the moral valence of these cooperative behaviours in the ethnographic records of 60 societies. We find that, as predicted, their moral valence is uniformly positive. We find also that the majority of these cooperative moral values appear in the majority of cultures, in all regions of the world. We conclude that morality-as-cooperation could at last provide the unified theory of morality that anthropology has hitherto lacked.
A darwinian philosopher turns his attention to the strength of religion in the United States.
Conflicts between animals of the same species usually are of ``limited war'' type, not causing serious injury. This is often explained as due to group or species selection for behaviour benefiting the species rather than individuals. Game theory and computer simulation analyses show, however, that a ``limited war'' strategy benefits individual animals as well as the species.
In many large animals, changes in fighting ability within breeding seasons or across the lifetime of individuals are related to changes in body condition but not to obvious changes in size. In situations where a conflict of interests is likely to lead to a fight, we might consequently expect opponents to assess each other on traits which are related to variation in body condition. This appears to be the case among red deer stags. Competing stags engage in roaring ‘contests’ in situations where fights are likely. Observation combined with playback experiments showed that stags answered each others’ roars and that their roaring rate was related to that of their opponent. Both individual differences and temporal changes in roaring rates were correlated with changes in fighting ability and roaring contests usually occurred only where there was no obvious size discrepancy between opponents. The study suggested that assessment procedures probably continued during the parallel walks which commonly succeed roaring contests.