Sociology of morality and evolutionary theory: history and perspectives

Sociology of morality and evolutionary theory: history and perspectives

Bykov A.V.

Senior Lecturer, National Research University Higher School of Economics, Research Fellow, Institute of Sociology of Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia

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Bykov A.V. Sociology of morality and evolutionary theory: history and perspectives. Sotsiologicheskie issledovaniya [Sociological Studies]. 2017. No 1. P. 127-136


In this article, I analyze relationships between sociology of morality and evolutionary theory from both historical and theoretical points of view. First, I compare classical evolutionary conceptions of morality by C. Darwin and H. Spencer, emphasizing that evolutionary perspective in the sociology of morality is not something absolutely new but, rather, it once belonged to the core ideas of the discipline. After that, I review the key new-Darwinian models of explanations of moral behavior which are related to a number of different approaches, such as theories of kin and group selection, reciprocal altruism and cooperation, evolutionary psychology and theory of cultural evolution. I argue that modern evolutionary disciplines reached considerable success in studying moral phenomena, so that sociology of morality needs to incorporate these theoretical models in order to provide a fuller understanding of morality. In this context, I review J. Turner’s conception of “evolutionary sociology” as an attempt of sociological reception of the modern evolutionary synthesis in behavioral sciences. While Turner is given credit for drawing sociologists’ attention to modern evolutionary conceptions of morality, I also criticize his approach for over-emphasizing the historical perspective of the hominid evolution and lack of elaboration of this conceptions to the studies of morality in modern societies; at the same time I argue that classical sociology of morality still has large theoretical resources which can be integrated with modern evolutionary perspective, so that moral phenomena would receive a more rigorous scientific explanation.

altruism, morality; moral norms; sociology of morality; evolutionary theory


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